Tag: white house

Apple and Facebook spend a fortune lobbying Trump

Facebook and Apple set their record high for spending in a single quarter. Facebook spent $3.2 million lobbying the federal government in the first months of the Trump era.

During the same period last year, Facebook spent $2.8 million which sounds rather a lot but it is actually 15 percent less than it spent this year.

The company lobbied both chambers of Congress, the White House, and six federal agencies on issues including high-tech worker visas, network neutrality, internet privacy, encryption, and international taxation.

Facebook was the 12th-highest spender out of any company and second-highest in tech.

The Fruity cargo cult Apple spent $1.4 million, which is just $50,000 more than during the final months of the Obama presidency, when it set its previous record and the most it has ever spent in a single quarter.

Apple lobbied on issues including government requests for data, the regulation of mobile health apps, and self-driving cars.

Google, once again, outspent every other technology company. It was tenth overall, tallying $3.5 million.

While the search giant decreased its lobbying spending compared with this time last year, Amazon, Microsoft, and Uber all boosted their beltway budgets for the first three months of 2017.

Amazon spent $3 million on lobbying, behind only Facebook and Google, and was 17th out of all companies including ones outside of tech. Amazon met with government officials to discuss net neutrality, drone air cargo, drone privacy, and the flow of data across borders, among other issues. Microsoft claimed $2.3 million as the fourth-biggest spender in tech and 27th overall.

Google is the White House puppet-master

puppetIf control of the US government depends on the amount of access lobby groups have to the White House, then Google is the puppet-master.

A project examining White House visitor logs shows the Obama administration has extended an open door to Google.

Johanna Shelton, Google’s director of public policy has visited White House officials 128 times since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. In comparison senior lobbyists for other companies in the telecommunications and cable industry, Comcast, Facebook, Amazon, Oracle and Verizon, have visited the White House a combined 124 times during the same timespan.

Google’s parent Alphabet spent $16.6 million lobbying in 2015. That was the twelfth most of any company, and the most by any technology firm. AT&T spend $16.4 million and Comcast’s $15.7 million.

Anne Weismann, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability said the logs don’t reveal the discussion of the meetings, just who attended them.

“You don’t know what the meetings are about, but the fact that someone has that level of access at the White House is revealing. It certainly suggests a level of influence,” she said.


iPhone hack method will remain secret

spyThe outfit that helped the FBI unlock a San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone to get data is keeping sole legal ownership of its methods.

This means that it highly unlikely the technique will be disclosed by the government to Apple or any other entity.

In a statement, the White House said that it has a procedure for reviewing technology security flaws and deciding which ones should be made public. But it is not set up to handle or reveal flaws that are discovered and owned by private companies, the sources said, raising questions about the effectiveness of the so-called Vulnerabilities Equities Process.

The secretive process was created to let various government interests debate about what should be done with a given technology flaw, rather than leaving it to agencies like the National Security Agency, which generally prefers to keep vulnerabilities secret so they can use them.

Without cooperation from the company, the FBI can’t submit the method to the Vulnerabilities Equities Process even if it wanted. The Feds don’t know the technque either, just that it works.



European Parliament declares Snowden a whistleblower

snowden_2912545bThe European Parliament narrowly adopted a nonbinding forceful resolution urging the 28 nations of the European Union to recognise Edward Snowden as a “whistle-blower and international human rights defender” who should not be prosecuted.

The resolution has no legal force and limited practical effect for Snowden, who is living in Tsar Putin’s Russia on a three-year residency permit.

The decision to grant Snowden asylum remains a decision for the individual European governments, and none have done so thus far, because it would mean miffing the United States which wants to hang Snowden from a convent tree for treason.

For those who came in late, Snowden revealed the extent of the US’s spying on humanity and that it was even snooping on its own allies.

Many Europeans sympathise with Snowden and hate the eavesdropping and wiretapping by the United States and its British and Canadian chums.

The resolution calls on European Union members to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties.”

Four Latin American nations have offered him permanent asylum, but he does not believe he could travel from Russia to those countries without running the risk of arrest and extradition to the United States.

The White House, immediately criticised the resolution.

“Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States. As such, he should be returned to the US as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process.”

We think that means it already has decided on the tree and the type of rope it would use on the noose.

White House phone unlocking petition gets 110,000 signatures

A White House web petition to lift the phone unlocking ban has received more than 110,000 signatures. The threshold for “We the People” petitions is 100,000 and now the White House will have to review or at least reply to the petition, before it throws it out.

The silly ban was imposed in January and under the new law anyone who dares unlock their own phone in the Land of the Fee could face up to 5 years in jail and a $500,000 fine. Forbes described the new legislation as a “clear example” of copyright law gone crazy. The underlying law is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), but applying the law to cellphone unlocking is a stretch to say the least.

Basically the ban is viewed as an example of crony capitalism, nothing new in post-Citizens United America. The ban allows companies to control how their gear is used after it’s sold, which clearly violates property rights. Phone companies might try to claim that they are in fact renting their phones on two-year plans, but they’re not, at least not at the moment.

It is a bit like a car company telling its customers that they can’t install new alloys. What’s more, buying a modular assault rifle is still legal in the US, and the accessory market is booming.

In most states it is possible to install everything from a bayonet to a high powered scope and high capacity magazine on virtually any rifle. It’s perfectly legal, yet unlocking a phone can land someone in court, facing some serious jail time. 

White House plans public-private cyber security deal

The former British colony of Virginia is just so popular at home and overseas that the president of its corporate controlled junta of former revolutionaries has been coming up with plans to tighten up security.

The United States of America, which was formed by French backed terrorists against the wishes of the majority, is saying that it has been plagued by a rash of unprecedented cyber attacks and no amount of creams will budge it.

According to the Financial Times, US president Barack Obama is expected to call for information sharing and co-operation between the private sector and government and create a new set of standards for companies that operate critical US infrastructure.

Since the White House is effectively telling big business, which traditionally sends large sums of money to its politicians, what to do, Obama has made the code voluntary. This normally would make the whole exercise pointless as big business thinks it knows what it is doing and will probably tell the government where to stick its nasty communistic code of practice.

Lobbyists already quashed an effort to pass a comprehensive cybersecurity law on Capitol Hill last year.

However, the White House thinks that some of them are looking pretty stupid after some attacks on US banks caused them to wake up and smell the coffee.

Some, like the Business Roundtable and US Chamber of Commerce, are also pushing for the passing of a law to protect the private sector from litigation from shareholders and others in the event of a cyber attack.

Kiersten Todt Coon, a former senior staff member of the Senate homeland security committee and now president of Liberty Group Ventures, said that companies are now committed with a level of “diligence and intensity” that the financial sector in particular had never experienced before.

Obama wants to prevent catastrophic attacks and build more resilient systems for operators of critical infrastructure. So far, no one is clear what he means, but his plans should include the electrical grid, financial services, chemical companies, oil and gas groups, and the water supply.

He will make an executive order to companies involved in these areas calling for new procedures to be written within 120 days for companies to voluntarily participate in an “Enhanced Cybersecurity Services” initiative to address cybersecurity concerns.

Under the deal, the US government will hand over details of its cyber security concerns to big business.

Some believe that the executive order could open the door to new cyber security legislation. 

Obama's campaign trail leads directly to Reddit

The President of the United States, Barack Obama, took to social website Reddit last night to post a thread in IAMA – where people expect Redditors to ask them anything. Considering Reddit’s enormous user base, largely of a liberal web-savvy constitution, the move was a PR hit despite Obama refusing to tackle many of the trickier questions.

Obama spent thirty minutes responding to questions before, he claims, he went for dinner with his family. Of these responses, he claimed to be sympathetic for how tough the economy is for recent graduates, detailed what he considered an answer to ending the corrupting influence of money in politics, and the most difficult decision that he had to make during his term. He claimed that surging the USA’s forces in Afghanistan was the toughest thing he had to do, and insisted the country will end the war at the end of 2014. Obama also said that the White House will be releasing the recipe for its own beer soon, and that from his first hand experience, “it is tasty”. 

With just 30 minutes to give – perhaps understandable for a man who is considered to be one of the most important in the world – he successfully came across as affable and serious with his responses, though it is perhaps easier for those of us who are used to it to detect some of the PR language and spin “going forward”.

As Reddit user darknessthatisnot noted,  replying to the question “What made you come to reddit for an AMA?”, Obama “probably has something to promote”, clearly referring to the upcoming elections later this year. Obama opening himself up to such a potentially risky format and set of questions – especially among a community that is known around the web for its humour and occasional irreverence, not to mention its enthusiasm for internet activism as well as cat pictures – seems to have paid off for his public image. The top comments now are mostly the questions which the president answered, having received enough upvotes from the community to keep them up there. 

However, the format did bring other questions to the table which much of the community also, clearly, feels are vital that he answer. 

Among questions left unanswered were users wondering just when Guantanamo Bay would be shut down. Others asked about Obama signing off drone strike killings in Pakistan, while still more urged him to reply to what they considered the “failing” war on drugs, and the legalisation of Marijuana.  Another user wondered what assurances American soldiers – who of those killed in action Obama referred to as “fallen heroes” – had that would ensure they got the appropriate care for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) upon their return. 

For example, another user, cjj, asked: “As a former constitutional law professor, can you explain how it is legal to kill an American citizen with a Predator drone without due process?”
Social media is tricky to get right, especially for incredibly prominent politicians whose actions shape history and who sit on, by the nature of their job, sensitive and top secret information. Judging by the mainstream media’s enthused reaction, him and his campaign team have at least impressed the liberal media, and plenty of Reddit users themselves appreciated the time he gave to them.

Looking at the move purely from a public relations perspective, it was a success. Obama said enough to appear he was providing reasoned and thoughtful – and, crucially, honest – answers without giving much away, on one of the world’s most popular websites. Obama’s political candour blurs the lines somewhat. Thirty minutes is hardly enough for a sufficient grilling, and, combined with his ability to pick and choose what to reply to, made sure Obama and his campaigners decided the sway of the discussion.

In fact, there are similarities between Reddit itself and what America purports to stand for: democracy. Users democratically decide what makes and breaks the site and autonomously run their own sub-sections, called subreddits. Obama offered a nod to internet freedom in a reply to one question. He said: “Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too”. Obama contended that his party will “fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody”. It is fair enough for him to offer these assurances on a personal level, but given the history of lobbyists acting on behalf of the content industry, and the brutality with which it and certain corners of the current administration has chased some of the web down, does not necessarily inspire hope.

FEMA conducts simulated cyber attack exercise

US President Barack Obama and senior administration officials took part in a simulated cyber attack exercise sponsored by FEMA on Tuesday.

The exercise examined how the US government would respond to a massive cyber attack, resulting in physical damage to the nation’s critical infrastructure, all in an effort to practice decision-making that would follow such an attack, the Hill reports. The US conducted several similar exercises in the past, including a demonstration of response plans to a possible cyber attack on New York City’s electrical grid back in March.

The White House is pushing Congress to pass new cyber security legislation with the ultimate goal of propping up security standards for critical infrastructure, but the proposal has its detractors and house Republicans believe the added regulations will hurt businesses.  

In related news, The House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in April, but Obama threatened to veto it, citing privacy concerns. He argued that CISPA would do nothing to protect infrastructure, while at the same time encouraging companies to hand over their customers’ personal information to the murky intelligence establishment.

The Obama administration recently appeared to have given the nod to an extensive article in the New York Times admitting responsibility for the Stuxnet worm, aimed at dismantling Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme. It was originally put together by Bush, but ‘sped up’ by the Obama administration.




White House advisers wade in against SOPA

The US White House has indicated that it is not happy with the way SOPA is framed and looks like it might veto it, unless some serious changes are made.

The news will be surprising as Vice President Joe Biden has been a long time sock-puppet, er, champion for the film and music industry. We guess he had a day off and common sense made a rare appearance in the Oval Office.

True, the news hasn’t come from  Obama, but from three advisers who, according to Reuters, posted their comments in a blog.

They said that the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and other bills could make businesses on the internet vulnerable to litigation and harm legal activity and free speech.

White House cyber-security czar Howard Schmidt wrote that any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit business innovation.

SOPA forces companies to block access to foreign websites which have been identified by Big Content as violating US copyright laws. US advertising networks could also be required to stop online ads and search engines would be barred from directly linking to websites found to be distributing pirated goods.

Google has said that the bill goes too far and could hurt investment. It has run advertisements in major newspapers urging Washington lawmakers to rethink their approach.

But SOPA fans, such as Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who chairs the House judiciary committee, said forcing other countries to adopt US laws was not censorship.

He quoted some figures which Big Content made up for him which said that intellectual property industries provide 19 million high-paying US jobs and account for more than 60 percent of American exports.

Schmidt and the other advisers said the Obama administration was ready to work with lawmakers on a narrower, more targeted approach to online piracy to ensure that legitimate businesses – including start-up firms – would not be harmed.

Obama may have worked out that SOPA will probably lose him a lot of votes if he is seen to support it. There is a movement in the US against business control of government which you might have heard of, and while it has not yet made a tremendous impact, it would be a very brave politician who identified themselves as the protectors of corporations over individual freedoms. Then again, this is the man who signed through the NDAA.

FCC powers escape Republican censorship

Moves by US Republicans to allow their chums in the telcos to end net neutrality and throttle user bandwidth have been kicked out of the Senate.

It all started when the FCC decided that it was part of its remit to defend net neutrality to stop the US telephone neo-monopolies from killing it off and charging the owners of popular websites twice for bandwidth.

After much lobbying from the telcos, US Republicans decided this was a terrible thing and meant that government red tape was preventing the US constitutional right to be shafted by big business.

The Senate resolution was championed by Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, and had 42 co-sponsors, all Republican. A similar measure passed the Republican-led House of Representatives in April.

President Barack Obama warned that he would veto the bill and defend the FCC’s powers to rule on net neutrality. However in the end that was not required.

Obama’s fellow Democrats in the Senate blocked a Republican-backed resolution to disapprove of the Federal Communications Commission’s rules on “net neutrality.” The vote was 52-46 against the resolution.

The FCC rules still face a court challenge from Verizon in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, the new FCC rules will go into effect on 20 November.