When the feds come sniffing around, the app maker won't necessarily tell you about it.
Josh HarkinsonJun. 25, 2015 4:50 PM
Those requests are not uncommon. Over six months, according to Snapchat's first transparency report, published in April, it received 375 criminal legal requests for the United States. It complied 92 percent of the time—a rate higher than Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, and Google. (Snapchat did not respond to specific questions I sent through its channel for media queries.)
"We use Snapchat for the types of things that we would not want to see, for example, on a LinkedIn profile."
What could the government possibly hope to get from an app that quickly deletes all of its content? A lot, it turns out. In addition to address book contacts, usernames, and phone numbers, Snapchat retains, for up to 30 days, content that hasn't yet been read by the intended recipients. That gives investigators plenty of time to obtain a warrant and start digging. They can also serve Snapchat with a preservation order, forcing it to maintain the data. And because Snapchat doesn't promise to alert users to government requests, the feds may be able to tap into Snapchat feeds undetected.
To be fair, Snapchat has improved markedly since EFF's last report, in 2014, in which it earned one out of six possible stars. This year's report looked at five categories, including the use of industry best practices, data-retention transparency, and support for user-friendly public policies. Snapchat's four-out-of-five score beat that of messaging competitors WhatsApp and Google, but the EFF gave five stars to Adobe, Apple, Credo Mobile, Dropbox, Sonic, Wikimedia, WordPress, Yahoo, and others.
A company whose raison d'être is privacy and security ought to have a perfect score, says Rainey Reitman, a co-author of the report. "We use Snapchat for the types of things that we would not want to see, for example, on a LinkedIn profile," she notes. "So I do think there are expectations that Snapchat will have the best security and privacy possible. I expect them to be a leader on these types of issues."
Westboro Baptist Church, the notorious group of religious extremists that is basically just one family, has said it will attempt to picket the funerals of people killed in the Charleston shootings. In recent tweets, Westboro has suggested the shooting was God's punishment for late pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pickney's having supported Hillary Clinton.
Protesting at funerals is a tactic the group has also tried (unsuccessfully) at burial services following other mass killings, including for victims of the Tucson shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing. But before the Kansas-based hate group can wave its familiar "God Sent the Shooter" signs for the TV cameras, it may have to overcome opposition from the hactivist group Anonymous.
"While it is doubtful these idiots will show up, it is critical that Anonymous have a well-prepared presence on the ground in Charleston," the group said in a press release announcing "Operation Shut Down Westboro Baptist Church." Coordinated by the Anonymous faction Operation Ferguson, which got its start with the Black Lives Matter protests, the effort will reportedly involve surrounding the Westboro protesters and blocking their signs.
Anonymous has periodically targeted Westboro since around 2011, when it hacked the group's website during a televised media interview. The following year, Anonymous helped block Westboro protesters who had shown up at the funeral of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In 2013, Anonymous garnered significant media attention when it "brandjacked" Westboro, creating a fake Facebook site for the group.
So far this week, Operation Ferguson has tweeted out links to personal information of Westboro members. One Anon also posted what could be construed as death threats against members of the church, though he has often drawn rebukes from other members of Anonymous, which tends to disavow violence.
On Tuesday, the Charleston City Council passed a temporary ordinance restricting all protests to at least 300 feet away from funerals.
The White House today lifted a longstanding restriction on medical marijuana research, giving a green light to a growing group of mainstream scientists who are interested in investigating the potential health benefits of pot. Such research will no longer have to undergo review by the Public Health Service, a process that is ostensibly meant to ensure the use of scientifically valid clinical trials, but in practice has served as a barrier to launching studies. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, and even opponents of legalization, had called for the requirement to be lifted.
"This announcement is a pretty big deal," says Christopher Brown, a spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a group that advocates for access to pot for medical research. "You have a lot of interest in experimental research on medical cannabis and this shows that you are starting to see policies aligned with that."
The announcement comes a few months after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy signaled the federal government's shifting thinking on medical pot, telling CBS This Morning that preliminary data shows that "marijuana can be helpful" for some medical conditions.
Still, Americans for Safe Access is calling for the feds to loosen restrictions even more. Numerous startup companies are interested in capitalizing on the medical benefits of pot, but scientists who want to use marijuana for research currently must obtain it from a DEA-approved grow facility, a process that can take a year or longer if they need specific cannabis strains. And marijuana remains classified under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, a category reserved for drugs that supposedly have no medical benefit.
Overseas tax evasion by American corporations has become a political hot button of late: It haunted Mitt Romney in 2012, spurred President Barack Obama last year to crack down on so-called inversions, and has since been seized upon as a 2016 campaign issue by Hillary Clinton. American companies now have an estimated $2.1 trillion in untaxed profits stashed overseas, big sums of which belong to Apple, General Electric, and Microsoft.
Walmart is also a major overseas tax dodger, according to a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness, a liberal-leaning think tank and advocacy group. The world's largest retailer has stashed $64 billion worth of assets in Luxembourg, Europe's smallest and most notorious tax haven. These assets—including cash and the ownership of real estate holdings around the world—are worth more than Luxembourg's entire gross domestic product. If they were liquidated and sprinkled around, it would amount to more than $100,000 per acre in this tiny country of 1,000 square miles that lacks a single Walmart store. Walmart has so much wealth in Luxembourg, in fact, that it could pay several times over to plaster the entire country in Nexus Granite Self-Adhesive Vinyl Floor Tiles, which sell at Walmart for $8.99 per box.
Since 2011, Walmart has transferred more than $45 billion in assets to a network of 22 shell companies in Luxembourg, the report says.
In fact, most Luxembourgers can afford flooring that's considerably more posh. A primary source of the luxe in this city-state of some 500,000 people is its corporate tax rate. Between 2010 and 2013, Walmart reported paying less than 1 percent in tax to Luxembourg on $1.3 billion in profits. Walmart also generates $1.5 billion worth of tax deductions in Luxembourg each year by making "phantom interest payments" to its home office in the United States, according to Americans for Tax Fairness. These benefits may explain why, since 2011, Walmart has transferred more than $45 billion in assets to a network of 22 shell companies in Luxembourg, the report says.
Walmart disputed the report's findings: "This is the same union-supported group that regularly issues flawed reports on Walmart to promote their agenda rather than the facts," the company said in a statement to USA Today. "This latest report includes incomplete, erroneous information designed to mislead readers." But the retailing giant did not go into any further detail.
UPDATE 6:00 p.m. PST: In an email to Mother Jones, a Walmart representative detailed the company's objections to the report:
When calculating total assets, this calculation incorrectly includes intercompany assets, primarily investment in our wholly-owned subsidiaries and intercompany loans which both eliminate on consolidation. The methodology is flawed and based upon statutory reports prior to intercompany eliminations which occur during consolidation.
As disclosed in our last form 10K (footnote 14), the Walmart International segment has total assets after intercompany eliminations of $80.5 billion, the vast majority of which are retail store buildings, fixtures, inventory and distribution facilities physically located in the countries where we serve customers.
A protester outside the Disrupting Democracy event, where the Honduran president had been scheduled to speak.
On Monday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was expected to appear in San Francisco to talk about his efforts to cede a chunk of his impoverished Central American nation to an international group ofinvestors who want to create an autonomous, self-governing, libertarian paradise. There was one problem, however: His talk was part of a speaker series called Disrupting Democracy, which may be a better venue for someone like Rand Paul than the beneficiary of a military coup who won office using funds allegedly embezzled from the national social security system.
Hernández and his deputies skipped Disrupting Democracy due to "civil unrest," according the event's organizers. On Sunday, 8,000 protesters had marched through the capital city of Tegucigalpa calling for his ouster.
"Before we begin, I would like to apologize for some confused messaging," said panelist Randy Hencken, who directs the Seasteading Institute, which promotes the creation of floating technoutopian nation-states and cosponsored the event. "Here in Silicon Valley, when we want to improve something, we say 'disrupt,'" Hencken continued. "Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."
At least a dozen anti-Hernández protesters showed up oustide the event, which was held at the South of Market headquarters of Lincoln Labs, a tech incubator cofounded by a former Mitt Romney campaign staffer.
"Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."
The first Disrupting Democracy event, held in May, featured Paul discussing the growth of "a new generation of voter engagement." Any subject that appeals to both libertarians and techies appears to interest Lincoln Labs, which was founded in 2013 to serve "liberty advocates living in Silicon Valley"—"a forgotten community that felt ostracized with no home." Other Lincoln Labs events include its Reboot conferences and hackathons focusing on the technology of political campaigning.
Everyone at Monday's event seemed to agree that the Honduran scheme, known as Zones for Employment and Economic Development, or ZEDEs, now seemed imperiled—a discouraging turn, given Hernández's close cooperation with antitax crusader Grover Norquist and high-ranking representatives of the libertarian Cato and Hayek Institutes.
Yet the seasteaders were undeterred, even emboldened. If Honduras didn't want to create a Hong-Kong style city on its coast, maybe it would host a floating city in its territorial waters. "That gets rid of complaints of ceding over large portions of land," noted Seasteading Institute member Mike Doty, who had a long gray beard and a pirate-skull-patterned bandanna. "On the Pacific side, there's a large bay there…They've done the engineering studies, the feasibility studies. We're pretty far along."
One thing that can never be disrupted, it seems, is the vision of a technolibertarian.