dana liebelson

Dana Liebelson

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Dana Liebelson is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Her work also appears in Marie Claire and The Week. In her free time, she plays electric violin and bass in a punk band.

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Here's Why Obama's Surveillance Transparency Deal With Tech Companies Doesn't Matter

| Mon Jan. 27, 2014 8:06 PM EST

Update (1/28/14): See below.

On Monday, the Obama Administration announced that it's going to start allowing tech companies to disclose more information about the number of national-security related demands the government makes for user information. On the surface, this seems like a government-transparency victory. But compared to the extensive recommendations made by lawmakers, privacy advocates, and the president's own government surveillance advisory board, the change actually does very little to shed light on the nature or extent of the government's requests for personal data.

Up until now, tech companies have only been allowed to report a very rough figure on the number of national security letters they receive, and the number of users affected. (The FBI and other agencies use these secret requests to force businesses to hand over certain customer records.) Meanwhile, firms like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others have been forbidden from sharing any information on orders they receive via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Now, the New York Times reports:

Companies will be able to disclose the existence of FISA court orders. But they must choose between being more specific about the number of demands or about the type of demands. Companies that want to disclose the number of FISA orders and national security letters separately can do so as long as they only publish in increments of 1,000. Or, companies can narrow the figure to increments of 250, but only if they lump FISA court orders and national security letters together.

"It's a pretty absurdly tiny incremental increase in transparency," Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute who focuses on privacy and civil liberties issues, tweeted Monday. Not only are tech companies still barred from reporting the government requests they receive in real time—there's a six-month delay—but the information they are now allowed to disclose still tells Americans little about the requests the government is making. For example, the administration's now policy only allows FISA orders to be reported under "content" and "non-content" categories. And the number of accounts affected can still only be disclosed in ranges of 1,000. 

This week, Apple CEO Tim Cook reiterated that, "We need to say what data is being given," after revealing that his company is under a government gag order. The president's surveillance advisory board recommended in December that he reform the process by requiring judicial approval before sending national security letters. (Judicial approval is currently not required.) And members of Congress have introduced a bill that would limit the kinds of records that can be obtained. But the administration has yet to take meaningful steps at surveillance reform.

UPDATE, Tuesday, January 28, 2014: Nate Cardozo, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sent Mother Jones another reason Obama's announcement doesn't go far enough: "The deal won't allow the companies to disclose which legal authorities the government is using in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. We need that information especially, since we're currently trying to reform those very laws. True transparency—as well as the First Amendment—requires that companies be allowed to map the scope of the United States government's surveillance apparatus, including the legal authorities it claims to rely on."

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FBI Arrests "The Most Hated Man on the Internet," Revenge-Porn King Hunter Moore

| Thu Jan. 23, 2014 4:18 PM EST
Hunter Moore, "The Most Hated Man on the Internet"

Thursday morning, the FBI arrested 27-year-old Hunter Moore, the founder of "Is Anyone Up," a now defunct website dedicated to publishing revenge porn—softcore or hardcore amateur pornography supposedly submitted by scorned, anonymous exes and usually accompanied by the purported names and addresses of the people (usually women) depicted. Moore—dubbed "The Most Hated Man on the Internet" by Rolling Stone—was taken into custody along with Charles Evens, 25, for allegedly conspiring to hack into the email accounts of hundreds of victims in order to steal nude photos and post them online. Moore and Evens were indicted in federal court in California and charged with one count of conspiracy, seven counts of unauthorized access to a protected computer, and seven counts of aggravated identity theft.

According to the Village Voice, Moore's website posted over two dozen nude photos a day, almost always of women, along with screenshots of the victims' names, social media accounts, and location, which he added in order to maximize Google search traffic. Last year, he was fined $250,000 for defamation after accusing an anti-bullying activist of possessing child porn. The local US attorney's office released a statement on the arrest. Here's an excerpt: 

To obtain more photos to populate the site, Moore allegedly instructed Evens to gain unauthorized access to – in other words, to hack into – victims' e-mail accounts. Moore sent payments to Evens in exchange for nude photos obtained unlawfully from the victims' accounts. Moore then posted the illegally obtained photos on his website, without the victims' consent. The indictment alleges that Evens hacked into email accounts belonging to hundreds of victims.

Read the full indictment here:

 

It Took Ariel Castro to Get Ohio to Start Taking Away Rapists' Parental Rights. Here Are the States That Haven't Yet.

| Wed Jan. 22, 2014 11:58 AM EST
Ariel Castro in custody.

Last summer, when Ariel Castro was on trial in Ohio for kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder, he made an unusual request to the judge: He wanted parental rights to visit the six-year-old daughter he had conceived through rape. Given the magnitude of the charges—Castro was ultimately sentenced to life without parole, plus 1,000 years in prison, before committing suicide in September—the judge denied the request. But Ohio has no law on the books preventing alleged or convicted rapists from seizing parental rights of the children they may have conceived through rape. That could soon change. Last week, the Ohio House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill, inspired by Castro, that would prevent this scenario in the future. And Ohio isn't the only state to take action on this. If Ohio enacts the bill, it will join a number of other states that have done so in the last year: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, and Illinois. There is also a bipartisan bill pending in the House that would give financial incentives to states that pass these laws.

"I think it's great that more states are getting on board and passing legislation addressing the parental rights of men who father through rape," says Shauna Prewitt, a Chicago lawyer. She says her daughter was conceived through rape, and the father attempted to seize custody rights while she was pressing charges against him. "We've seen a sharp uptick in interest, which I largely contribute to states finally understanding that this is a real problem."

The Ohio bill, if signed into law, would make it so that rapists are unable to seize inheritance or parental rights of children they conceived through the rape (they do, however, still have to pay child support). A spokesperson for Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio, a Democrat who is one the bill's sponsors, says that she expects the legislation to be referred to a Senate committee as soon as this week.

At least 24 states now have laws addressing the custody of children conceived through rape. Two additional states have provisions on the issue that only apply if the victim is a minor or, in one of those cases, a stepchild or adopted child of the rapist. Another three states don't explicitly address conception, but restrict the parental rights of a father or mother who sexually abused the other parent. And among those states that do have laws, many require proof of conviction, or have unique exceptions to the rule. Utah, for example, allows convicted rapists to continue sharing custody if they are living with the mother and the child. Here's a map showing the breakdown of these laws by state (click on each state for more information):

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