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Google Employees Have Enjoyed Revolving Door During Obama Administration

Revolving Women

The Google Transparency Project, the work of Campaign for Accountability, poured over reams of data to find 258 instances of ‘revolving door activity’ between Google or its associated companies and the federal government, national political campaigns and Congress since 2009.

 reports: More than 250 people have moved from Google and related firms to the federal government or vice versa since President Barack Obama took office.

The Google Transparency Project, the work of Campaign for Accountability, poured over reams of data to find 258 instances of “revolving door activity” between Google or its associated companies and the federal government, national political campaigns and Congress since 2009.

Much of that revolving door activity took place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where 22 former White House officials went to work for Google and 31 executives from Google and related firms went to work at the White House or were appointed to federal advisory boards by Obama. Those boards include the President’s Council on Science and Technology and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

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Regulation watchdogs may be just as keen about the moves between Google and the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission. Those government bodies regulate many of the programs that are at the heart of Google’s business, and there have been at least 15 moves between Google and its lobbying firms and those commissions.

The research also shows that 25 officials in national security, intelligence or the Department of Defense joined Google, and three Google executives went to work for the DOD.

Eighteen former State Department officials became Google employees, and five Google staffers became employed at the State Department.

[The complete list can be downloaded via Excel file here]

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Friends in high places

Former Google employees occupy several key slots in the federal government. These include:

  • Megan Smith, vice president new business development at Google 2003-12, vice president of Google 2012-14, chief technology officer at the Office of Science and Technology Policy 2014-present.
  • Alexander Macgillivray, deputy general counsel at Google 2003-09, general counsel at Twitter 2009-13, deputy chief technology officer at OSTP 2014-present.
  • Nicole Wong, vice president and deputy general counsel at Google from 2004-11 and deputy chief technology officer at OSTP 2013-14.
  • Jannine Versi, product marketing manager in Middle East and North Africa for Google 2010-2012, White House National Economic Council 2013-14, chief of staff International Trade Administration at U.S. Department of Commerce 2014-present.
  • Michelle Lee, deputy general counsel at Google 2003-12, under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office 2012-present.
  • Mikey Dickerson, site reliability manager at Google 2006-13, administrator U.S. Digital Service 2014-present. Dickerson also assisted with election day monitoring and modeling with Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and helped repair the broken HealthCare.gov website.

At least 18 former Google employees work or have worked for the U.S. Digital Serviceand its General Services Administration sidekick, 18F. USDS operates under the Executive Office of the President, consulting on big federal information technology projects.

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The door revolves

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan group that exposes abuses of power in government, said it’s hard to know for sure how more than 250 people moving between Google and the federal government since 2009 compares to other corporations, but “it sounds like it’s a very significant number.”

“It’s very hard to get information about the quantity of people who go in and out of government service,” Amey told Watchdog.org.

Google didn’t return an email seeking comment for this story.

Analysts at Google Transparency Project compiled the revolving-door data by using public information that includes lobby SCHMIDT: The Google chief executivdisclosure records, news stories, LinkedIn profiles and reports from Open Secrets. Campaign for Accountability notes the analysis is “an evolving representation of the scale of the revolving-door relationship between Google and government” rather than a comprehensive tally.

In other words, the total could be higher.

SCHMIDT: The Google chief executive

SCHMIDT: The Google executive chairman’s company Civis Analytics was a key ally of Obama during his re-election campaign.

The project’s analysis included affiliates of Google, such as YouTube, as well as key law firms and lobbyists.

It also includes Civis Analytics, whose sole investor is Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet Inc.

At least 27 people who worked on Obama’s 2012 presidential re-election campaign went to work for Civis Analytics after the election. Google Transparency Project said “those employees are then deployed by the White House to work on President Obama’s top policy priorities.”

Those policies include federal technology acquisition reform, national security matters and health care reform – Civis Analytics employees worked with Google engineers to fix the broken HealthCare.gov website in 2013, Campaign for Accountability reports. Read the rest of this entry »

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Chinese Newspaper Condemns Paris Attack, But Says Exposes Dangers of Press Freedom

Pictures that an Internet poster on China's Weibo microblogging site went viral when it was suggested they were of officials in Lujiang County.

Clifford Coonan reports: A state-run Chinese newspaper has run a commentary condemning the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, but at the same time underlined how the incident exposes the dangers of press freedom.

“Even after China officially determines their terrorist nature, Western mainstream media puts quotation marks when describing these bloody assaults as ‘terrorist,’ saying that it is a claim of the Chinese government. This always upsets Chinese people.”

“We notice that many Western leaders and mainstream media outlets highlighted their support for press freedom when commenting on the incident. This remains open to question,” ran the commentary in the Global Times newspaper, part of the group that publishes the official Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily.

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“It’s inspiring that mainstream opinion worldwide supports Paris. But if the West can be milder in expressing cultural clashes and consider the feelings of many others, it would be very rewarding and respectable.”

China’s media are all state-controlled and content is heavily censored, and the ruling Communist Party keeps a tight grip on dissenting views and rejects calls for greater press freedom, saying it is Western core value.

Security guards stand outside newspaper offices in Guangdong province in January, where banners and flowers were laid in protest of censorship.

Security guards stand outside newspaper offices in Guangdong province in January, where banners and flowers were laid in protest of censorship.

“If the West thinks of globalization as an absolute expansion and victory of certain values, then it is in for endless trouble.”

The attack should make Western governments and media rethink their approach to press freedom when it comes to causing conflict with other cultures. Read the rest of this entry »


Forbidden: Gmail Blocked in China

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Gmail Appeared to Be Blocked on Applications That Were Previously Able to Connect With It

BEIJING— Chuin-Wei Yap reports: Google Inc. ’s popular Gmail email service has become unavailable in China, in what appears to be the latest move by Beijing to curb the U.S. search giant’s presence there.

“Chinese authorities, who strictly control online content, sometimes block or unblock Internet sites and services without stating a reason. It wasn’t clear whether Gmail access would return.”

Data on Google’s website showed Gmail traffic in China dropped sharply beginning on Friday. The service appeared to be blocked on computer applications that were previously able to connect with it.

Google spokesman Taj Meadows said Monday that “there’s nothing wrong on our end.”

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“Foreign services such as Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Google’s YouTube, among others, are blocked in China.”

China’s State Internet Information Office didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday. At a daily press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she wasn’t aware of the matter. She added that the government “always welcomes foreign businesses to carry out relevant work in China.”

Chinese authorities, who strictly control online content, sometimes block or unblock Internet sites and services without stating a reason. It wasn’t clear whether Gmail access would return. Read the rest of this entry »


Why I Have Nothing to Hide Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance

BY MOXIE MARLINSPIKE

Photo: Dell’s Pics / Flickr

Suddenly, it feels like 2000 again. Back then, surveillance programs like CarnivoreEchelon, and Total Information Awareness helped spark a surge in electronic privacy awareness. Now a decade later, the recent discovery of programs like PRISMBoundless Informant, and FISA orders are catalyzing renewed concern.

The programs of the past can be characterized as “proximate surveillance,” in which the government attempted to use technology to directly monitor communication themselves. The programs of this decade mark the transition to “oblique surveillance,” in which the government more often just goes to the places where information has been accumulating on its own, such as email providers, search engines, social networks, and telecoms.

Apologists will always frame our use of information-gathering services like a mobile phone plan or Gmail as achoice.

Both then and now, privacy advocates have typically come into conflict with a persistent tension, in which many individuals don’t understand why they should be concerned about surveillance if they have nothing to hide. It’s even less clear in the world of “oblique” surveillance, given that apologists will always frame our use of information-gathering services like a mobile phone plan or Gmail as a choice.

We Won’t Always Know When We Have Something To Hide

As James Duane, a professor at Regent Law School and former defense attorney, notes in his excellent lecture on why it is never a good idea to talk to the police:

Estimates of the current size of the body of federal criminal law vary. It has been reported that the Congressional Research Service cannot even count the current number of federal crimes. These laws are scattered in over 50 titles of the United States Code, encompassing roughly 27,000 pages. Worse yet, the statutory code sections often incorporate, by reference, the provisions and sanctions of administrative regulations promulgated by various regulatory agencies under congressional authorization. Estimates of how many such regulations exist are even less well settled, but the ABA thinks there are ”nearly 10,000.”

If the federal government can’t even count how many laws there are, what chance does an individual have of being certain that they are not acting in violation of one of them?

As Supreme Court Justice Breyer elaborates:

The complexity of modern federal criminal law, codified in several thousand sections of the United States Code and the virtually infinite variety of factual circumstances that might trigger an investigation into a possible violation of the law, make it difficult for anyone to know, in advance, just when a particular set of statements might later appear (to a prosecutor) to be relevant to some such investigation.

For instance, did you know that it is a federal crime to be in possession of a lobster under a certain size? It doesn’t matter if you bought it at a grocery store, if someone else gave it to you, if it’s dead or alive, if you found it after it died of natural causes, or even if you killed it while acting in self defense. You can go to jail because of a lobster.

If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations. You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.

Read the rest of this entry »

Even law-abiding people should oppose surveillance

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“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in 2009, “maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

This line was creepy enough coming from one of President Obama’s confidants and fundraisers. It takes on added weight now that the Washington Post and the Guardian have reported that the National Security Agency’s Prism program, in the days before Obama was sworn in, tapped into Google’s servers, gaining access to every message sent or received over Gmail.

Google spokesmen, like spokesmen from all the tech companies, deny participating in any such program. So Americans are left to wonder: Was this corporate-government collusion? Was this federal hacking or infiltration of corporate servers?

These are murky questions, so let’s return for the time being to Schmidt’s point, and the question it raises: If you’re upset about the government reading your emails, or knowing whom you call — when, from where, and for how long — then what are you hiding?

In other words, why should law-abiding citizens mind federal surveillance?

The answer begins with this distressing reality: None of us scrupulously obeys the law. Technically speaking, we’re all criminals.

Federal and state criminal statutes have multiplied like rabbits over the decades, and so now everyone breaks the law, probably every day.

Copy a song to your laptop from a friend’s Beyonce CD? You just violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Did you buy some clothes in Delaware because they were tax free? You’re probably evading taxes. Did you give your 20-year-old nephew a glass of wine at dinner? Illegal in many states.

Read the rest of this entry »