Project Censored 2014


Our oceans are acidifying — even if the nightly news hasn’t told you yet.

As humanity continues to fill the atmosphere with harmful gases, the planet is becoming less hospitable to life as we know it. The vast oceans absorb much of the carbon dioxide we have produced, from the industrial revolution through the rise of global capitalism. Earth’s self-sacrifice spared the atmosphere nearly 25 percent of humanity’s CO2 emissions, slowing the onslaught of many severe weather consequences.

Although the news media have increasingly covered the climate weirding of global warming — hurricane superstorms, fierce tornado clusters, overwhelming snowstorms, and record-setting global high temperatures — our ocean’s peril has largely stayed submerged below the biggest news stories.

The rising carbon dioxide in our oceans burns up and deforms the smallest, most abundant food at the bottom of the deep blue food chain. One vulnerable population is the tiny shelled swimmers known as the sea butterfly. In only a few short decades, the death and deformation of this fragile and translucent species could endanger predators all along the oceanic food web, scientists warn.

This “butterfly effect,” once unleashed, potentially threatens fisheries that feed over 1 billion people worldwide.

Since ancient times, humans fished the oceans for food. Now, we’re frying ocean life before we even catch it, starving future generations in the process. Largely left out of national news coverage, this dire report was brought to light by a handful of independent-minded journalists: Craig Welch from the Seattle Times, Julia Whitty of Mother Jones, and Eli Kintisch of ScienceNOW.

It is also the top story of Project Censored, an annual book and reporting project that features the year’s most underreported news stories, striving to unmask censorship, self-censorship, and propaganda in corporate-controlled media outlets. The book is set for release in late October.

“Information is the currency of democracy,” Ralph Nader, the prominent consumer advocate and many-time presidential candidate, wrote in his foreword to this year’s Project Censored 2015. But with most mass media owned by narrow corporate interests, “the general public remains uninformed.”

Whereas the mainstream media poke and peck at noteworthy events at single points in time, often devoid of historical context or analysis, Project Censored seeks to clarify understanding of real world issues and focus on what’s important. Context is key, and many of its “top censored” stories highlight deeply entrenched policy issues that require more explanation than a simple sound bite can provide.

Campus and faculty from over two dozen colleges and universities join in this ongoing effort, headquartered at Sonoma State University. Some 260 students and 49 faculty vet thousands of news stories on select criteria: importance, timeliness, quality of sources, and the level of corporate news coverage.

The top 25 finalists are sent to Project Censored’s panel of judges, who then rank the entries, with ocean acidification topping this year’s list.

“There are outlets, regular daily papers, who are independent and they’re out there,” Andy Lee Roth, associate director of Project Censored, told us. Too many news outlets are beholden to corporate interests, but Welch of the Seattle Times bucked the trend, Roth said, by writing some of the deepest coverage yet on ocean acidification.

“There are reporters doing the highest quality of work, as evidenced by being included in our list,” Roth said. “But the challenge is reaching as big an audience as [the story] should.”

Indeed, though Welch’s story was reported in the Seattle Times, a mid-sized daily newspaper, this warning is relevant to the entire world. To understand the impact of ocean acidification, Welch asks readers to “imagine every person on earth tossing a hunk of CO2 as heavy as a bowling ball into the sea. That’s what we do to the oceans every day.”

Computer modeler Isaac Kaplan, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Seattle, told Welch that his early work predicts significant declines in sharks, skates and rays, some types of flounder and sole, and Pacific whiting, the most frequently caught commercial fish off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.

Acidification may also harm fisheries in the farthest corners of the earth: A study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme outlines acidification’s threat to the arctic food chain.

“Decreases in seawater pH of about 0.02 per decade have been observed since the late 1960s in the Iceland and Barents Seas,” the study’s authors wrote in the executive summary. And destroying fisheries means wiping out the livelihoods of the native peoples of the Antarctic.

Acidification can even rewire the brains of fish, Welch’s story demonstrated. Studies found rising CO2 levels cause clown fish to gain athleticism, but have their sense of smell redirected. This transforms them into “dumb jocks,” scientists said, swimming faster and more vigorously straight into the mouths of their predators.

These Frankenstein fish were found to be five times more likely to die in the natural world. What a fitting metaphor for humanity, as our outsized consumption propels us towards an equally dangerous fate.

“It’s not as dramatic as say, an asteroid is hitting us from outer space,” Roth said of this slowly unfolding disaster, which is likely why such a looming threat to our food chain escapes much mainstream news coverage.

Journalism tends to be more “action focused,” Roth said, looking to define conflict in everything it sees. A recently top-featured story on CNN focused on President Barack Obama’s “awkward coffee cup salute” to a Marine, which ranks only slightly below around-the-clock coverage of the president’s ugly tan suit as a low point in mainstream media’s focus on the trivial.

As Nader noted, “‘important stories’ are often viewed as dull by reporters and therefore unworthy of coverage.” But mainstream media do cover some serious topics with weight, as it did in the wake of the police officer shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. So what’s the deciding factor?

As Roth tells it, corporate news focuses on “drama, and the most dramatic action is of course violence.”

But the changes caused by ocean acidification are gradual. Sea butterflies are among the most abundant creatures in our oceans, and are increasingly born with shells that look like cauliflower or sandpaper, making this and similar species more susceptible to infection and predators.

“Ocean acidification is changing the chemistry of the world’s water faster than ever before, and faster than the world’s leading scientists predicted,” Welch said, but it’s not getting the attention is deserves. “Combined nationwide spending on acidification research for eight federal agencies, including grants to university scientists by the National Science Foundation, totals about $30 million a year — less than the annual budget for the coastal Washington city of Hoquiam, population 10,000.”

Our oceans may slowly cook our food chain into new forms with potentially catastrophic consequences. Certainly 20 years from now, when communities around the world lose their main source of sustenance, the news will catch on. But will the problem make the front page tomorrow, while there’s still time to act?

Probably not, and that’s why we have Project Censored and its annual list:



Sexual abuse, children kept in cages, extra-judicial murder. While these sound like horrors the United States would stand against, the reverse is true: This country is funding these practices.

The US is a signatory of the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but the top 10 international recipients of US foreign assistance in 2014 all practice torture, according to human rights groups, as reported by Daniel Wickham of online outlet Left Foot Forward.

Israel received over $3 billion in US aid for fiscal year 2013-14, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Israel was criticized by the country’s own Public Defender’s Office for torturing children suspected of minor crimes.

“During our visit, held during a fierce storm that hit the state, attorneys met detainees who described to them a shocking picture: in the middle of the night dozens of detainees were transferred to the external iron cages built outside the IPS transition facility in Ramla,” the PDO wrote, according to The Independent.

The next top recipients of US foreign aid were Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Iraq, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. All countries were accused of torture by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Kenyan police in Nairobi tortured, raped, or otherwise abused more than 1,000 refugees from 2012 to 2013, Human Rights Watch found. The Kenyan government received $564 million from the United States in 2013-14.

When the US funds a highway or other project that it’s proud of, it plants a huge sign proclaiming “your tax dollars at work.” When the US funds torturers, the corporate media bury the story, or worse, don’t report it at all.



The Trans-Pacific Partnership is like the Stop Online Piracy Act on steroids, yet few have heard of it, let alone enough people to start an Internet campaign to topple it. Despite details revealed by Wikileaks, the nascent agreement has been largely ignored by the corporate media.

Even the world’s elite are out of the loop: Only three officials in each of the 12 signatory countries have access to this developing trade agreement that potentially impacts over 800 million people.

The agreement touches on intellectual property rights and the regulation of private enterprise between nations, and is open to negotiation and viewing by 600 “corporate advisors” from big oil, pharmaceutical, to entertainment companies.

Meanwhile, more than 150 House Democrats signed a letter urging President Obama to halt his efforts to fast-track negotiations, and to allow Congress the ability to weigh in now on an agreement only the White House has seen.

Many criticized the secrecy surrounding the TPP, arguing the real world consequences may be grave. Doctors Without Borders wrote, “If harmful provisions in the US proposals for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement are not removed before it is finalized, this trade deal will have a real cost in human lives.”



This entry demonstrates the nuance in Project Censored’s media critique. Verizon v. FCC may weaken Internet regulation, which Electronic Frontier Foundation and other digital freedom advocates allege would create a two-tiered Internet system. Under the FCC’s proposed new rules, corporate behemoths such as Comcast or Verizon could charge entities to use faster bandwidth, which advocates say would create financial barriers to free speech and encourage censorship.

Project Censored alleges corporate outlets such as The New York Times and Forbes “tend to highlight the business aspects of the case, skimming over vital particulars affecting the public and the Internet’s future.”

Yet this is a case where corporate media were circumvented by power of the viral web. John Oliver, comedian and host of Last Week Tonight on HBO, recently gave a stirring 13-minute treatise on the importance of stopping the FCC’s new rules, resulting in a flood of comments to the FCC defending a more open Internet. The particulars of net neutrality have since been thoroughly reported in the corporate media.

But, as Project Censored notes, mass media coverage only came after the FCC’s rule change was proposed, giving activists little time to right any wrongs. It’s a subtle but important distinction.



Bankers responsible for rigging municipal bonds and bilking billions of dollars from American cities have largely escaped criminal charges. Every day in the US, low-level drug dealers get more prison time than these scheming bankers who, while working for GE Capital, allegedly skimmed money from public schools, hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes, according to Rolling Stone.

Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg, and Peter Grimm were dubbed a part of the “modern American mafia,” by the magazine’s Matt Taibbi, one of the few journalists to consistently cover their trial. Meanwhile, disturbingly uninformed cable media “journalists” defended the bankers, saying they shouldn’t be prosecuted for “failure,” as if cheating vulnerable Americans were a bad business deal.

“Had the US authorities decided to press criminal charges,” Assistant US Attorney General Lanny Breuer told Taibbi. “HSBC (a British bank) would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat, and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.”

Over the course of decades, the nation’s bankers transformed into the modern mafioso. Unfortunately, our modern media changed as well, and are no longer equipped to tackle systemic, complex stories.



What’s frightening about the puppeteers who pull the strings of our national government is not how hidden they are, but how hidden they are not.

From defense contractors to multinational corporations, a wealthy elite using an estimated $32 trillion in tax-exempt offshore havens are the masters of our publicly elected officials. In an essay written for Moyer and Company by Mike Lofgren, a congressional staffer of 28 years focused on national security, this cabal of wealthy interests comprise our nation’s “Deep State.”

As Lofgren writes for Moyers, “The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction.”

This is a story that truly challenges the mass media, which do report on the power of wealth, in bits and pieces. But although the cabal’s disparate threads are occasionally pulled, the spider’s web of corruption largely escapes corporate media’s larger narrative.

The myopic view censors the full story as surely as outright silence would. The problem deepens every year.

“There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government,” Lofgren wrote, of a group that together would “occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet.”



Nationally, law enforcement worked in the background to monitor and suppress the Occupy Wall Street movement, a story the mainstream press has shown little interest in covering.

A document obtained in FOIA request by David Lindorff of Who, What WHY from the FBI office in Houston,, Texas revealed an alleged assassination plot targeting a Occupy group, which the FBI allegedly did not warn the movement about.

From the redacted document: “An identified [DELETED] as of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protestors (sic) in Houston, Texas if deemed necessary. An identified [DELETED] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. [DELETED] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.”

Lindorff confirmed the document’s veracity with the FBI. When contacted by Lindorff, Houston Police were uninterested, and seemingly (according to Lindorff), uninformed.

In Arizona, law enforcement exchanged information of possible Occupy efforts with JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, according to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy titled Dissent on Terror. The CEO meant to evade possible protests, and local law enforcement was happy to help.

Law enforcement’s all-seeing eyes broadened through the national rise of “fusion centers” over the past decade, hubs through which state agencies exchange tracking data on groups exercising free speech. And as we share, “like,” and “check-in” online with ever-more frequency, that data becomes more robust by the day.



In what can only be responded to with a resounding “duh,” news analyses have found mainstream media frequently report on severe weather changes without referring to global warming as the context or cause, even as a question.

As Project Censored notes, a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found extreme weather events in 2013 spurred 450 broadcast news segments, only 16 of which even mentioned climate change. National news outlets have fallen on the job as well, as The New York Times recently shuttered its environmental desk and its Green blog, reducing the number of reporters exclusively chasing down climate change stories.

Unlike many journalists, ordinary people often recognize the threat of our warming planet. Just as this story on Project Censored went to press, over 400,000 protested in the People’s Climate March in New York City alone, while simultaneous protests erupted across the globe, calling for government, corporate, and media leaders to address the problem.

“There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graca Machel, the widow of former South African President Nelson Mandela, told the United Nations conference on climate change. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.”



The US battle with Russia over Ukraine’s independence is actually an energy pipeline squabble, a narrative lost by mainstream media coverage, Project Censored alleges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn fire from the media as a tyrant, without complex analyses of his country’s socio-economic interests, according to Project Censored. As the media often do, they have turned the conflict into a cult of personality, talking up Putin’s shirtless horseback riding and his hard-line style with deftness missing from their political analysis.

As The Guardian UK’s Nafeez Ahmed reported, a recent US State Department-sponsored report noted “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities,” highlighting its economic importance to the US and its allies.



The United States’ legacy in Iraq possibly goes beyond death to a living nightmare of cancer and birth defects, due to the military’s use of depleted uranium weapons, a World Health Organization study found. Iraq is poisoned. Much of the report’s contents were leaked to the BBC during its creation. But the release of the report, completed in 2012 by WHO, has stalled. Critics allege the US is deliberately blocking its release, masking a damning Middle East legacy rivaling the horrors of Agent Orange in Vietnam. But Iraq will never forget the US intervention, as mothers cradle babies bearing scars obtained in the womb, the continuing gifts of our invasion.

‘Alternative to Pride Parade’ announced


In the wake of all the kerfuffles besetting Pride this year — from the Pride Board’s egregiously mismanaged reaction to the election of Bradley Manning as a community grand marshal (his supporters have plans of their own), to the recent announcement that military recruiters would be descending upon the celebration in earnest, and, well, just the continued corporatization of Pride in general — it comes as no surprise that a radical Pride-questioning movement has been reawakened.  Just like the ’90s are back, so is Gay Shame, at least in spirit.

And thus an alternative parade to the Pride one on Sunday has been announced — let us not be surprised that it is a bar crawl! In any case, it’s a nice start to getting us back to our gay, unlicensed roots while joining with other activists who are Over the Rainbow(TM). Here’s the statement from the organizers with more details.

Have you had enough with the poor political choices of some community leaders that claim to represent you? Are you over the over-corporatizing of SF PRIDE??? Or just tired of the same old events that don’t reflect who you are, and how you want to celebrate your queer pride?

Want to be part of something different, something fun, something that will challenge conventional thought within the SF LGBTQ community?


We will be getting back to our gay roots, meeting at THE CINCH BAR at 1723 Polk Street at 12 NOON with the parade beginning at 1pm (we don’t think a 10:30am start time for a Pride Parade is appropriate), ending up at THE SF EAGLE.

We will make stops along the way, passing through SF PRIDE at Civic Center to express (peacefully) our displeasure with what passes for gay pride at this event, and then we will continue on to SOMA with stops at THE POWERHOUSE/HOLE IN THE WALL, and finally we will end up at The SF EAGLE.

We encourage you to DRESS UP, whatever you want: Drag, Leather, Freak, Nerd, Casual, Beach Wear, Furry, Punk, etc. We also encourage you to BRING PROTEST SIGNS, be creative (body paint?), be original! We will definitely want folks to know what we are up to and perhaps get people thinking about why we need BUDWEISER, VIRGIN AMERICA, VERIZON, WELLS FARGO, BANK OF AMERICA, and COMCAST to have a good time!


A thought on the PRISM program


The huge story of the last week was the UK Guardian’s revelations of massive data mining by the US government of Verizon and the outrage in its wake. Naturally, the paranoia is ramped up, as is the apologist rebuttal. But one thing no one wants to talk about is this: What is to stop a government determined to “get” someone from simply fabricating electronically transmitted data? If someone is perceived as a “threat to national security” (for whatever reason), isn’t it possible to create fake emails and texts?

Like a cyber version of a “throwdown gun“?

Not going all “line the walls with tinfoil, here comes the New World Order, Alex Jones is Christ incarnate” on you, but as such a thing is now doable, who’s to stop it? Certainly not a rubber stamp like the FISA courts. Certainly not the “benevolent nature” of politicians. 

Something to consider when you are sanguine about “they’re only protecting me”.

It’s only to keep you safe, why worry?


As the story of the government data mining Verizon’s customers gains (and loses) momentum, the various responses (all predictable) are rolling out. “It’s Obama’s fault”, “Bush did it, too”, “I don’t care as long as it keeps me safe”, “they’re going after patriotic Americans”, blah. blah, blah. My favorite take on this is “well, I’ve done nothing wrong, so I don’t worry–if you haven’t done anything wrong, what are you worried about?”

If you haven’t broken the law or done anything to raise suspicion, then it’s Bobby McFerrin serenade time, right?

No shit?

See “Internment camps, Japanese-Americans, 1942”. Or perhaps “Screenwriters, Ball, Lucille, 1952”. Or “King, Martin Luther, 1962”. Or “National Committee, Democratic, 1972”.

Property seized, livelihood destroyed, assassination, election-rigging. And you’ll note that of the above, none of the subjects were “doing anything wrong”.

Don’t your ears get grimy with your head in the sand all damned day?  



Double standard and then some


“Let’s see. I was a reporter for the AP in Washington. I’m a Verizon customer in America. Way to go, govt. You have my phone records covered.”

Ben Feller, writer, today.

“For an unpopular guy on his way out of his office, President Bush still has some juice.

When Bush signed a law Thursday to broaden the government’s eavesdropping power, he served notice of how much sway he still holds on matters of national security.

Why the difference on security?

Because protecting the country is, in fact, a different matter. The president commands the military in a time of war. He leads a nation that was infamously attacked — and no one has forgotten 9/11.

So going against him can mean being labeled as soft on terrorism or unsupportive of the troops. In an election year, try going to the voters with that around your neck”.

Ben Feller, same person, same subject, 2008.

Let me see if I fully get it: When it is we the peon public being eavesdropped upon, it is to “protect the country”. When it’s the press, it’s an outrage.


>>Read SFBG writer Rebecca Bowe’s coverage of the NSA scandal here and here.

NSA spying on Verizon calls is nothing new

So, the federal government is spying on millions of Americans. Still. And this time, there’s a document to prove it.

In a momentous scoop by journalist Glenn Greenwald, the UK Guardian has published a top secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon to turn over all call records to the National Security Agency.

It does not matter if you are suspected of wrongdoing, or what your political beliefs are. It’s now been confirmed that if you are a Verizon subscriber, your “telephony metadata” is being handed over the NSA, “on an ongoing daily basis,” along with the records of millions of other subscribers.

What can this metadata reveal about a telecom subscriber?

“Every call made, the location of the phone, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other ‘identifying information’ for the phone and call,” according to this cogent explanation provided by Electronic Frontier Foundation attorneys Cindy Cohn and Mark Rumold (in full disclosure, my former coworkers). Take a moment to let that sink in. We’re not just talking about every number dialed, but the geographic location of every phone.

Further raising eyebrows: “There is no indication that this order to Verizon was unique or novel,” Cohn and Rumold note. “It is very likely that business records orders like this exist for every major American telecommunication company, meaning that, if you make calls in the United States, the NSA has those records.” (Emphasis mine.)

President Barack Obama has defended the practice, calling it “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States.” 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at a news conference in D.C. that the court order in question “is a three-month renewal of an ongoing practice,” according to the Associated Press.

Former Vice President Al Gore tweeted that the domestic surveillance program is “obscenely outrageous.” More than 16,000 people have signed an emergency petition urging Congress to “investigate,” while the American Civil Liberties Union has launched a petition calling on the Obama Administration to stop it already.

Amid the well-founded outrage over a document conclusively revealing a widespread domestic spying program, what’s really fascinating is the ho-hum response of two whistleblowers formerly employed by the NSA, who went on Democracy Now! and basically said, duh, what took the mainstream media so long to notice? 

“Where has the mainstream media been? These are routine orders, nothing new,” Thomas Drake told program host Amy Goodman. “What’s new is we’re seeing an actual order. And people are somehow surprised by it. The fact remains that this program has been in place for quite some time. It was actually started shortly after 9/11. The Patriot Act was the enabling mechanism that allowed the United States government in secret to acquire subscriber records from any company.”

NSA whistleblower William Binney chimed in: “NSA has been doing all this stuff all along, and it’s been all the companies, not just one. And I basically looked at [the top secret order] and said, well, if Verizon got one, so did everybody else, which means that, you know, they’re just continuing the collection of this kind of information on all U.S. citizens. … There’s just—in my estimate, it was—if you collapse it down to all uniques, it’s a little over 280 million U.S. citizens are in there, each in there several hundred to several thousand times.”

The publication of this court order also came less as a revelation, and more of a confirmation of what they’ve been saying all along, for San Francisco-based EFF attorneys, who have been mired in a legal battle against the NSA on warrantless wiretapping for the better part of a decade.

(Things started to get rolling on that front on Jan. 20, 2006, when former AT&T employee Mark Klein waltzed into EFF’s office clutching a manila envelope containing technical corporate documents, “detailing the construction of the NSA’s secret spying room in AT&T’s San Francisco facility” on Folsom Street.)

“This type of untargeted, wholly domestic surveillance is exactly what EFF, and others, have been suing about for years,” Cohn and Rumold remind us.

Legally speaking, much of this debate pertains to Section 215 of the U.S. Patriot Act, which the federal government has relied upon to claim it has legal authority to conduct mass surveillance of communications.

In May of 2011, Sen. Ron Wyden issued a cryptic warning during a debate about the reauthorization of Section 215. “I want to deliver a warning this afternoon,” Wyden said. “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”

Has that day arrived?

Silent sting


If the FBI is trying to track down a suspect in your neighborhood, investigators could sweep up information from your mobile device just because you happen to be nearby.

It’s been going on for years with little public notice or attention.

Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act request shed new light on a surveillance device known as a Stingray that allows law enforcement to automatically collect cell phone data from potentially hundreds of subscribers in a given area — even when the vast majority of those affected have nothing to do with the criminal investigation at hand.

The documents came in response to an FOIA request from the Bay Guardian and the Northern California Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Stingray is a brand name; the devices might also be known as a Triggerfish, a digital analyzer, a cell site emulator, or an IMSI catcher, the latter being a technical term describing the gadget’s ability to detect International Mobile Subscriber Identities. It essentially behaves like cell phone tower, putting out a strong signal that tricks mobile devices into connecting automatically.

If there are 200 cell phone customers in an area where it’s being deployed, all of their phones will automatically connect to the device.

Once cell phones are talking to the Stingray, the device scoops up digital information and uses it to help agents ferret out their target. Some Stingrays have the capability to capture actual content — texts or telephone conversations — while others act like eyes and ears that can guide police to the precise geographic location of a targeted suspect, even within a couple meters.

And it doesn’t even require a warrant.

“You can operate it without having to involve the cell phone providers at all,” Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, told us. His organization helped a journalist obtain records about the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of Stingrays.

“The service providers, while they don’t stand as a major barrier, tend to insist on police having some kind of judicial authorization,” Scheer said. “It has been an important check on police use of these technologies.”


The FBI initially refused to provide the documents, but after the ACLU filed suit, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California finally released some information, including a particularly juicy set of internal emails documenting federal agents’ use of these devices.

In one of the emails, Criminal Division Chief Miranda Kane wrote: “Our office has been working closely with the magistrate judges in an effort to address their collective concerns regarding whether a pen register is sufficient to authorize the use of law enforcement’s WIT technology … to locate an individual.”

(“WIT technology” is described as a box that simulates a cell tower and can be placed inside a van to help pinpoint an individual’s location with some specificity.”)

Kane added: “Many agents are still using [this] technology in the field although the pen register application does not make that explicit.” In a clarifying email sent later on the same thread, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Waldinger noted: “Just to be super clear, the agents may not use the term ‘WIT’ but rather may be using the term … ‘Stingray.'”

Kane’s reference to a “pen register application” describes a request for court approval to use an investigative tactic that can trace the outgoing numbers dialed from a particular phone. While Stingrays can potentially sweep in hundreds of cell phone customers’ information, pen-register wiretaps focus narrowly on the digits being punched in by one individual.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that the use of a pen register is “not a search under the Fourth Amendment,” Susan Freiwald, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, told us. That means law-enforcement agents don’t need a full-scale search warrant. And court orders permitting pen-register wiretaps are “really easy to get,” Friewald explained.

To secure a judge’s blessing, law enforcement agents need only to submit complete applications and show that the phone numbers dialed are “relevant” to an investigation.

Kane’s email, dated in 2011, is significant because it suggests that “many agents” were using Stingrays for investigations after clearing only the low hurdle of court approval for a pen register. “The federal government was routinely using Stingray technology in the field, but failing to make that explicit in its applications to the court to engage in electronic surveillance,” ACLU Staff Attorney Linda Lye wrote in a recent blog post. “When the magistrate judges in the Northern District of California finally found out what was happening, they expressed ‘collective concerns,’ according to the emails.”

The revelation is closely tied to an electronic surveillance case that’s currently making its way through court, most recently prompting the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to file an amicus brief challenging the constitutionality of a Stingray use.


It all began back in 2008, when FBI agents used the technology to track down a hacker and alleged fraudster named Daniel David Rigmaiden — a guy who sometimes goes by an alias, represented himself in court, and seems to possess enough technical savvy and disposable income to challenge his prosecutors at every turn.

Through discovery proceedings, Rigmaiden “managed to get the government to admit that it has used this location tracking technology to find him,” Lye noted. “That is quite extraordinary, because there have been suspicions that that this device has been around and in use for quite a long time, but there are really very few cases where we talk about it, and this is the only criminal case where the government has plainly admitted to using it to locate a suspect.”

Because FBI agents used a Stingray to locate Rigmaiden, they not only figured out that he was inside a Santa Clara apartment building, but successfully sniffed down to the level of his exact unit.

But the request for court orders that authorized this investigation made only a fleeting mention of a mobile tracking device, without conveying just how powerful the surveillance tool actually is. “When we read the orders, we were very, very surprised and troubled,” Lye said. “Because the government was arguing in the criminal proceeding in Rigmaiden, yes, we acknowledge that we’ve used this cell site emulator, and we’re even … acknowledging that the device is intrusive enough in the way it operates to constitute a search — which is a significant concession.”

In this case, the FBI agents obtained a court order to use a pen register, and separately obtained court approval to solicit Verizon’s help in locating Rigmaiden, which the government claims constituted a warrant (though this is a point of contention). But nowhere did agents make it clear to the judge that in order to work, this surveillance device vacuums up vast amounts of third-party data. The search potentially affected hundreds of subscribers in Rigmaiden’s apartment complex, none of whom were suspected of any involvement in wrongdoing. The government noted in court filings that it purged the third-party data after the fact, presumably as a way to deflect privacy concerns.

“It did not explain that the device broadcasts signals to all devices in the area, receives information about other devices in the possession of third parties, potentially disrupts the connections of third-party devices, and penetrates the walls of every private residence in the vicinity, not solely that of the target,” the ACLU-EFF brief argues.

At the end of March, Lye argued in an Arizona federal court hearing that evidence gathered using a Stingray should be suppressed in the Rigmaiden case, because the government used the tracking tool but failed to tell the federal magistrate judge that it was doing so. But in the course of that hearing, “the government stated … that ‘use of these devices is a very common practice,'” Lye note in an update following the hearing. “It also stated that there were many parts of the country in which the FBI successfully obtains authorization to use this device through a trap and trace [pen register] order.”

Nor is it just federal agencies that use these surveillance tools. The results of a FOIA request filed by a Los Angeles journalist with the assistance of the First Amendment Coalition revealed that LAPD used this technology in 21 out of 155 cell phone investigation cases — from June to September of last year alone. The devices were used to investigate five homicide cases and a roster of other offenses, including a burglary, a narcotics investigation, two suicides, a robbery and three kidnappings.

For civil liberties advocates, the aim is to require stronger judicial oversight and a warrant before this kind of surveillance practice can be used. “The argument here is about, well this technology is so powerful and so intrusive — it really needs to be under extensive oversight by members of the judiciary,” notes Friewald, the law professor. “And in order for that to happen, the judge needs to have that technology described to them.”

Feds’ use of spy tools under scrutiny due to privacy concerns

If the FBI is trying to pinpoint the location of a suspect in your neighborhood, investigators could sweep up information from your mobile device just because you happen to be in proximity to their target. Civil liberties advocates are concerned that the practice is a major invasion of privacy.

The results of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the San Francisco Bay Guardian last year sheds new light on the federal government’s use of Stingrays, a surveillance technology that mimics a cellphone tower by automatically connecting with mobile devices in the area where a search is being conducted.

Stingray is a brand name, but the devices are sometimes called Triggerfish, digital analyzers, or cell site emulators. They’re known to technologists as IMSI catchers, meaning they can intercept a user’s International Mobile Subscriber Identity.

As the ACLU of Northern California noted recently in a blog post, Department of Justice emails obtained in response to the FOIA request, filed with the US Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of California, revealed that federal agents who sought authorization to conduct searches using this technology were “less than forthcoming” about what the devices actually do.

The issue stems from federal investigators’ request for a search warrant several years ago targeting Daniel Rigmaiden, a hacker accused of committing fraud. The search was authorized, but it seems agents never explained just how wide a net they intended to cast.

Because FBI agents used an IMSI catcher rather than, say, triangulation techniques that can utilize subscriber data to find their target, they were able to pinpoint Rigmaiden’s precise location – not only revealing that he was inside a Santa Clara apartment building, but sniffing down to the level of his exact unit. 

But when a search of this kind is conducted, a Stingray automatically connects with every other mobile device in the immediate vicinity that uses the same provider (in this case, Verizon). It works by masquerading as a cell phone tower, tricking mobile devices into automatically communicating with the spy device. So any other Verizon subscribers who happened to be nearby also had their information caught up in the FBI’s net.

There are various kinds of IMSI catchers, and some are capable of sweeping in the contents of communication, such as text messages. In the Rigmaiden case, investigators said were only able to access subscriber information. Investigators also reported that they “purged” unneeded data after the fact, according to ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye. But purging the data also makes it impossible to prove that the information of particular individuals was wrongfully swept up in a search. 

The FOIA request was filed in April of last year. Last July, after the government failed to provide the information, a lawsuit was filed to get the documents.  

The string of emails that was finally provided suggests that federal agents have been using this sort of technology in the field for some time, without clearly representing to judges that Stingrays can vacuum up third party communications data. Instead of being explicit on this point, agents from the Department of Justice merely stated that they wanted to use a mobile tracking device.

“It has recently come to my attention that many agents are still using [IMSI catchers] in the field although the pen register application does not make that explicit,” notes an internal Department of Justice email obtained through the FOIA request, referring to a different kind of search technique that is more narrowly targeted. 

Lye drilled down on this point in her blog post:

“The federal government was routinely using stingray technology in the field, but failing to ‘make that explicit’ in its applications to the court to engage in electronic surveillance. When the magistrate judges in the Northern District of California finally found out what was happening, they expressed ‘collective concerns,’ according to the emails. Notably, this email chain is dated May 2011, some three years after the Stingray’s use in Rigmaiden’s case – meaning the government was not ‘forthright’ in its applications to federal magistrate judges for at least three years.”

After battling for months in court in a separate proceeding, the ACLU of Northern California also succeeded in unsealing the Northern District DOJ orders that authorized use of the surveillance devices. Now, the civil liberties advocates are partnering with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups to file an amicus brief concerning the constitutional implications of using a Stingray to collect evidence in the Rigmaiden case. “Their use implicates the privacy interests of the suspect, as well as untold numbers of third parties as to whom there is no probable cause,” the lawyers argue.

“When we read the orders, we were very, very surprised and troubled,” Lye noted in a recent conversation with the Guardian. “Because the government was arguing in the criminal proceeding in Rigmaiden, yes, we acknowledge that we’ve used this cell site emulator, and we’re even … acknowledging that the device is intrusive enough in the way it operates to constitute a search – which is a significant concession.”

For more on Stingrays, pick up next week’s issue of the SFBG.

White House supports cell-phone petition


A petition calling for legislation to legalize unlocking cell phones has passed the magic 100,000 mark, mandating a White House response — and guess what? The Obama administration says it agrees that consumers should have the right to reprogram their phones to work on any carrier’s network.

Sina Khanifar, a San Francisco entrepreneur, started this whole movement, and it’s picked up steam quickly. Now, with the Obama administration on board, he just needs a member of Congress to introduce a bill overruling the Library of Congress and freeing the cell phones.

Rep. Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, would be an excellent choice to carry the legislation, no?

Cell phone petition gets 100K signatures


A San Francisco entrepreneur’s petition to allow consumers to unlock their cell phones has gathered more than 100,000 signatures, and now the White House will have to offer an official response.

Sina Khanifar, who runs opensignal, has been pushing to overturn a recent ruling allowing cell phone companies to prevent people who want to switch carriers from changing the firmware that controls the device.

The campaign to convince the Obama administration and Congress to overturn the ridiculous ruling continues here.

Free the cell phones! Sign the petition


A San Francisco entrepreneur is trying to get the Obama administration to overturn a stupid anticonsumer law that protects cell phone makers and phone companies.

Sina Khanifar, co-founder of opensignal, has collected more than 80,000 signatures on a White House petition calling for a restoration of the right to “unlock” a cell phone — that is, to alter its programming so it can be used on a different carrier’s network.

It is, Khanifar told me, a fairly simple issue: If I buy a cell phone, it ought to be mine to use as I wish — and if that includes taking it apart, rewiring it, or changing the programming, that’s my business.

As he notes:

Intuitively we understand that once we’ve purchased a product it’s up to us how we use or modify it. Replacing the hard drive on a Macbook may invalidate our warranty, but it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, illegal.

But under a recent ruling by the Library of Congress, which oversees parts of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, cell phone companies have the right to demand exclusive use of the devices.

That means when you buy a phone from, say, Sprint, it comes with a code that ensures it will work only on Sprint’s network. You can’t take that same phone and move your account to, say, Verizon or AT&T; you’d have to buy a new phone.

Khanifar has made something of a business out of resetting phones to work on other networks, which is particularly useful for people who are moving or travelling out of the country, where it often costs a fortune to use a US cell phone. Several years ago, Motorola tried to sue him — but with the help of a pro bono lawyer, he was able to beat the giant company back.

But the new rules mean someone who tries to change the code on a device he or she legally owns can be subject to as much as five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Cell phone companies say the law is needed to protect their interests; after all, that smart phone you bought for $99 when you signed a contract with your carrier actually retails for about $700. You get the discount by signing a contract to use the company’s network for a period of time, typically two years.

But Khanifar says — correctly — that those contracts already include hefty cancellation fees that more than cover the investment the company made in giving you a discounted phone.

In other words, he says, this is a corporate giveaway that undermines consumer rights. Ultimately, it will take an act of Congress to change the rules, and so far, only one member, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) has shown any interest. “But right now, we’re just trying to get this on the administration’s radar,” Khanifar said.

He needs 100,000 signatures to get an official White House response, and the deadline is Feb. 23. Sign up.


The end of landlines?


The market for smart phones has reached the saturation point in the United States; it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have a mobile device. Hard, maybe — but not impossible. There are still thousands of people, many of them seniors, who rely on that old-fashioned, low-tech landline for their inexpensive connection to the world — and they’re about to lose out.

The deregulation of the telecommunications industry has reached the point where phone companies in California and elsewhere are getting ready to pull out and disconnect the copper wires that support traditional landlines — which, by law, have to be made available at dirt-cheap rates to low-income people.

And while so-called Lifeline rates for cell phones are coming, they aren’t available yet.

“It’s extremely important,” Nick Pasquariello, a senior and low-income resident of San Francisco who uses a landline with a Lifeline rate, told us. Like many seniors, Pasquariello says his old phone is cheaper, more reliable and simpler than a wireless plan.

“The technology and rates are changing all the time. It’s confusing,” he says, adding that the end of landlines would be detrimental to many people. “I haven’t heard of Lifeline for cell phones.”

So over the next year or two, seniors could find themselves disconnected. “It’s clear to us that companies like AT&T and Verizon are planning to get rid of their copper networks,” said Paul Goodman of the Greenlining Institute in Berkeley, which conducts public policy research and advocacy. Telecom companies have spent years lobbying to retire those lines, arguing that they’re expensive to maintain, which explains why they’ve been remiss when it comes to their upkeep.

“The phone companies are not repairing or maintaining old copper networks. They don’t want the responsibility,” Goodman explained.

Basic utilities like phone service have long been considered necessities and legislators have ensured that every household has access to them.

But replacing copper with newer technology makes better business sense. “It’s more lucrative to operate the VoIP and wireless networks,” Mark Toney, Executive Director of The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, told us. “They’re able to charge more per month and the profits are greater.”

The deregulation of phone service is nothing new; it started back in 1984 with the break up of AT&T. But it’s reaching the point where there’s little oversight at all.

In 2011, lawmakers in Wisconsin passed the Telecommunications Modernization Act and last year, virtually eliminating state regulation of phone companies. In New Hampshire, Governor John Lynch signed a similar bill into law. In California, SB 1161 went into effect a few months ago, lifting the California Public Utilities Commission’s regulatory power over internet-based phone services like VoIP and IP, among other things.

The bill’s passage caused consumer advocates to argue that deregulation would lead to price gouging and unfair business practices like cramming (or unauthorized third party charges found on a customer’s bill).

“We’re concerned with making sure consumers and seniors still have their protections which we think should apply regardless of the technology,” said Michael Richard, associate state director of advocacy for AARP.

Right now, Lifeline service is only offered through landlines. Retiring copper wire networks, and thus traditional landline service, could eliminate Lifeline altogether.

As the telecommunications industry has upgraded its products and services to accommodate newer technology, the CPUC has been forced to rethink its idea of what basic service looks like. Bill Johnston, Telecommunications Advisor to CPUC Commissioner Catherine Sandoval, told us the commission is working to make improvements.

“The earlier definition of basic service was from 1996 so there was a need to update that definition to include wireless service,” said Johnston, adding that the commission approved redefinition of “basic service” in December. That redefinition included offering Lifeline to “wireless and non traditional providers.” The definition reads: “Any basic service provider offering basic service must offer Lifeline rates on a non-discriminatory basis to eligible customers within the region where the provider offers basic service.”

But the service isn’t yet available for wireless or VoIP — and some fear that the current program will eclipse before a new one is in place. Johnston said a meeting is set for January 29 to discuss the scope of rules for Lifeline, and public hearings will be held around the state later this year to address this and other issues related to telecom deregulation.

The argument that landline phones are dying out may have some validity, but their benefits and practicality are evident — take for instance weather emergencies. After Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast a few months ago, many towers providing service to cell phones went down. Landline users, however, were unaffected and still able to get in touch with family and emergency services.

According to Johnston, the commission is well aware of the benefits. “They want to make sure the wire line remains available because it has traditionally been the more reliable service.”

The notion that landlines phones are becoming obsolete has some consumer advocates rolling their eyes. “Most people in California have both cell phones and landlines,” said Toney.

Corporate vampires drink your blood


The same week that Warren Buffett gave an anemic Bank of America a $5 billion transfusion of capital, a score of protesters in downtown San Francisco said they know why the economy still sucks: corporate greed.

Demonstrators from US Uncut held a “corporate vampires for the empire” blood drive in front of several of Market Street’s most prominent storefronts August 27, pointing out corporations that haven’t paid their fair share of taxes.

“We have taken your money. We have taken your houses – now we want your blood!” cried out Vlad the Impaler in front of a Bank of America branch on Market street.

“No more, please no more,” his victim begged, a mock blood transfusion bag attached to her neck.

“More blood, more, you can give more!” laughed a jovial Vlad.

The victim fell to the sidewalk after giving her last ounce of blood to Bank of America.

According to US Uncut, Bank of America, despite having $2.2 trillion in assets, pays less in taxes than an average American household.

“Corporate tax evaders have no shame, they are sucking the economic vitality out of our country,” said protester and vampire hunter Bill Schwalb, who was quick to say he was in no way related to Charlies Schwab.

A crowd on lower Market drew its own picture of the American economy as a pair of women with shopping bags passed by in one direction and a homeless man with a bed roll passed the other way, both stopping a moment to observe the mock blood drive.

Pre-positioned victims at the Apple Store, Wells Fargo, FedEx, and Verizon were bitten and bled dry while waiting in line, to the shock and amusement of customers, while outside the blood donors were administered to by vampire nurses.

“Tax evasion, though vilified by the truthmongers of the left, is as American as apple pie. It’s an orgy of greed and blood lust,” Vlad told a crowd of bystanders who had stopped to gawk at the spectacle.
While the pantomime was funny, the issue is not. The group said the companies they targeted represented the worst of the worst of corporate tax dodgers. Together they represent billions of dollars in lost tax revenue – losses that are translating into service cuts to societies most vulnerable.

“No wonder we’re broke, all these corporations not paying their taxes,” exclaimed an irate passer-by in front of the Apple Store after listening to the group.

Bedbugs and pickpockets: a non-travelers tale


I am a hotel aficionado. I wrote my undergraduate thesis in a New Haven hotel lobby, watching the light fade from pink to orange to a deep purple-blue each night, sometimes not leaving until the floor-to-ceiling panes of glass began to brighten with the morning.

Some of my favorite places in San Francisco are hotels: I love their bars and cafes, awash at all hours with a tide of voices bubbling forth in languages I don’t understand. I love the scale and grandeur of the marble foyers and reams of upholstery. I love making up stories about the passers-by: this one with jetlagged eyes and too much eyeliner; that one walking an unwieldy assortment of shopping bags like too many dogs; the last, an anachronism with a cigar and seersucker.

Like the airport bar, hotels hold all the romance of a moment suspended: an alternate reality, set apart from the day-to-day. Of course, most people associate traveling with a whole set of very real hassles – from which, I found out yesterday, my little non-vacation vacations are not immune. I experienced some authenticity along with all that atmosphere: in the lush upholstery, bedbugs, and among the tides of travelers, at least one very skilled pickpocket.

Picture me: a steaming pot of Earl Grey, settling into a sofa, the sun slanting through the gauzy drapes. No sooner have I unfolded my laptop and set Pandora to supply the elevator music (embarrassing but true) than I feel a tickle on my neck. Absentmindedly, I brush it away, and there – sitting right there on my hand – is an impudent, shameless, full-grown bedbug.

I’d like to point out that I am not a paranoid person. But the bedbug’s reputation precedes him, and the tales of horror are too overwhelming to take lightly. Bedbugs, parasites that snack on human blood, can survive temperatures that dip below freezing and soar above 100 degrees. They can go months without feeding – some say more than a year. More than enough to warrant my jumping, yelping reaction.

I smushed the bug, heart racing, and looked for the nearest escape. But simply running away would not do. Instead, I needed to assess my situation.

I put Mr. Bug in a Ziploc bag (despite a thorough smashing, he waved jauntily as I sealed him shut) and began to examine the couch. Bedbugs particularly like seams, corners, rolls in the fabric, and cording. If an infestation is severe, piles of cast-off skins and small white eggs can be found in little caches. The bugs also leave dark brown droppings dotted over areas where they have recently fed.

My search didn’t reveal much, but adults – flat, rusty-brown, and about the size of a pencil-eraser – generally hide during the day. Nymphs range from .5-4mm – easily small enough to hitch a ride on clothing, shoes, luggage, or hair without arousing suspicion. Once they reach their new home, they will burrow into the cracks around baseboards, to say nothing of the raging party they will have in mattresses.

The thing about bed bugs is that they can come from anywhere. Even if a hotel is scrupulous about maintenance, any person who walks in and sits on a couch can bring them and transfer them to the next person. Females lay eggs continuously (300 in a lifetime) so a lone straggler is enough to start an infestation.

So, I did what any sane and sensible person in my position would: I politely informed the hotel staff that I had found the dreaded critter, and then I got the heck out. I had the urge to tear off my clothes and burn them, but I settled for locking myself in the bathroom of the hotel next door and performing a careful inspection. I would need to wash my clothes in hot water and dry on “high” when I got home – a good policy for all travelers, especially if they’ve received suspicious bites on their trip. Suitcases should also be thoroughly inspected and vacuumed.

I said good-bye to Mr. Bug and threw him out in his sealed Ziploc – never throw out infested items (such as vacuum bags used to clean buggy furniture) without sealing them first – and sighed, secure in the knowledge that I’d sufficient precautions.

I settled down with a new pot of Earl Grey in my new hotel, ready to regain my earlier calm. It was a bustling lobby of tiny tables overflowing with a tipsy happy-hour crowd. Hotel happy hours are another reason I love this city’s hospitality industry: the bartenders are less hassled than at the typical neighborhood watering hole, and the people-watching is far better.
After a happy few hours (during which I switched from plain tea to G&T), I had finished a pile of work and was ready to pack up. I bid adieu to the bartender and looked for my pocketbook to leave a tip.

It was gone.

For the second time that day, I found myself groveling on the floor, lifting up couch cushions, and sweeping through curtains. I wished I’d had enough to drink to call the whole thing a hallucination, but by the time I found myself riffling the leaves of the potted plants, I had to admit that my wallet was not going to reappear.

I dumped out my purse (which is really just a canvas shoulder bag) I realized my phone was gone, too. Both had been in the bag, which had spent the last couple hours hanging on the back of my chair. This, obviously, was a huge mistake.
In all that cheery hustle and bustle, I’d been totally hustled. I have to hand it to my assailant – who, I’ll deduce from the $800 Nordstrom splurge, was a woman. She managed to get both items out of my possession without my noticing a thing. Of course, I did her a huge favor by favoring an open-style bag without a zipper or other closure. I love that my laptop and other sundries fit in the loose sack, and Ms. X loved that it enabled her to take a quick trip to Saks.

In just a few hours, Ms. X loaded a total of $6,000 of charges onto my Merrill Lynch Visa. To their credit, the folks at Chase Bank didn’t let the same thing happen to my debit card – when I called the hotline, a representative read me a list of fraudulent charges they had denied. Five minutes and a few identifying security questions later, I was slated to receive a new card in the mail.

It may seem obvious, but if your wallet is stolen, the absolute first order of business is to cancel your cards – even if means spending, as I did, the hours of 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. on the phone with a series of outsourced Visa workers. Word to the wise: it’s far easier to call your bank directly than deal with your credit card company. Like most US banks, Merrill Lynch has a 24-hour customer support line, and if I’d dialed it rather than the number I found on the Visa website, I’d have bypassed a long painful process. Furthermore, only my bank was able to tell me what charges had been made, and what I will need to do to reverse them.

And then there’s the police report: it’s a pain, especially because fraudulent charges mean you must appear at the station in-person, rather than filing online or by phone. But it’s also crucial in case you have troubles down the road with your bank, credit card company, or someone who wants to pretend they’re you. Reports are kept on file, and copies may be requested at a later date.

Verizon received an A+ for swiftly cutting service to my cell phone, switching me back to my old dumb-as-a-brick phone, and automatically crediting charges for my no longer needed data plan. By then, it was 4:00 a.m. The next day, I would need to tackle the new driver’s license, the new student ID, and the new keys. But first, I needed a good night’s sleep – in my own non-vaction home, in my bed bug-free bed.

Don’t let lobbyists control broadband billions


The stimulus bill is our best chance to get meaningful government investment in faster, affordable, and open internet.

This is an action alert put out by the Free Press Action fund, a non profit media reform organization that is “fighting to insure stimulus funds are used to support broadband innovation and competition, not to line the coffers of Comcast and Verizon.”

Hearings began this week on President Obama’s massive economic stimulus package. That gives us only a few weeks to protect its multibillion dollar investment in a nationwide broadband buildout.

Without a strong public interest voice at the table, lobbyists could steer the money into a corporate welfare boondoggle, gobbling up those billions and squashing the innovation and competition we need to close the digital divide. Unless you and I take immediate action, they’ll succeed.

We need your help to convince Congress to resist the tidal wave of industry lobbying and set strict standards for every taxpayer dollar allocated to broadband — standards that will bring us closer to a national broadband system that is universal, open, affordable, innovative and accountable to public scrutiny.

george micheal


GeorgeMichael1 sml.bmp



George Michael
HP Pavilion in San Jose on June 19th

Tickets are onsale Monday, April 7th at 10am!

San Francisco, CA (March 24, 2008) – After performing 80 shows in 12 European countries for a staggering 1.3 million fans over the past year alone, legendary superstar George Michael will be bringing his smash 25 LIVE tour to North American Arenas in the summer of 2008, including a local show at the HP Pavilion in San Jose on June 19th, in support of his new retrospective record. This will be Michael’s first North American tour in 17 years. His last Bay Area performance was on October 1st, 1991 at the Oakland Coliseum. The new record, titled Twenty-Five, will be released April 1st and is a 29-song, 2-CD set featuring several new songs (including duets with superstars Paul McCartney and Mary J. Blige) in addition to many of Michael’s iconic songs from both his solo and WHAM! career. In addition, a companion 2-disc DVD of 40 videos will also be made available.

The 25 LIVE tour broke several ticket sales records, most notably in Copenhagen. Michael’s concert at The Parken Stadium sold over 50,000 tickets in the matter of minutes, shattering the previous ticket sales record at the venue, formerly held by U2. On the 25 LIVE tour, Michael left both fans and critics alike in awe:

“It was a master class in pop genius.” – The Observer

“George proved he is simply one of the best vocalists this country has ever produced. A stunning performance.” – The Sun

“Worth waiting for. The show was, in every single meaning of the word, perfect.” – De Morgen

“A tremendous singer, a complete showman, all George Michael needs is a mike, his songs, and the magic on stage is instantaneous.” – La Parisien

The North American leg of the 25 LIVE tour will kick off in San Diego on June 17th and will continue through San Jose, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York and several other major cities. The tour will incorporate 22 shows over the course of seven weeks and Michael will perform material taken from the entire span of his career, including some classic Wham! tracks. Michael has recently teamed up with iTunes and Ticketmaster to produce an innovative media package which allows fans rare access to Michael’s videos, songs, and tickets to one of his North American 25 LIVE concerts. The package goes on sale on iTunes on March 25th.

Tickets to the 25 LIVE tour at the HP Pavilion will go on sale to the general public on Monday, April 7th at 10am at, Ticketmaster outlets and charge by phone at 415-421-TIXS or 408-998-TIXS. Tickets are priced at $55.50, $89.50 and $175.50 for reserved seating plus applicable service charges.

George Michael has enjoyed one of the most successful and enduring careers in the history of pop music, selling more than 85 million records globally and encompassing seven US No. 1 singles, two Grammy awards, three American Music Awards, an MTV Video Music Award and two prestigious Ivor Novello awards for songwriting. His record “Faith” has sold over 20 million copies alone. In addition, Michael has garnered 11 British No. 1 singles and seven British No. 1 albums. He recently was declared the most played British artist on radio over the course of the last 20 years. On March 27th, Michael can be seen making his American acting debut on the new hit ABC series, Eli Stone, in which each episode is titled after one of his songs.

For more information about the George Michael, please visit:

For media inquiries, please contact:

North America:
Cindi Berger
Bianca Bianconi
PMK-HBH Public Relations
(212) 582-1111

Connie Filippello
Connie Filippello Publicity
+44 (0) 207 229 5400


6/17 San Diego/San Diego Sports Arena
6/19 San Jose/HP Pavilion
6/21 Las Vegas/MGM Grand
6/22 Phoenix/US Airways Center
6/25 Los Angeles/Great Western Forum
7/2 Seattle/Key Arena
7/4 Vancouver/General Motors Place
7/7 St Paul/Xcel Energy Center
7/9 Chicago/United Center
7/13 Dallas/American Airlines Center
7/14 Houston/Toyota Center
7/17 Toronto/Air Canada Centre
7/18 Montreal/Bell Centre
7/21 New York/MSG
7/23 New York/MSG
7/26 Philadelphia/Wachovia Center
7/27 Boston/TD Banknorth Garden
7/29 Washington DC/Verizon Center
7/31 Atlanta/Philips Arena
8/2 Tampa/St Pete Times Forum
8/3 Sunrise/Bank Atlantic Center


Aaron Siuda | Marketing Director / Northwest – Music
(:: (415) 281.9216 / (415) 243-9532 fx
*:: 260 5th Street | San Francisco, CA, USA | 94103

“From San Francisco to Silicon Valley”


REVIEW The camera loves San Francisco. Weather, light, hills, and landmarks all make it primary fodder for photographers, too many of whom hew to the postcard views. Known for his architectural documentation of the industrial outer rings of Europe’s cities, Italian photographer Gabriele Basilico came to the Bay Area to capture its transitional developments: Silicon Valley and the San Francisco of strange buildings and telephone wires. No Victorians or trolley cars here, which means that many viewers may recognize the city as they know it: construction, do-not-enter road signs, and a distant skyline; sunbathers in Dolores Park rather than the Golden Gate’s majesty; Verizon Wireless billboards; and the 76 gas station globe. A conventional picture of the Marin Headlands drifting in fog is interrupted by the foregrounding of high-rise apartments. A stunning landscape photo taken from Twin Peaks revels in the incongruities of our still-beautiful city, with grassy California hills overlaying the low-slung Sunset and Castro, and Market Street forming a V with a long afternoon shadow.

"From San Francisco to Silicon Valley" also includes a plethora of freeway shots, which makes sense, given the show’s title. Basilico shoots both the silent underpasses and the blurred velocity of downtown-bound cars. As we transition to the valley, the highways provide the visual link. Instead of giving way to a rising crowd of buildings, the roads beget alien corporate campuses and manicured exurbia. Basilico the architect gleefully frames the garish structures and sprawling sameness that define much of the Silicon Valley landscape, though his best portraits include counterpoint evocations of California nature. On the same floor of the museum, in "Picturing Modernity," Carleton E. Watkins’s photograph The Golden Gate from Telegraph Hill (circa 1868) presents San Francisco as a hungry upstart. More than 100 years later, Basilico’s shot of roughshod development in the hills outside San Jose tells a similar story.

FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO SILICON VALLEY Through June 15. Mon.–Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.–8:45 p.m.; $7–$12.50 (free first Tues.). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000,

Citizens vs. spies



A Bay Area man and a San Francisco nonprofit are at the center of an epic, ongoing battle over privacy rights involving all three branches of the United States government. The outcome may determine the lines between national security and personal liberties in the 21st century.

The story begins in December 2005, when the New York Times exposed the George W. Bush administration as having illegally eavesdropped on US residents without required court warrants. The next month a former AT&T technician in San Francisco came forward with information about how that company (and Verizon and MCI, it was later learned) was gathering Internet and phone data from its customers and illegally routing it to servers controlled by the National Security Agency.

Mark Klein saw that a splitter was diverting the normal information traffic of domestic customers to a secret room at the AT&T Folsom Street plant. He knew that NSA people were around the company’s buildings as early as 2002, and it didn’t take him long to figure out what was going on. "It was obviously some big government hush-hush thing," Klein told the Guardian in a phone interview.

Klein realized he was not in a position to do much at the time, so he "made a note and moved on," he said. He also came across company documents spelling out the technical details of the operation, which his "fortuitous knowledge" allowed him to understand and explain. Klein stowed them away and kept them when he retired in May 2004.

Klein contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy-rights group, in January 2006 and became a key witness in a class action lawsuit filed by the organization on behalf of AT&T customers. Hepting v. AT&T was the first of nearly 40 cases filed by citizens in Northern California against telecommunications companies and the government. In June 2006 a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of state-secrets privileges. The government and AT&T appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco.

On August 15, 2007, EFF lawyers offered their opening arguments to a three-judge panel, urging it to allow AT&T customers to continue to fight against illegal spying on their Internet and telephone communications. In transcripts from this session, Judge Michael Hawkins surmises the matter: "As I understand, in this case what the plaintiffs are saying is that AT&T has provided telecommunications information about its subscribers to the government without a warrant."

This action runs afoul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which established a special court to issue warrants for government surveillance and which set standards to prevent abuse, although the court has rarely refused to issue warrants, which could even be obtained retroactively for emergency situations.

The Bush administration has sought to revise FISA for the post–Sept. 11 world, and a major component of this overhaul would be immunity for telecommunication companies that have served as dragnet information collectors for years. Government and AT&T lawyers argued before the judges that the data collection was in the interest of national security and that the industry giants were acting in good faith, so they cannot be held liable.

Reiterating this position, company spokesperson Walt Sharp wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian, "AT&T is fully committed to protecting our customers’ privacy. We do not comment on matters of national security."

A decision in the case is still pending, and according to Rebecca Jeschke, media relations coordinator for the EFF, "We have no idea when they’ll have a ruling for us. Delays for a year are not uncommon."

Meanwhile, Congress is debating whether to essentially legalize the actions of the Bush administration and the companies and is hashing out two conflicting piece of legislation. The Senate voted Feb. 12 to reject an effort to strip the immunity provisions from the FISA Amendments Act, opting to protect the companies from legal scrutiny.

The House of Representatives has its own surveillance measure, which would loosen up some FISA restrictions but not include the immunity provision. That legislation, House Resolution 3773, was passed in November 2007 by a 227–189 vote. The bills now head to a Senate-House conference committee, which will work out the discrepancies, if that’s possible. As Jeschke explained, "The two bills will become one law or no law."

Bush has repeatedly said he will veto any bill that does not include immunity, while hawks in Congress say national security will be compromised if the government has to gather information without corporate assistance. In a Feb. 15 press release, Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected this assertion: "[The president] knows our intelligence agencies will be able to do all the wiretapping they need to do to protect the nation…. [He] should now work in a cooperative way with Congress to pass a strong FISA modernization bill that protects our nation’s security and the Constitution."

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill told the Guardian, "Her position is that we have to make sure that this is consistent with the Constitution…. She is not in favor of immunity."

HR 3773 is "far from perfect," according to the EFF Web site, but it "provides far more congressional and judicial oversight of the Executive Branch’s domestic spying than the FAA."

Klein, the former AT&T technician, whistle-blower, and key witness, also became an unpaid lobbyist for EFF when he traveled to Washington DC in November 2006. He described the experience as "very tiring, exhausting," and said that over the four days, "we were much more successful in media coverage, but in terms of Congress, it didn’t do very much."

He concluded our interview with some foreboding words based on his experience. "This is more than about another bill," he said. "This is about fundamental constitutional issues, and many people are unaware."

The real FISA problem


EDITORIAL It’s no secret that the nation’s telecommunications companies have been spying on Americans without any sort of legal warrants. The New York Times broke that story in December 2005 — and not long after that a San Francisco man who had worked for AT&T came forward to describe how private calls were routed to a secret building on Folsom Street where the feds could listen in.

The courts are sorting out whether that was a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which contains at least some limited provisions protecting privacy. But in the meantime, the George W. Bush administration wants to update FISA — and include retroactive immunity for the telecom companies. Even if AT&T, Verizon, and others broke the law by allowing federal agents to snoop on their customers, Bush says, they should pay no price.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other public interest groups have been pushing to block immunity; unfortunately, the Senate (with California’s Dianne Feinstein on the wrong side) has gone along with what Bush wants. The House has a better bill, and the two are headed for a conference committee. Activists are demanding Speaker Nancy Pelosi stand firm and refuse to allow passage of any bill that protects the phone companies from past misdeeds.

That’s the right approach, and we agree. But we have to ask: why are the Democrats so willing to support this law in the first place?

FISA was created in response to the Counter Intelligence Program abuses of the 1960s, and it provides some modest protection for citizens. But it created a special secret court that could authorize wiretaps with very little oversight. The government’s warrant requests have almost never been rejected. Sometimes the court has issued them after the fact, retroactively approving wiretaps that have been done with no judicial oversight at all. The current version of FISA is better than what Bush wants — but it could be vastly improved.

We’ve never been fans of secret legal proceedings and special, shadowy courts that operate as an arm of law enforcement. The entire premise of FISA seems awfully shaky: if the FBI or the National Security Agency needs to tap someone’s phone, why can’t it go before a federal judge, using the normal procedures for wiretap and search warrant authorizations, just like everyone else? Is there any evidence that the federal courts are unable to handle that job or that the judiciary is too unwilling to allow the government to use all of the tools it needs to track terrorists?

Is the United States any safer with the authority to spy on Americans almost entirely removed from the oversight process established by the Constitution?

The real threat here is the growing one to privacy and civil liberties — and the best way to address it is to simply refuse to reauthorize FISA, start from scratch, hold hearings, get public testimony, and rewrite the law in a way that protects the public, not just the FBI, the NSA, and telecom companies. That’s what Pelosi ought to be pushing for.