Please sue us

van Bits of Freedom - do, 05/05/2016 - 14:27

Each of the Member States of the European Union is required to incorporate European directives into national legislation. If a Member State does not obey this obligation, the European Commission can sue this country in the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). But what actions can a country take if such directives force it to adopt legislation that contradicts its own constitution? From the European Commission’s perspective, Member States have an opportunity to raise such concerns for a few weeks during the adoption process of a Directive and, if it doesn’t, all subsequent problems are the fault of the Member State itself.

Being forced to do something you can’t actually do

This transposition into national legislation also applied to the Directive that forced telecom and Internet providers to retain data concerning the location and communication behaviour of all their users, also known as data retention Directive. Many Member States where unable to meet this requirement. This resulted in the Commission starting a number of infringement procedures against, among others, Romania, Sweden, and Germany.

In order to get a good impression of what goes on behind closed doors, Dutch EDRi member Bits of Freedom requested the Commission to disclose all documents relating to five of these infringement procedures. A few months later, we received thousands of sheets of paper. Now we know how effortlessly national and European leaders blatantly ignore fundamental practical and objections. Ironically, while Member States were taken to court for failing to implement the repressive measures in the Directive, no effort at all was devoted by the European Commission to enforcing Article 10 of the Directive – collecting statistics that were supposed to be used to assess whether the Directive was actually useful or not. It’s a tricky situation: being forced to implement certain rules, despite them being contradictory to the country’s constitution.

Please sue us

The preventive and persistent preservation of data concerning everybody’s location and communication behaviour is, fortunately, a controversial policy. However, to some governments, this seems to be irrelevant. In one of the obtained documents, the Commission describes how a Czech minister viewed the implementation of this controversial undertaking. His assessment: “one day’s headlines and then forgotten”. Some countries even encourage the Commission to start an infringement procedure against them. Crazy, right? It’s as if you’d approach a police officer on the street and beg him or her to please give you a ticket. But this is politics.

The politicians of the German ruling party CDU supported the Commission’s attempts to enforce the implementation of the Directive, because such an infringement procedures increase the pressure on the national debate. For the same reason, the German minister of Internal Affairs (who wanted to see the Directive implemented) did not want the Commission to amend the Directive. In the absence of a reform, the pressure on her Liberal colleague at the Justice department (who refused to implement the Directive) remained high. Similarly the Commission was told by Romanian representatives that a warning against the country would be “helpful”.

Keeping score is too much of an effort

There is no scientific evidence that the invalidation has caused the law enforcement agencies major difficulties. There is no evidence indicating that invalidating the data retention Directive has had a negative impact on the clear-up rate of criminal offences.

This is what the German Minister of Justice wrote in a letter to the European Commission, after the data retention Directive was found to be in violation of the constitution in Germany. It is clear-cut criticism on the assumed – but never substantiated – need for a data retention act.

For many countries, it is too much trouble to gather evidence that supports the alleged need for a data retention act. The Czechs told the Commission that maintaining statistical data (an unenforced obligation under the Directive) was an enormous burden and that it was difficult to obtain data from the police. Instead they indicated a preference to have a conversation with other Member States and to learn from their best practices. How to implement the Directive, without much need for working out if it was serving any purpose?

A data retention act doesn’t help anybody

The documents also give an impression of what is still ahead of us. For instance, the Commission pressured Romania into introducing a new data retention policy after the previous one was declared invalid. The Commission did this despite the warning that there is a risk that a new case would be brought to the Constitutional Court and that the new law will be again declared unconstitutional.

The national legislator being disciplined over and over again calls for additional complexity in the Commission’s enforcement procedures. Their lawyers wrote:

“By letter of 25 November 2008 […] Romania informed the Commission […] that it adopted law no. 298/2008 […]. Romania stated that these measures constituted ‘complete transposition’ of [the data retention Directive] into Romanian law. However, due to an internal omission, this infringement procedure was not subsequently terminated, which should have been done. On 23/11/2009, the Romanian constitutional Court annulled the national law. This law longer exists.

Given those circumstances, it is necessary to close this case which dealt with the situation prior to the annulment of the law by the Romanian Constitutional Court. However, the Commission decided to open a new procedure in order to make sure that [Romania] will transpose the Directive, taking into account the legal situation which is currently in force since the annulment of the law by the Romanian Constitutional Court.”

That is quite a mess that benefits no-one, other than a handful of lawyers. And this is what the Netherlands is about to do: adopting a new data retention law (even though the European Directive itself has now been overturned by the European court), while knowing that it will again collapse in a Dutch or European court. Meanwhile, the investigative agencies are left to deal with the consequences: they have no use for investigative tools that can be declared illegal by a judge – indeed, they were never able to show a use for the data in the first place. The Dutch government should instead invest in something the police can actually use.

This article has been translated by Tom Rijndorp. Thank you, Tom! It has also been published at EDRi’s website.

Categorieën: Technieuws

[Ticker] Socialist MEP jailed for tax evasion

van EU Observer - do, 05/05/2016 - 13:21
A court in Caligari, Italy, sentenced MEP Renato Soru to three years in prison for tax evasion after he failed to pay €2.6 million in taxes. Soru, a member of Matteo Renzi's Partito Democratico and founder of telecom company Tiscali, said the ruling was "unfair" and would be overturned.
Categorieën: Europees nieuws

Europe's Flimsy Net Neutrality Rules Go Live, Are Actually Worse Than No Rules At All

van TechDirt - do, 05/05/2016 - 12:28
While the date didn't receive much fanfare in the media, net neutrality rules formally took effect in the European Union as of April 30. The full rules were approved after a vote last October (pdf), though as we noted at the time, the rules don't actually do much of anything. That's quite by design; European ISP lobbyists spent years ensuring that while the rules sound great in a press release, they're so filled with loopholes as to be largely useless. In that sense they're much like the awful rules the U.S. (with help from AT&T, Verizon and Google) crafted in 2010, ultimately forcing the States to revisit the ugly political skirmish down the line.

To pass the lame-duck rules, lawmakers bundled them with some actually semi-useful wireless roaming fee reform proposals, then used the latter to sell the entire package. Despite the rules shortcomings, members of the European Parliament were quick to pat themselves on the back for a job well done and for being pioneers in the realm of net neutrality:"This abolition of roaming surcharges has been long awaited by everybody: ordinary people, start-ups, SMEs and all kinds of organisations,” said the rapporteur, Pilar del Castillo before the vote. “Thanks to this agreement, Europe will also become the only region in world which legally guarantees open internet and net neutrality. The principle of net neutrality will be applied directly in the 28 member states. It also ensures that we will not have a two-speed internet."In reality, the EU was rather late to the net neutrality game. And in fact the rules don't prohibit a "two-speed Internet," they actually encourage it. The rules contain numerous, onerous loopholes for things like "specialized services," "class-based discrimination," and fully allow practices like zero rating. The rules even include bizarre provisions allowing ISP throttling and discrimination provided ISPs simply claim it's to address phantom congestion that may or may not have even happened yet, something Sir Tim Berners-Lee complained about in an ignored missive written just before the rules were approved last fall:"The proposal allows ISPs to prevent “impending” congestion. That means that ISPs can slow down traffic anytime, arguing that congestion was just about to happen. MEPs should vote to close this loophole. If adopted as currently written, these rules will threaten innovation, free speech and privacy, and compromise Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy. To underpin continued economic growth and social progress, Europeans deserve the same strong net neutrality protections similar to those recently secured in the United States. As a European, and the inventor of the Web, I urge politicians to heed this call. They didn't. In fact, just 50 MEPs out of the European Parliament's total of 751 could be bothered to attend a debate preceding the vote. They also ignored complaints from the likes of BitTorrent, EyeEm, Foursquare, Kickstarter, WordPress, Netflix, Reddit, Transferwise, Vimeo, and the EFF. And while many European politicians and telecom lobbyists like to believe the contentious debate is now behind them, once users in uncompetitive European broadband markets realize they're still unprotected, politicians will be forced to revisit the entire conversation all over again.

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Categorieën: Technieuws

[Ticker] ECB to phase out €500 bills

van EU Observer - do, 05/05/2016 - 10:07
The European Central Bank has said it'll stop printing €500 notes from the end of 2018 because of "concerns that this banknote could facilitate illicit activities." The note, which makes up €300bn of the €1.1tn in circulation, will remain legal tender. All other banknotes, including €200s, will still be made.
Categorieën: Europees nieuws

[Ticker] Turkish PM expected to step down

van EU Observer - do, 05/05/2016 - 09:56
Turkish PM Davutoglu, the architect of the EU-Turkey deal on migrants, is expected to leave office after a congress of the ruling AKP party, due between 21 May and 6 June, Turkish officials told Reuters. Davutoglu is said to have fallen out with Turkish president Erdogan.
Categorieën: Europees nieuws

[Ticker] Ex-commissioner Kroes to advise Uber

van EU Observer - do, 05/05/2016 - 09:07
Former EU commissioner for digital agenda Neelie Kroes has joined Uber’s Public Policy Advisory Board, Uber announced Wednesday, four days after the obligation for Barroso-era ex-members to report new jobs ended. When in office, Kroes had been a firm supporter of Uber, which offers a popular but controversial ride-sharing app.
Categorieën: Europees nieuws

Privacyzorgen over Big Data bij opsporing

van Bits of Freedom - do, 05/05/2016 - 08:45

Hoe kan Big Data gebruikt worden voor een effectiever veiligheidsbeleid zonder dat daarbij de privacywaarborgen verloren gaan? Hoe kunnen we straks genieten van de voordelen zonder de nadelen te ervaren? Vragen die ons bezighouden, en vragen die de regering stelde aan de Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid (WRR). Hier volgen de belangrijkste conclusies en aanbevelingen van de WRR.

Wat is Big Data eigenlijk?
Het rapport Big data in een vrije en veilige samenleving van de WRR geeft geen definitie van Big Data maar beschrijft een drietal hoofdkenmerken om duidelijk te maken waar het bij Big Data om gaat:

  • Data: het gaat om grote hoeveelheden gestructureerde en ongestructureerde data uit verschillende bronnen.
  • Analyse: de analyse is ‘data-driven’ en zoekt geautomatiseerd naar correlaties. De grootste potentie wordt verwacht van realtime en voorspellende analyses.
  • Gebruik: de analyses moeten leiden to ‘actionable knowledge’ (ingrepen in de realiteit op basis van bestandsanalyses.

Dit zijn meteen ook de drie fasen van een standaard Big Data toepassing: eerst gegevens verzamelen, ze vervolgens analyseren en er dan iets zinnigs mee proberen te doen.

Wordt Big Data al gebruikt in het veiligheidsdomein?
De Raad heeft zeven verschillende cases van datagebruik binnen het veiligheidsdomein goed bekeken. Van het Criminaliteits Anticipatie Systeem (CAS) van de Amsterdamse politie (vorig jaar nog goed voor een Big Brother Award) tot de Infobox Crimineel Onverklaarbaar Vermogen, en van de analysetechnieken van de Belastingdienst (zie ook dit stuk van Maurits Martijn) tot aan het controversiële Systeem Risico Indicatie (SYRI). Ook Smart Borders en Smart Cities komen natuurlijk aan bod.

De auteurs merken op dat in die cases Big Data vaak nog maar een beperkte rol speelt. Er wordt bijvoorbeeld nog amper gebruik gemaakt van datagestuurde analyses en in plaats van effectievere opsporing gaat het vaak gewoon om automatisering waardoor standaard processen goedkoper gedaan kunnen worden. Wel wordt er al verschrikkelijk veel data aan elkaar gekoppeld.

Is Big Data wel effectief?
De potentiële voordelen van Big Data liggen volgens het rapport op het gebied van efficiëntie, het terugkijken in de geschiedenis, het real-time analyseren en op het voorspellen van misdaad.

Daar staan een aantal potentiële problemen tegenover. De analyse van data is volgens de Raad bijvoorbeeld nooit neutraal omdat het theoretisch kader altijd vooronderstellingen bevat. Verder kun je uit correlatie geen causaliteit afleiden en ontkom je er niet aan dat er in Big Data-analyses altijd fouten zullen zitten. En als je gaat zoeken in grote hoeveelheden data vind je altijd wel correlaties, maar of die ook betekenisvol zijn weet je niet.

Omdat Big Data gebaseerd is op patroonherkenning in grote hoeveelheden data is het eigenlijk alleen maar geschikt voor veiligheidsvraagstukken die een regelmatig karakter hebben. Als een vraagstuk heel weinig voorkomt (denk aan terreur) dan is er onvoldoende materiaal beschikbaar om een betekenisvol patroon te ontdekken. Het rapport is daarmee (impliciet) bijzonder kritisch over de te verwachten effectiviteit van de plannen van Plasterk voor een sleepnet voor de geheime diensten:

“Datamining – de voor Big Data kenmerkende analysevorm – is niet voor alle vormen van misdaadbestrijding even geschikt. Datamining is voor het voorkomen van terroristische aanslagen waarschijnlijk een ineffectieve methode. Patroonherkenning werkt het beste bij overtredingen die een vast en terugkerend patroon laten zien. Omdat elke terroristische aanslag uniek is, is het nagenoeg onmogelijk om een goed profiel te maken. In combinatie met een gering aantal aanslagen levert dit te hoge foutpercentages op.”

Wat zijn de risico’s van Big Data?
De WRR staat ook stil bij de grote risico’s van het gebruik van Big Data. Zo leiden data-gedreven oplossingen altijd tot social sorting en liggen daarbij discriminatie en profilering op de loer. Het is bijna per definitie onmogelijk om privacy en Big Data met elkaar te rijmen. Het gaat bij Big Data vaak om miljoenen kleine individuele privacyschendingen (zo klein dat mensen zelden naar de rechter stappen) die samen, bij elkaar opgeteld, wel degelijk een grote schending zijn. Verder is er altijd een kans op function creep: het inzetten van de data of methodologie van één succesvol Big Data project in een ander project met een andere context. Ook is er het gevaar van een chilling effect (met alle negatieve gevolgen voor de democratie van dien) als mensen zich anders gaan gedragen doordat de overheid private data voor veiligheidsdoeleinden gaat gebruiken. Tot slot uiten de auteurs hun zorgen over de informatieongelijkheid die in de hand wordt gewerkt door Big Data. Ze benoemen daarbij de transparantieparadox: het feit dat burgers steeds transparanter worden voor de overheid en bedrijfsleven, terwijl deze organisaties in de manier waarop ze de data in hun analyses gebruiken niet open zijn naar burgers.

Een horizonbepaling, beter toezicht en de menselijke maat
Big Data is volgens de Raad niet meer te stoppen. We moeten dus nadenken over hoe we de risico’s kunnen inperken. Het rapport komt daarvoor met een aantal aanbevelingen. Zo zou er rondom het gebruik van Big Data een wettelijk te omschrijven zorgplicht moeten gaan gelden en moeten Big Data projecten door een externe toezichthouder worden ge-reviewed waarbij die toezichthouder ook meteen moet controleren of aan de zorgplicht wordt voldaan. Daarnaast moeten grote dataverwerkingsprojecten binnen de overheid (en in het veiligheidsdomein) een horizon van 3 tot 5 jaar krijgen: als het project niet blijkt te werken, dan moet het weer worden opgedoekt. Ook wordt er aanbevolen om geautomiseerde beslissingen (“computer says no“) te beperken en juridisch vast te leggen dat de verantwoordelijkheid voor de juistheid van een Big Data-beslissing bij de gegevensverwerker blijft. De overheid mag de computer of het algoritme dus niet de baas maken of de schuld geven.

Reguleren we het verzamelen of het gebruik van data?
Volgens de auteurs van het rapport is hun belangrijkste conclusie dat de focus van de huidige wet- en regelgeving op de fase van het verzamelen van gegevens in het Big-Data tijdperk niet meer volstaat. Hun voornaamste aanbeveling is dan ook om het regulerend kader te verbreden van het verzamelen van gegevens naar de regulering van de analyse en het gebruik van de gegevens.

Hoewel wij het een goed idee vinden om de analyse en het gebruik van data beter te reguleren vinden we dat dit niet ten koste mag gaan van het reguleren van het verzamelen van de data. Anders gezegd: het beperken van hoe data gebruikt mag worden kan wat ons betreft niet als oplossing dienen voor het fundamentele probleem dat Big Data heel slecht te verenigen is met fundamentele uitgangspunten van (Europese) privacywetgeving zoals doelbinding.

In een artikel in de verkenning Exploring the Boundaries of Big Data, die tegelijkertijd met het rapport is uitgekomen, schrijft Joris van Hoboken (naast academicus ook voorzitter van Bits of Freedom) over deze spanning:

The most productive way to address this tension would be to see use-based regulation not as an alternative to regulation of collection, but as a complimentary regulatory strategy that can help address some of the new challenges to privacy inherent in the possibilities of large-scale data analytics.

Naar onze smaak hebben de auteurs van het rapport te weinig naar deze suggestie geluisterd en blijven ze te ambivalent over dit punt. Zo staat er in de factsheet met aanbevelingen dat “de aandacht moet worden verlegd van het reguleren van het verzamelen van data [..] naar de regulering van [..] de fases van de analyse en het gebruik van Big Data.” Die aandacht verleggen lijkt ons geen goed idee, juist niet binnen het veiligheidsdomein. Het is essentieel om zowel het gebruik als het verzamelen te reguleren.

Verder praten met de minister
Toen wij de net aangetreden minister van Veiligheid en Justitie naar een visie op privacy vroegen kregen wij van hem de verzekering dat hij ons (en de rest van de ‘Privacycoalitie’) daarbij zou betrekken. In zijn toespraak bij het in ontvangst nemen van het rapport deed hij deze belofte nogmaals. Wij kijken er dus naar uit om betrokken te worden.

Meer lezen?
Op de website van de WRR vind je meer informatie. Je kunt een aantal zaken ook direct als PDF downloaden: de factsheet met aanbevelingen, de samenvatting, het volledige rapport en tot slot de bijbehorende wetenschappelijke verkenning.

Wat vind jij?
Bits of Freedom vind het goed om te lezen dat de wetenschappelijke adviseurs van de regering zo kritisch zijn op de rol van big data in een vrije en veilige samenleving. Wat vind jij? Kan Big Data ons helpen bij een effectievere opsporing zonder dat dit ten koste gaat van privacy? En wat vind je van de discussie over verzamelen versus gebruik? Laat het ons en de WRR weten.

Categorieën: Technieuws

Vice Media Sends Cease And Desist To ViceVersa Over Trademark Infringement

van TechDirt - do, 05/05/2016 - 08:36

We're going to have to keep hammering this home until more people get it: trademark law is about preventing confusion in the marketplace. The reason why that needs to be understood is that just about every time you read a story about one entity going after another over a trademark issue, the refrain of "we must protect our trademarks or we lose them" is trotted out like some kind of bower card that trumps the rest of the discussion. That excuse is just that: an excuse. And it certainly doesn't lift from those that use it the burden of being called trademark bullies.

Here to show us all an example of this kind of bullying is Vice Media, which decided to fire off a cease and desist letter to ViceVersa, a barely-making-it punk band. Vice Media, a company valued at $2.5 billion whose CEO once spent $300,000 on dinner, wants ViceVersa, an unsigned Los Angeles indie band whose members are struggling to pay rent, to change its name — or else.

In a cease-and-desist letter sent to the band, a copy of which was obtained by The Huffington Post, the media behemoth says the three-piece rock outfit’s name and logo both sound and look too similar to Vice’s own name and logo. The band, the letter argues, is “infringing on the exclusive rights held by Vice Media in the VICE® Mark” and is “likely to confuse consumers as to the source of services offered under [ViceVersa’s] mark, and wrongly implies that Vice Media sponsors, endorses or is otherwise affiliated with [ViceVersa].”
There's enough gall here on the part of Vice Media to make this funny in a sad kind of way. Now, to be fair, Vice Media does indeed operate Vice Music, a label which has released records with some very big names in the music industry. It also owns a ton of other media outlets, such as magazines, book publishers, films and digital television. And it claims to own the rights to the word "vice" in basically any permutation or word combination for all of those markets. That isn't actually true, of course, but that doesn't keep a behemoth from trying to stomp on a little punk band.

I'll note that the threat letter arrived just after the USPTO approved the band's request to trademark its name, ViceVersa. Not that we should take the USPTO's opinion on whether a mark is valid as gospel, certainly, but I daresay that Vice Media isn't exactly an unknown around the USPTO offices, yet it approved ViceVersa's trademark. Which is when the threat letter arrived, seriously suggesting that ViceVersa was infringing on its trademark for "commercial profit and gain, to the great detriment of Vice Media."

Below you can see a video released by the band that is about to bring one of the media giants of this world to its knees.

Those do indeed look like dangerous folk, I guess. Now, Vice Media hasn't yet trotted out the aforementioned excuse that it must protect its trademark or else lose it, but it will if asked. That's what these companies do. And it's common. Harry Finkel, ViceVersa’s attorney, says these kind of cease-and-desist letters are common. “You have a big company that is overzealous in protecting its mark,” he said.

Finkel says he wrote a letter back to Vice offering to change some of the language in Morales’ trademark application, so that it was clear that the band “would not be doing anything with TV shows or magazine publishing or publishing in general” that could be seen as encroaching on Vice’s territory. He says he never heard back from the company. Instead, Vice in March filed a letter of opposition to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, asking that ViceVersa’s trademark application be denied. Nope, they're not talking to you, sir. Parley is part of the pirate's code, after all. Honorable folks like Vice Media would never engage in conversation in order to stop bullying a punk band in California. Vice Media has a history of doing this kind of thing, of course, but hopefully the USPTO smacks this opposition down tout de suite.

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Categorieën: Technieuws

[Ticker] EU parliament drivers forced to open doors and carry bags

van EU Observer - do, 05/05/2016 - 02:50
The European Parliament recently spent €3.7 million on an in-house car service for members. Liberal MEP Javier Nart is upset that drivers were also instructed to open car doors and carry members' bags. He urged colleagues to sign a letter to president Schulz denouncing the ”anachronistic, humiliating and classist” obligation.
Categorieën: Europees nieuws

DailyDirt: Really Flying Or Just Hovering?

van TechDirt - do, 05/05/2016 - 02:00
Not too long ago, we mentioned some hoverboards that don't really hover at all. But there actually are several examples of hovering devices that can transport people short distances. None of these contraptions are particularly practical means of transportation, but maybe when Mr. Fusion generators can supply enough energy, we'll all be hovering/flying around everywhere. After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.

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Categorieën: Technieuws

Kosovo's gloomy visa-free future

van EU Observer - do, 05/05/2016 - 01:48
EU proposal to lift visas for Kosovars created a positive buzz in Pristina. But what will it do to improve ordinary people's lives?
Categorieën: Europees nieuws

Defense Department Screws Over FOIA Requester Repeatedly, Blames Him For 'Breaking' The FOIA Process

van TechDirt - do, 05/05/2016 - 00:40

The FOIA system is broken. The administration pays lip service to transparency while aggressively deploying exemptions. Agencies routinely complain about FOIA response budgets and staffing levels, yet no one seems motivated to fix this perennial issue. FOIA reform efforts moving forward with bipartisan support are repeatedly killed after receiving pushback from the White House.

Then there's this: a single requester is being blamed for a backlog of FOIA requests at an agency that's never underfunded -- the Department of Defense.

According to its "Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer Report," Nick Turse is the US citizen who has managed to bring the slowly-moving DoD FOIA machinery to a complete halt. The report, for instance, laments that “despite their best efforts to provide helpful details, great customer service and efficient responses,” some DOD components were “still overwhelmed by one or two requesters who try to monopolize the system by filing a large number of requests or submitting disparate requests in groups which require a great deal of administrative time to adjudicate.” The study went on to call out:

"[o]ne particular requester [who] singlehandedly filed three requests with SOUTHCOM [U.S. Southern Command], 53 requests with AFRICOM, 35 requests with SOCOM [Special Operations Command] and 217 requests with OSD/JS [Office of the Secretary of Defense/ Joint Staff] for a total of 308 cases this fiscal year alone. For AFRICOM, this represents 43 percent of their entire incoming requests for the year and 12 percent for SOCOM. This requester holds over 13 percent of the currently open and pending requests with OSD/JS and over the past two years has filed 415 initial requests and 54 appeals with this one component." If this seems like a lot of requests from one person, it isn't. This is the way the system works. Agencies routinely delay responses (Turse has been waiting more than four years for responses to some of his FOIA requests) when not redacting them to uselessness, forcing requesters to make multiple requests for the same information or related documents, in hopes of actually receiving some information in response to their information requests.

The percentages may seem high, but AFRICOM isn't exactly a popular FOIA target. This focus relates to Turse's ongoing investigative reporting on abusive behavior by US soldiers stationed at bases in Africa. What he has managed to uncover so far isn't pretty, and his reporting on it has won him no friends in the Pentagon. I made, for instance, a couple hundred attempts to contact the command for information, comment, and clarification while working on an article about criminal acts and untoward behavior by U.S. troops in Africa — sexual assaults, the shooting of an officer by an enlisted man, drug use, sex with prostitutes, a bar crawl that ended in six deaths. Dozens of phone calls to public affairs personnel went unanswered, countless email requests were ignored.

At one point, I called [DoD Chief of Media Engagement Benjamin] Benson, the AFRICOM media chief, 32 times on a single business day from a phone line that identified me by name. He never picked up. I then placed a call from another number so that my identity would be concealed. He answered on the second ring. Once I identified myself, he claimed the connection was bad and the line went dead.


Today, when I write to the current AFRICOM public affairs chief, Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, I receive similar treatment. I often get a return receipt back that tells me my email to him “was deleted without being read.” This happened to me, for example, on Thursday, September 10, 2015; Friday, October 2, 2015; Tuesday, October 6, 2015; Thursday, November 5, 2015; Friday, November 27, 2015; Wednesday, February 10, 2016 … you get the picture. That the DoD finds itself swamped by Turse's requests is its own fault. Had it simply returned the requested documents in a timely fashion, it would not have this Turse-centric backlog to complain about. Now, it's using an official report to portray the FOIA process as unnecessarily burdensome on the government and prone to abuse by tenacious citizens. This portrayal is not only false, but it obscures the fact that the DoD still controls every interaction with FOIA requesters. It has held Turse at arms length for several years and now it won't even answer his emails and phone calls regarding requests it has yet to answer. But in its report, it complains that it's Turse that has broken the system, rather than this being the FOIA system's natural state: that it only works as well as responding agencies want it to.

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Categorieën: Technieuws