Encyclopædia Britannica fights back against Wikipedia, soon to let users edit contents
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Encyclopædia Britannica fights back against Wikipedia, soon to let users edit contents

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Encyclopædia Britannica (EB), the authoritative reference book first published in 1768, is planning to let readers edit its entries, Jorge Cauz, its president said Friday, as it battles to keep pace with online Internet encyclopedia projects like Wikipedia.

Starting next week, readers, visitors and contributing experts to EB’s free, online version, Britannica.com, will be allowed to submit proposed changes and contributions to Britannica editors, who will then review the edits and make the necessary alterations. This move is meant to let readers help keep the reference work up-to-date by collaboration.

In expanding and maintaining entries online, users whose editorial suggestions are accepted and published entirely or in part will be credited by name in the section of the article that lists contributors.

The new website features will be available on the site within the next twenty-four hours. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Cauz is promising a 20-minute turnover on these edits, but that number could go up dramatically if the company cannot anticipate a large influx of edits at once.”

Britannica, however, explained that it would not allow a Wikipedia form of editing which allows a wide range of users to make contributions. EB’s novel user choice will include enrollment of experts in a reward scheme and invitation of selected readers to contribute. Several readers will also be allowed to use Britannica materials to contribute their own articles that will be featured on the site.

“We are not abdicating our responsibility as publishers or burying it under the now-fashionable ‘wisdom of the crowds’,” wrote Jorge Cauz in his blog. “We believe that the creation and documentation of knowledge is a collaborative process but not a democratic one,” Cauz noted, explaining further that “these experts would sit alongside the encyclopaedia entries and the official material would carry a ‘Britannica Checked’ stamp, to distinguish it from the user-generated content.”

Cauz also announced the unveiling by Britannica of a beta (trial) version of what will become the finished Britannica Online website, which will include a re-design and the addition of web-based tools for readers and users to upload their own reference materials. The new features that Britannica will roll out over the next six months also include an article rating system and a comprehensive list of contributors by subject area.

Articles developed by Britannica’s own editors also appear in the printed volumes, which are published every two years, though material created by what Cauz called their “community of scholars” will only appear online.

“Wikipedia contributes to the spread of information and many people are happy with it as their only source of reference, as are many people happy to eat McDonald’s every day,” said Cauz, who discussed differences between Britannica and Wikipedia features of online editing. “That’s the last thing we want to be. We are a different type of animal, catering to a different type of crowd,” he added.

Cauz said the company will retain its staff of about 100 full-time editors and over 4,000 expert contributors. “I think the future is likely going to be that in every media segment there has to be a symbiotic relationship between editor and reader,” said Cauz, adding that each article will have a detailed history showing changes and who made them, as in Wikipedia. In 1933, Britannica became the first encyclopaedia to introduce a “continuous revision” policy, with continuous reprinting such that every article is updated on a regular schedule.

Unlike Wikipedia, which allows anonymous edits through a user’s IP address being logged, Britannica’s new features strictly require contributors or users to register, revealing their real names and addresses, prior to modifying or creating their own articles. Contributions from non-academic users will sit in a separate section.

A new or changed feature called “Suggest Edit” button will allow readers of a particular article to suggest information clarification, post questions to contributors or add to the existing text, subject to Britannica editors’ approval. “What we are trying to do is shifting … to a much more proactive role for the user and reader where the reader is not only going to learn from reading the article but by modifying the article and – importantly – by maybe creating his own content or her own content,” wrote Cauz.

Cauz faulted Google for setting Wikipedia higher in pagerank than Britannica. He explained that, in EB, new efforts to participate in online collaboration of encyclopedic content are deemed by recognizing experts as a requirement in order to achieve objectivity and high quality. During his tenure, officials from Britannica have become outspoken in their criticism of Wikipedia articles’ contents.

Britannica already has an established reputation for accurate content. Wikipedia is merely a starting point, with research to be taken with a pinch of salt.

In July 2006, Cauz personally entered the fray in an interview in New Yorker Magazine, in which he stated that Wikipedia had “decline(d) into a hulking, mediocre mass of uneven, unreliable, and, many times, unreadable articles” and that “Wikipedia is to Britannica as American Idol is to the Juilliard School.”

The 241-year-old publication, Encyclopædia Britannica, is a general English-language encyclopaedia published by a privately held company, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., and is the oldest English-language encyclopaedia still in print. The Britannica articles are directed at educated adult readers. First published between 1768 and 1771 in Edinburgh, Scotland, it quickly grew in popularity and size, with its third edition in 1801 reaching over 21 volumes.

Britannica’s latest 15th edition has a unique three-part structure: a 12-volume Micropædia of short articles (generally having fewer than 750 words), a 17-volume Macropædia of long articles (having from two to 310 pages) and a single Propædia volume created to give a hierarchical outline of human knowledge. The Micropædia is devised for quick fact-checking and as a door to the Macropædia.

At present, Britannica offers optical disc, online and mobile versions. The Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2006 DVD has over 55 million words and just over 100,000 articles, including 73,645 regular Britannica articles. The Encyclopædia Britannica Online website has more than 120,000 articles and is updated regularly. EB’s virtual space was founded in 1994 and contains articles comprised of over 46 million words.

In February 2007, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. said that it was working with AskMeNow to launch a mobile encyclopedia, to enable users to send questions via text messages. Replies would then be forwarded by AskMenow based on Britannicas’ articles.

As Britannica is a business, the company needed to charge, and Web access to the archives cost $70 a year. In April 2008, “Britannica Webshare,” a version of the online Encyclopaedia Britannica has been available for free, but only for Web publishers. The simple process requires signing up, giving a site URL, a description, and approval by the company. “This program is intended for people who publish with some regularity on the Internet, be they bloggers, webmasters, or writers. We reserve the right to deny participation to anyone who in our judgment doesn’t qualify,” said TechCrunch.

In June 2008, Britannica announced an initiative to facilitate collaboration between online expert and amateur scholarly contributors for Britannica’s on-line content (in the spirit of a wiki), with editorial oversight from Britannica staff. According to its statement titled “Britannica’s New Site: More Participation, Collaboration from Experts and Readers,” approved contributions would be credited, though contributing automatically grants Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. perpetual, irrevocable license to those contributions.

PC World has, however, reported that it became clear how steep of a climb Britannica faces. “Wikipedia received a massive 97 percent share of the online encyclopedia market or visits U.S. Web surfers made to online encyclopedias last week,” Web monitoring company Hitwise said Friday. “MSN Encarta was second with 1.27 percent of visits, followed by Encyclopedia.com (0.76 percent), Fact Monster (0.72 percent) and, in fifth place, Britannica.com (0.57 percent). Britannica.com’s share of U.S. visits dropped 53 percent last month compared with December 2007,” Hitwise added.

While Britannica.com has 1.5 million visitors per day, Wikipedia attracts about six million, The Times reported. Hitwise also said that as of last week, Wikipedia ranked the 13th-most-visited site on the Web overall, while Britannica.com was 2,349th. The essential difference is Wikipedia does not charge any fee, while Britannica.com requires a paid subscription for access of some contents. Britannica, however, is issuing a “Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009 Ultimate Edition” – the £40 2009 DVD edition of its famous print encyclopaedia.

“One of the big questions still on the table is whether Britannica will open its content or maintain its premium membership paid wall. In order to compete with Wikipedia in the Google [search results], Britannica needs to build up inbound links. If content is locked up behind the paid content walls, people will be much more likely to link to other websites with free content — such as that available on Wikipedia,” Hitwise analyst Heather Hopkins noted.

Wikipedia, a not-for-profit collaborative online encyclopedia, in its Wikipedia Foundation’s recent drive for public donations, had aimed to raise $US6 million over the course of six months. On January 1, “it had met the target, from more than 125,000 donors,” said Wikipedia head honcho and co-founder Jimmy Wales. He has invoked Wikipedia’s “free-culture movement”, and its mission “to bring free knowledge to the planet, free of charge and free of advertising”.

“Wikipedia is the new frontier of human knowledge,” wrote Anonymous, donating $US100. American Patrick Culligan left another comment, saying, “Accurate information is what enables society to act in the appropriate way in which we can change the world. History cannot be left for the winners to write.” Another said: “Wikipedia is one of those ‘big ideas’ which will change our world for the better.”

After Encyclopedia Britannica’s announcement that it is introducing a more open editing system, web 2.0 giant Wikipedia has considered attempts to move away from its free and open editing system. Academics, scholars and others have long criticized the writing principles fostered by Wikipedia amid vandals having often changed Wikipedia entries resulting to erroneous reports.

Now, for the first time, the online encyclopedia has considered restricting the edits that users can make. The system known internally as “Flagged Revisions,” has been sparked off by inaccurate changes after a Wikipedia user “Gfdjklsdgiojksdkf” and an anonymous editor respectively edited articles to say that both U.S. Senators Ted Kennedy and Robert Carlyle Byrd had died. The errors were caught and duly corrected after about five minutes, but they were up long enough for the Washington Post, among other media outlets, to notice.

In just the latest incidents in a long and rich history of vandalism since its 2001 launch, Vernon Kay and Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs, among others, have also been falsely reported as dead on Wikipedia. Wiki means “fast” in Hawaiian and it certainly is, even amid subtle vandalism, since anyone can amend its 2.7m entries. Wikipedia has long struggled with such prankery, and has ever since worked closely with its community to overcome it without adopting harsh protections.

We want people to be able to participate, but we have a tool available now that is consistent with higher quality.

As Wikipedia itself acknowledges, “Allowing anyone to edit Wikipedia means that it is more easily vandalized or susceptible to unchecked information, which requires removal.” In the proposed process, only registered or reliable users could have their material or edits immediately appear to the general public visiting Wikipedia. Other contributors’ edits or changes will first be reviewed, signed off, or “flagged” by reliable users.

“This nonsense would have been 100 percent prevented by Flagged Revisions,” said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales under the header “Why I Am Asking Flagged Revisions Be Turned On Now,” on his user page. “[Instances of misinformation] could […] have been prevented by protection or semi-protection, but [..] [many are] breaking news [stories] and we want people to be able to participate (so protection is out) and even to participate in good faith for the first time ever (so semi-protection is out),” explained Wales who calls for monitoring to prevent false entries.

Wales said that a poll revealed 60 percent of Wikipedians favored the new proposal and that it would be a “time limited test.” He noted that the delay should be less than the German Wikipedia allowed: “less than 1 week, hopefully a lot less, because we will only be using it on a subset of articles, the boundaries of which can be adjusted over time to manage the backlog.”

Wales issued a statement requesting implementation of the extension: “To the Wikimedia Foundation: per the poll of the English Wikipedia community and upon my personal recommendation, please turn on the flagged revisions feature as approved in the poll.” But the community response was further debate.

As of February 2, his request hasn’t been implemented.

Apparently the Wikipedia German edition has been using a form of the Flagged Revisions system since May as a test case. It has, however, led to a delay of up to three weeks in getting some new articles and edits published, for critics have said that the system is very labor intensive and comments can take weeks to appear. Wales, however, pointed out that the system he was proposing was only for biographies of living people. Wikipedia has provided comprehensive and up-to-minute entries on the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2007 and the Mumbai terrorist attacks this past November as the events were still taking place.

While some participants in the debate have argued that the rule change is unnecessary, some have described it in terms of an ethical imperative. As one administrator wrote: “In the vast majority of cases, a Wikipedia article on an individual will be the very highest-ranking search engine result when a search is conducted on the name of that person. This affects the lives of the people we write about on a daily basis. To suggest that Wikipedia does not have profound obligations to do its best to keep these articles free of defamatory, gossipy and privacy-invading material is to suggest that we are without obligation to consider the real-world impacts of our actions and the work we are doing.”

Anything that makes Wikipedia more accurate can only be advantageous

Others have argued that practical considerations should prevent a change that could result in a large backlog of unreviewed edits. “Flagged revisions will suffocate under its own weight,” claimed administrator DragonflySixtyseven. Still other Wikipedian editors further argue that the current system works just fine.

Some consider the split could ultimately threaten the future of the dominant online encyclopedia. “The big issue is that while we have majority support, we don’t have consensus, and that’s the way we have always made our decisions,” Jake Wartenberg user and member of RC patrol chimed in. “A lot of editors are becoming disenchanted with the project; we are losing them all the time,” he added. By way of reply, amidst the embarrassing debacle, Mr. Wales has reached out to help and offered a compromise, inviting the opposition to submit alternative suggestions until the 29th of January.

“Implementing this functionality is really a volunteer community decision. We know the discussion about flagged revs is still taking place on English Wikipedia, but at this stage, it appears the majority of the community are behind this decision. As that discussion unfolds, we’ll have a better sense of the timing,” Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation, in a rejoinder, wrote in his e-mail message, explaining the status of the proposed restriction.

“Now seems an excellent time for Wikipedia to pause and take stock. It has proved the surprising wisdom of crowds as well as their utter idiocy. Its challenge now is to harness the enthusiasm of those volunteers while becoming a more reliable, better written source. And at some point, surely, its founders might want to turn it into a commercial venture. As Samuel Johnson almost said: “No one but a blockhead ever edited, excepted for money,” said Iain Hollingshead, a British freelance journalist and novelist.

“The suggestion of increased moderation on Wikipedia would divide the community. The site has built its reputation on being ‘the encyclopedia that anyone can edit’. It’s less radical to be ‘the encyclopedia that anyone can edit as long as their edits are approved by a trusted Wikipedian’ but that’s what co-founder Jimmy Wales has suggested. Wikipedia’s openness is its strength,” said Shane Richmond of The Daily Telegraph, asking, “is it most valuable feature its openness or its accuracy?”

Wales’ position is that “I consider our BLP issue to be so important that I think it is actually unethical to not use a tool which holds great promise for helping with the problem, now that it has been successfully tested elsewhere. Anyone who would like to see this tool not go into practice needs to start by convincing people that either (a) it is OK for the BLP vandalism problem to continue or (b) there is a better way to solve it.”

ACLU, EFF challenging US ‘secret’ court orders seeking Twitter data
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ACLU, EFF challenging US ‘secret’ court orders seeking Twitter data

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Late last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed objections to the United States Government’s ‘secret’ attempts to obtain Twitter account information relating to WikiLeaks. The ACLU and EFF cite First and Fourth amendment issues as overriding reasons to overturn government attempts to keep their investigation secret; and, that with Birgitta Jonsdottir being an Icelandic Parliamentarian, the issue has serious international implications.

The case, titled “In the Matter of the 2703(d) Order Relating to Twitter Accounts: Wikileaks, Rop_G, IOERROR; and BirgittaJ“, has been in the EFF’s sights since late last year when they became aware of the US government’s attempts to investigate WikiLeaks-related communications using the popular microblogging service.

The key objective of this US government investigation is to obtain data for the prosecution of Bradley Manning, alleged to have supplied classified data to WikiLeaks. In addition to Manning’s Twitter account, and that of WikiLeaks (@wikileaks), the following three accounts are subject to the order: @ioerror, @birgittaj, and @rop_g. These, respectively, belong to Jacob Apelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp.

Birgitta is not the only non-US citizen with their Twitter account targeted by the US Government; Gonggrijp, a Dutch ‘ex-hacker’-turned-security-expert, was one of the founders of XS4ALL – the first Internet Service Provider in the Netherlands available to the public. He has worked on a mobile phone that can encrypt conversations, and proven that electronic voting systems can readily be hacked.

In early March, a Virginia magistrate judge ruled that the government could have the sought records, and neither the targeted users, or the public, could see documents submitted to justify data being passed to the government. The data sought is as follows:

  1. Personal contact information, including addresses
  2. Financial data, including credit card or bank account numbers
  3. Twitter account activity information, including the “date, time, length, and method of connections” plus the “source and destination Internet Protocol address(es)”
  4. Direct Message (DM) information, including the email addresses and IP addresses of everyone with whom the Parties have exchanged DMs

The order demands disclosure of absolutely all such data from November 1, 2009 for the targeted accounts.

The ACLU and EFF are not only challenging this, but demanding that all submissions made by the US government to justify the Twitter disclosure are made public, plus details of any other such cases which have been processed in secret.

Bradley Manning, at the time a specialist from Maryland enlisted with the United States Army’s 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, was arrested in June last year in connection with the leaking of classified combat video to WikiLeaks.

The leaked video footage, taken from a US helicopter gunship, showed the deaths of Reuters staff Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen during a U.S. assault in Baghdad, Iraq. The wire agency unsuccessfully attempted to get the footage released via a Freedom of Information Act request in 2007.

When WikiLeaks released the video footage it directly contradicted the official line taken by the U.S. Army asserting that the deaths of the two Reuters staff were “collateral damage” in an attack on Iraqi insurgents. The radio chatter associated with the AH-64 Apache video indicated the helicopter crews had mistakenly identified the journalists’ equipment as weaponry.

The US government also claims Manning is linked to CableGate; the passing of around a quarter of a million classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Manning has been in detention since July last year; in December allegations of torture were made to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the conditions under which he was and is being detained.

Reports last month that he must now sleep naked and attend role call at the U.S. Marine facility in Quantico in the same state, raised further concern over his detention conditions. Philip J. Crowley, at-the-time a State Department spokesman, remarked on this whilst speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; describing the current treatment of Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”, Crowley was, as a consequence, put in the position of having to tender his resignation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Despite his native Australia finding, in December last year, that Assange’s WikiLeaks had not committed any criminal offences in their jurisdiction, the U.S. government has continued to make ongoing operations very difficult for the whistleblower website.

The result of the Australian Federal Police investigation left the country’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, having to retract a statement that WikiLeaks had acted “illegally”; instead, she characterised the site’s actions as “grossly irresponsible”.

Even with Australia finding no illegal activity on the part of WikiLeaks, and with founder Julian Assange facing extradition to Sweden, U.S. pressure sought to hobble WikiLeaks financially.

Based on a State Department letter, online payments site PayPal suspended WikiLeaks account in December. Their action was swiftly followed by Visa Europe and Mastercard ceasing to handle payments for WikiLeaks.

The online processing company, Datacell, threatened the two credit card giants with legal action over this. However, avenues of funding for the site were further curtailed when both Amazon.com and Swiss bank PostFinance joined the financial boycott of WikiLeaks.

Assange continues, to this day, to argue that his extradition to Sweden for questioning on alleged sexual offences is being orchestrated by the U.S. in an effort to discredit him, and thus WikiLeaks.

Wikinews consulted an IT and cryptography expert from the Belgian university which developed the current Advanced Encryption Standard; explaining modern communications, he stated: “Cryptography has developed to such a level that intercepting communications is no longer cost effective. That is, if any user uses the correct default settings, and makes sure that he/she is really connecting to Twitter it is highly unlikely that even the NSA can break the cryptography for a protocol such as SSL/TLS (used for https).”

Qualifying this, he commented that “the vulnerable parts of the communication are the end points.” To make his point, he cited the following quote from Gene Spafford: “Using encryption on the Internet is the equivalent of arranging an armored car to deliver credit card information from someone living in a cardboard box to someone living on a park bench.

Continuing, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL) expert explained:

In the first place, the weak point is Twitter itself; the US government can go and ask for the data; companies such as Twitter and Google will typically store quite some information on their users, including IP addresses (it is known that Google deletes the last byte of the IP address after a few weeks, but it is not too hard for a motivated opponent to find out what this byte was).
In the second place, this is the computer of the user: by exploiting system weaknesses (with viruses, Trojan horses or backdoors in the operating system) a highly motivated opponent can enter your machine and record your keystrokes plus everything that is happening (e.g. the FBI is known to do this with the so-called Magic Lantern software). Such software is also commercially available, e.g. for a company to monitor its employees.
It would also be possible for a higly motivated opponent to play “man-in-the-middle”; that means that instead of having a secure connection to Twitter.com, you have a secure connection to the attacker’s server, who impersonates Twitter’s and then relays your information to Twitter. This requires tricks such as spoofing DNS (this is getting harder with DNSsec), or misleading the user (e.g. the user clicks on a link and connects to tw!tter.com or Twitter.c0m, which look very similar in a URL window as Twitter.com). It is clear that the US government is capable of using these kind of tricks; e.g., a company has been linked to the US government that was recognized as legitimate signer in the major browsers, so it would not be too large for them to sign a legitimate certificate for such a spoofing webserver; this means that the probability that a user would detect a problem would be very low.
As for traffic analysis (finding out who you are talking to rather than finding out what you are telling to whom), NSA and GCHQ are known to have access to lots of traffic (part of this is obtained via the UK-USA agreement). Even if one uses strong encryption, it is feasible for them to log the IP addresses and email addresses of all the parties you are connecting to. If necessary, they can even make routers re-route your traffic to their servers. In addition, the European Data Retention directive forces all operators to store such traffic data.
Whether other companies would have complied with such requests: this is very hard to tell. I believe however that it is very plausible that companies such as Google, Skype or Facebook would comply with such requests if they came from a government.
In summary: unless you go through great lengths to log through to several computers in multiple countries, you work in a clean virtual machine, you use private browser settings (don’t accept cookies, no plugins for Firefox, etc.) and use tools such as Tor, it is rather easy for any service provider to identify you.
Finally: I prefer not to be quoted on any sentences in which I make statements on the capabilities or actions of any particular government.

Wikinews also consulted French IT security researcher Stevens Le Blond on the issues surrounding the case, and the state-of-the-art in monitoring, and analysing, communications online. Le Blond, currently presenting a research paper on attacks on Tor to USENIX audiences in North America, responded via email:

Were the US Government to obtain the sought data, it would seem reasonable the NSA would handle further investigation. How would you expect them to exploit the data and expand on what they receive from Twitter?

  • Le Blond: My understanding is that the DOJ is requesting the following information: 1) Connection records and session times 2) IP addresses 3) e-mail addresses 4) banking info
By requesting 1) and 2) for Birgitta and other people involved with WikiLeaks (WL) since 2009, one could derive 2 main [pieces of] information.
First, he could tell the mobility of these people. Recent research in networking shows that you can map an IP address into a geographic location with a median error of 600 meters. So by looking at changes of IP addresses in time for a Twitter user, one could tell (or at least speculate about) where that person has been.
Second, by correlating locations of different people involved with WL in time, one could possibly derive their interactions and maybe even their level of involvement with WL. Whether it is possible to derive this information from 1) and 2) depends on how this people use Twitter. For example, do they log on Twitter often enough, long enough, and from enough places?
My research indicates that this is the case for other Internet services but I cannot tell whether it is the case for Twitter.
Note that even though IP logging, as done by Twitter, is similar to the logging done by GSM [mobile phone] operators, the major difference seems to be that Twitter is subject to US regulation, no matter the citizenship of its users. I find this rather disturbing.
Using 3), one could search for Birgitta on other Internet services, such as social networks, to find more information on her (e.g., hidden accounts). Recent research on privacy shows that people tend to use the same e-mail address to register an account on different social networks (even when they don’t want these accounts to be linked together). Obviously, one could then issue subpoenas for these accounts as well.
I do not have the expertise to comment on what could be done with 4).
((WN)) As I believe Jonsdottir to be involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), what are the wider implications beyond the “WikiLeaks witchhunt”?
  • Le Blond: Personal data can be used to discredit, especially if the data is not public.

Having been alerted to the ongoing case through a joint press release by the ACLU and EFF, Wikinews sought clarification on the primary issues which the two non-profits saw as particularly important in challenging the U.S. Government over the ‘secret’ court orders. Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director for the EFF, explained in more detail the points crucial to them, responding to a few questions from Wikinews on the case:

((WN)) As a worse-case, what precedents would be considered if this went to the Supreme Court?
  • Rebecca Jeschke: It’s extremely hard to know at this stage if this would go to the Supreme Court, and if it did, what would be at issue. However, some of the interesting questions about this case center on the rights of people around the world when they use US Internet services. This case questions the limits of US law enforcement, which may turn out to be very different from the limits in other countries.
((WN)) Since this is clearly a politicised attack on free speech with most chilling potential repercussions for the press, whistleblowers, and by-and-large anyone the relevant U.S. Government departments objects to the actions of, what action do you believe should be taken to protect free speech rights?
  • Jeschke: We believe that, except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals’ private Internet communications in secret. We also believe that Internet companies should, whenever possible, take steps to ensure their customers are notified about requests for information and have the opportunity to respond.
((WN)) Twitter via the web, in my experience, tends to use https:// connections. Are you aware of any possibility of the government cracking such connections? (I’m not up to date on the crypto arms race).
  • Jeschke: You don’t need to crack https, per se, to compromise its security. See this piece about fraudulent https certificates:
Iranian hackers obtain fraudulent httpsEFF website.
((WN)) And, do you believe that far, far more websites should – by default – employ https:// connections to protect people’s privacy?
  • Jeschke: We absolutely think that more websites should employ https! Here is a guide for site operators: (See external links, Ed.)

Finally, Wikinews approached the Icelandic politician, and WikiLeaks supporter, who has made this specific case a landmark in how the U.S. Government handles dealings with – supposedly – friendly governments and their elected representatives. A number of questions were posed, seeking the Icelandic Parliamentarian’s views:

((WN)) How did you feel when you were notified the US Government wanted your Twitter account, and message, details? Were you shocked?
  • Birgitta Jonsdottir: I felt angry but not shocked. I was expecting something like this to happen because of my involvement with WikiLeaks. My first reaction was to tweet about it.
((WN)) What do you believe is their reasoning in selecting you as a ‘target’?
  • Jonsdottir: It is quite clear to me that USA authorities are after Julian Assange and will use any means possible to get even with him. I think I am simply a pawn in a much larger context. I did of course both act as a spokesperson for WikiLeaks in relation to the Apache video and briefly for WikiLeaks, and I put my name to the video as a co-producer. I have not participated in any illegal activity and thus being a target doesn’t make me lose any sleep.
((WN)) Are you concerned that, as a Member of Parliament involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), the US attempt to obtain your Twitter data is interfering with planned Icelandic government policy?
  • Jonsdottir: No
((WN)) In an earlier New York Times (NYT) article, you’re indicating there is nothing they can obtain about you that bothers you; but, how do you react to them wanting to know everyone you talk to?
  • Jonsdottir: It bothers me and according to top computer scientists the government should be required to obtain a search warrant to get our IP addresses from Twitter. I am, though, happy I am among the people DOJ is casting their nets around because of my parliamentary immunity; I have a greater protection then many other users and can use that immunity to raise the issue of lack of rights for those that use social media.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Do you believe the U.S. government should have the right to access data on foreign nationals using services such as Twitter?
Add or view comments
((WN)) The same NYT article describes you as a WikiLeaks supporter; is this still the case? What attracts you to their ‘radical transparency’?
  • Jonsdottir: I support the concept of WikiLeaks. While we don’t have a culture of protection for sources and whistleblowers we need sites like WikiLeaks. Plus, I think it is important to give WikiLeaks credit for raising awareness about in how bad shape freedom of information and expression is in our world and it is eroding at an alarming rate because of the fact that legal firms for corporations and corrupt politicians have understood the borderless nature of the legalities of the information flow online – we who feel it is important that people have access to information that should remain in the public domain need to step up our fight for those rights. WikiLeaks has played an important role in that context.I don’t support radical transparency – I understand that some things need to remain secret. It is the process of making things secret that needs to be both more transparent and in better consensus with nations.
((WN)) How do you think the Icelandic government would have reacted if it were tens of thousands of their diplomatic communications being leaked?
  • Jonsdottir: I am not sure – A lot of our dirty laundry has been aired via the USA cables – our diplomatic communications with USA were leaked in those cables, so far they have not stirred much debate nor shock. It is unlikely for tens of thousands of cables to leak from Iceland since we dont have the same influence or size as the USA, nor do we have a military.
((WN)) Your ambassador in the US has spoken to the Obama administration. Can you discuss any feedback from that? Do you have your party’s, and government’s, backing in challenging the ordered Twitter data release?
  • Jonsdottir: I have not had any feedback from that meeting, I did however receive a message from the DOJ via the USA ambassador in Iceland. The message stated three things: 1. I am free to travel to the USA. 2. If I would do so, I would not be a subject of involuntary interrogation. 3. I am not under criminal investigation. If this is indeed the reality I wonder why they are insisting on getting my personal details from Twitter. I want to stress that I understand the reasoning of trying to get to Assange through me, but I find it unacceptable since there is no foundation for criminal investigation against him. If WikiLeaks goes down, all the other media partners should go down at the same time. They all served similar roles. The way I see it is that WikiLeaks acted as the senior editor of material leaked to them. They could not by any means be considered a source. The source is the person that leaks the material to WikiLeaks. I am not sure if the media in our world understands how much is at stake for already shaky industry if WikiLeaks will carry on carrying the brunt of the attacks. I think it would be powerful if all the medias that have had access to WikiLeaks material would band together for their defence.
((WN)) Wikinews consulted a Belgian IT security expert who said it was most likely companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, would have complied with similar court orders *without advising the ‘targets*’. Does that disturb you?
  • Jonsdottir: This does disturb me for various reasons. The most obvious is that my emails are hosted at google/gmail and my search profile. I dont have anything to hide but it is important to note that many of the people that interact with me as a MP via both facebook and my various email accounts don’t always realize that there is no protection for them if they do so via those channels. I often get sensitive personal letters sent to me at facebook and gmail. In general most people are not aware of how little rights they have as users of social media. It is those of uttermost importance that those sites will create the legal disclaimers and agreements that state the most obvious rights we lose when we sign up to their services.
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
((WN)) Has there been any backlash within Iceland against US-based internet services in light of this? Do you expect such, or any increase in anti-American sentiments?
  • Jonsdottir: No, none what so ever. I dont think there is much anti-American sentiments in Iceland and I dont think this case will increase it. However I think it is important for everyone who does not live in the USA and uses social services to note that according to the ruling in my case, they dont have any protection of the 1st and 4th amendment, that only apply to USA citizens. Perhaps the legalities in relation to the borderless reality we live in online need to be upgraded in order for people to feel safe with using social media if it is hosted in the USA. Market tends to bend to simple rules.
((WN)) Does this make you more, or less, determined to see the IMMI succeed?
  • Jonsdottir: More. People have to realize that if we dont have freedom of information online we won’t have it offline. We have to wake up to the fact that our rights to access information that should be in the public domain is eroding while at the same time our rights as citizens online have now been undermined and we are only seen as consumers with consumers rights and in some cases our rights are less than of a product. This development needs to change and change fast before it is too late.

The U.S. Government continues to have issues internationally as a result of material passed to WikiLeaks, and subsequently published.

Within the past week, Ecuador has effectively declared the U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges persona-non-grata over corruption allegations brought to light in leaked cables. Asking the veteran diplomat to leave “as soon as possible”, the country may become the third in South America with no ambassadorial presence. Both Venezuela and Bolivia have no resident U.S. ambassador due to the two left-wing administrations believing the ejected diplomats were working with the opposition.

The U.S. State Department has cautioned Ecuador that a failure to speedily normalise diplomatic relations may jeapordise ongoing trade talks.

The United Kingdom is expected to press the Obama administration over the continuing detention of 23-year-old Manning, who also holds UK citizenship. British lawmakers are to discuss his ongoing detention conditions before again approaching the U.S. with their concerns that his solitary confinement, and treatment therein, is not acceptable.

The 22 charges brought against Manning are currently on hold whilst his fitness to stand trial is assessed.

New Jersey’s State Supreme Court says gay couples have same rights as heterosexual couples
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New Jersey’s State Supreme Court says gay couples have same rights as heterosexual couples

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The New Jersey Supreme Court has handed down its verdict in Lewis v. Harris. The details are: homosexual couples are entitled to the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples, but also said that totally legalizing gay marriages in the state will be up to the New Jersey Legislature who have 180 days to determine whether or not the state’s constitution shall be rewritten to include gay marriages or civil unions.

“The issue is not about the transformation of the traditional definition of marriage, but about the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people,” said the court.

“Although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this state, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our state Constitution,” said one of the judges, Justice Barry T. Albin.

The decision passed in a ruling of 4 support and 3 non-support votes.

In 2004, the state ruled that domestic relationships are allowed and that gay couples get some of the benefits that come along with marriage including the right to inherit their partner’s belongings if a will was not written and health insurance if one or the other works for the state.

If the state decides to allow same sex marriages, it would be the second state in the United States to completely legalize gay marriages. Massachusetts was the first and only state thus far to legalize gay marriages while some states such as Connecticut and Vermont have legalized civil unions.

US president Obama, Congress call for blocking of executive bonuses at AIG insurance company
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US president Obama, Congress call for blocking of executive bonuses at AIG insurance company

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

United States President Barack Obama stated Monday that insurance giant AIG is in financial trouble due to “recklessness and greed,” and called for legal action to stop the company from giving out millions of dollars in bonuses to its executives.

“It’s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay,” Obama said. “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat.”

Obama’s statement comes after reports surfaced last weekend saying the insurance agency, which is in deep financial trouble, had paid US$165 million to executives in bonuses, after receiving $170 billion as part of a government bailout plan.

AIG has said that the bonuses have to be given out, as the company is legally required by contract to do so. A representative with the National Economic Council, Lawrence H. Summers, also said that the bonuses were required to be given out. If AIG had refused to give out the bonuses, employees could file a lawsuit against the company for the money.

“We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury,” AIG CEO Edward M. Liddy said in a letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner on Saturday.

Liddy said that he asked Geithner “to use that leverage and pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.”

“I want everybody to be clear that Secretary Geithner’s been on the case,” Obama said. “He’s working to resolve this matter with the new CEO, Edward Liddy, who, by the way, everybody needs to understand, came on board after the contracts that led to these bonuses were agreed to last year.”

If the bonuses cannot be stopped, the U.S. Congress says they want AIG to reimburse the government. Congress is looking to impose stiff new taxes on the pay, or ordering the company to return the money which was originally granted from a government bailout. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday, senator Richard Shelby promised that the treasury will recover all of the money. Several U.S. senators along with Liddy have sent letters to AIG asking for the bonuses to be renegotiated, something AIG agreed to and says they will reduce future bonuses by 30%. Senators state that if Libby does not respond by renegotiating the bonuses, the Senate Finance Committee will propose an excise tax. Not only will an excise tax be proposed on AIG, but all companies receiving bailout money and their employees who receive bonuses.

What is the highest excise tax we can impose that will stand up in court? Let’s find out.

Numerous House Democrats have introduced legislation which would place a 100% tax on any bonuses of over $100,000 from companies that are receiving government bailout funds. Meanwhile in the Senate, a bipartisan proposal by Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) would levy a special 90% excise tax on AIG’s bonuses. Asked Senator Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee: “What is the highest excise tax we can impose that will stand up in court? Let’s find out.”

Rapper Kanye West denounces Bush response, American media at hurricane relief telethon
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Rapper Kanye West denounces Bush response, American media at hurricane relief telethon

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Grammy award-winning rapper/producer Kanye West appeared on a live on-air telethon simulcast on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and PAX for Hurricane Katrina victims. Live on air, West said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” after saying “America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible.” He also said “the Red Cross is doing everything they can,” and stated that he was going to see what the maximum amount of money he can donate is. West criticized government authorities and stated that “They’ve given them permission to go down and shoot us.”

West first deviated from the script he and comedian Mike Myers were using by commenting on the recent uproar over differently captioned photos for black and white people in the aftermath of the hurricane: “I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. See a white family, it says they’re looking for food.”

Though a several-second delay was in place, the comments were let through uncensored on the EST live broadcast as the person in charge “was instructed to listen for a curse word, and didn’t realize he had gone off-script,” according to an NBC spokeswoman.

NBC has released a statement after the broadcast: “Tonight’s telecast was a live television event wrought with emotion. Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks. It would be most unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person’s opinion.”

The sponsor of the event, the American Red Cross, also issued a statement on the telethon, stating: “During the telecast, a controversial comment was made by one of the celebrities. We would like the American public to know that our support is unwavering, regardless of political circumstances. We are a neutral and impartial organization, and support disaster victims across the country regardless of race, class, color or creed.”

Sony refreshes VAIO brand for business and entertainment
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Sony refreshes VAIO brand for business and entertainment

Thursday, July 31, 2008

From the middle of July, Sony Corporation refreshed their senior laptop brand VAIO from “Video Audio Integrated Operation” to “Visual Audio Intelligent Organizer”. According to Sony Taiwan Limited, this refreshment is an attempt to relocate the laptop consuming market for business and entertainment factors.

In the “VAIO Experience 2008” press conference in Europe, Sony promoted their new product series for different populations including BZ for business, FW for home entertainment, Z for ultra-slim, and SR for complex applications.

Different with past series, Sony added “Clear Bright” screening technology for high-definition display, and “full-carbon production” features. BD-burning and Intel Centrino 2 processing technologies will be featured in all the new models. For security issue, Sony also embedded fingerprint system to prevent personal data to be stolen. Continued from TZ series, innovative designs including “Green Power Button”, “Situational Switch” are also added in newly-launched series.

“Due to consuming market differences, Sony only promoted BZ series in Europe and America but not included Asia. Although the TICA Show in Taipei will be different, functionality will be the greatest issue when a consumers choose a notebook [computer] before buying.” addressed by executives from Sony Taiwan Limited, during the “VAIO Experience 2008” press conference in Taiwan.

STS-122 astronauts perform third spacewalk
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STS-122 astronauts perform third spacewalk

Friday, February 15, 2008

Two astronauts have performed the third and final spacewalk, or Extra-vehicular activity (EVA), of the STS- 122 mission. Rex Walheim and Stan Love began the spacewalk at 13:07 GMT, departing the Quest airlock of the International Space Station (ISS). The EVA ended with their return to the airlock, seven hours and 25 minutes later, at 20:32 GMT.

The goals of the spacewalk were to install two experiments onto the outside of the newly delivered Columbus module of the space station, and to load a failed gyroscope onto the visiting Space Shuttle, Atlantis, for return to Earth next Wednesday. The gyroscope, CMG-3 was one of four used to control the space station’s attitude. It was replaced during an EVA made by the STS-118 crew during August 2007. It has been stored outside the Space Station since then, awaiting collection.

The experiments installed on the Columbus module are a solar observatory, SOLAR, and a materials research experiment, EuTEF. Subsequent to this, the astronauts fitted handrails to the Columbus module, to assist with future EVAs. Following the successful completion of these primary tasks, the astronauts performed several other tasks, which included collecting safety tethers from previous EVAs, and inspecting micrometeroite damage on a handrail.

This is the 104th spacewalk conducted as part of the International Space Station programme.

Calpine declares bankruptcy, cites natural gas prices
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Calpine declares bankruptcy, cites natural gas prices

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Electrical power generator Calpine Corporation declared bankruptcy on Tuesday. The San Jose, California based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Federal Court, to facilitate debt restructuring and to allow for normal operations to continue. Calpine has obtained secured debtor-in-possession financing from Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse First Boston totaling $2 billion. The company announced that some of its Canadian subsidiaries would also file for creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Calpine and its subsidiaries operate natural gas and geothermal electricity generating plants in 21 U.S. states and 3 Canadian provinces.

The recent rise in natural gas prices due to Hurricanes Rita and Katrina has pushed Calpine’s cost significantly above the locked in selling price for its long-term contracts. Calpine has asked the court to void eight long term contracts, including a 20-year contract entered into with the State of California’s Department of Water Resources and Pacific Gas and Electric Company in 2001.

The company received permission on December 21 from the Federal Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York to use $500 million of its financing to continue operating and to keep paying its employees’ salaries and benefits.

Jailed Swedish journalists tried as terrorists
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Jailed Swedish journalists tried as terrorists

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The trial for two Swedish journalists being tried for terrorism in Ethiopia began yesterday. The freelance journalists were arrested after entering from neighboring country Somalia without permission. They allegedly aided a terrorist group and were wounded in a gunfight, in which 15 rebels were killed.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says the two imprisoned Swedish journalists “made their way into Ethiopia with a terrorist organization that had killed 70 people who worked for a mining company in an attack.” He says “I think it would be a criminal relationship in any country”.

If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is

“They are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists,” the prime minister said. “Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organization and enter a country with that terrorist organization, escorted by armed terrorists, and participate in a fighting in which this terrorist organization was involved? If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is,” says Zenawi.

The journalists were jailed after entering into Ethiopia’s troubled Ogaden region to cover rebel activity in the area. Zenawi claims one of the journalists was arrested on a previous attempt to enter illegally. “The second time he was seized with a terrorist organization in combat.”

The Swedes were found travelling with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and were investigating actions by a company with ties to Sweden’s Lundin Petroleum, oil group, and claims of human rights violations in the Ogaden region.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has been criticised for inaction post-arrests. Kerstin Lundell, who wrote a book on Lundin in Africa, says “the fact that Carl Bildt has reason to hide what is going on in Ogaden could explain why these journalists are still in prison.”

Bildt Lundin board member but left previous to the firm gaining an Ethiopian concession for oil exploration.

Journalist Anna Roxvall, who is acting as facilitator of the Swedish journalists says the claim that one of the journalists was arrested previously is wrong. “No, no, no. It is clean cut a lie”, she says.

Sveriges Radio, Sveriges Television, TT and Dagens Nyheter journalists applied for visa to attend the trial but were originally denied entry to the country. Ola Larsmo, writer and chairman of the Swedish Pen says access to information will be restricted if Swedish journalists do not attend. Zenawi says “we do not need to Swedish journalists to prove that our courts operate in accordance with international standards.”

Amongst the crowded court audience were eighteen Swedish journalists and several Western diplomats, including US ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Booth.

Voice of America says legal experts expect a quick resolution. The accused’s lawyers claim a four-to-six month trial is likely. An unnamed attorney close to the trial has claimed a negotiated settlement is still possible. The two journalists face fifteen years in prison if convicted of engaging in terrorist activity. The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow.

Spelbound declared winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2010
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Spelbound declared winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

An acrobatic group known by the name of Spelbound has been declared as the winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2010, a televised variety talent show competition broadcast on ITV in the United Kingdom. As the winning act of the show, Spelbound have won £100,000 (US$144,580, €120,313, A$175,079) and a place at The Royal Variety Performance, an annual gala evening that is attended by senior members of the British Royal Family.

In no particular order, the top three acts were revealed to be two dancers known by their stage name of Twist and Pulse, gymnastic group Spelbound and Kieran Gaffney, whose act involves playing on the drum kit. After Kieran Gaffney was revealed to be in third place, Anthony McPartlin, who hosts Britain’s Got Talent with Declan Donnelly, said to Kieran: “Well done Kieran. Kieran, you’re a star, you came back, you got all the way to the final. I know you’ve loved this. You’ve loved this, haven’t you?” In response to this, Kieran Gaffney stated: “Thank you very much. Thank you, everyone for supporting me. Thank you.”

Shortly afterwards, on the episode that was broadcast live on ITV1 on Saturday, Anthony announced: “After tens of thousands of auditons, five semi-finals and an amazing final, this…this is it. One of you is about to walk away with £100,000 and a place at this year’s Royal Variety Performance. The winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2010 is…Spelbound!” Glen Murphy from Twist and Pulse commented about finishing in second place, stating: “Yeah, it’s amazing. I can’t even believe it. I can’t believe it at all.”

Alex Uttley, a 24-year-old member of Spelbound, commented on the gymnastic group’s victory, commenting: “Oh, my god. This is unbelieveable. We just want to say thank you to everyone out there. It just shows that all our hard work has paid off.” One of the coaches of Spelbound, named Neil Griffiths, stated about Spelbound: “Oh, they’ve worked so hard over the last few weeks. Um, since the semi-final, we…we really had to pull out the stops to try and up the game. They’ve not known they’ve worked in the gym from six in the morning till twelve…twelve o’clock of the night. I couldn’t have asked for more. Um, it’s a team of coaches. I don’t take all the credit myself. There’s, uh, two people up there that know who they are who’ve been fantastic.”

Spelbound consists of 24-year-old Alex Uttley, Nicholas Illingworth, aged 24, Adam Buckingham, aged 21, 20-year-old Adam McAssey, 19-year-old Douglas Fordyce, 18-year-old Edward Upcott, 18-year-old Leighanne Cowler, 17-year-old Katie Axten, 17-year-old Lauren Kemp, 15-year-old Jonathan Stranks, Abigail Ralph, aged 15, 13-year-old Hollianne Wood and Amy Mackenzie, aged 12. Bookmakers had previously predicted that Spelbound would be the most likely act to become the winner of the series.

The running order for the final started with Twist and Pulse. The second act to perform was Liam McNally, a 14-year-old singer. The running order subsequently continued with 40-year-old impressionist Paul Burling, singer Christopher Stone, aged 28, Tina & Chandi, a woman and dog dancing act, Connected, a five-piece singing group, Kieran Gaffney, aged 12, 22-year-old Tobias Mead, a dancer, 80-year-old singer Janey Cutler and Spelbound in that particular order.

Earlier on in the final, Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden has stated to Spelbound: “We are hosting the 2012 Olympics and I think ‘what a brilliant opening act’.” Fellow judge Piers Morgan also commented that “[t]he purpose of this show is to identify hidden great British talent. You are that act.” After Spelbound won in the final, another judge, named Simon Cowell, stated that “the right boys and girls won on the night” and that he could “only say on live TV that that was one of the most astonishing things I have ever seen. Seriously.”

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