Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

March 9 2017 4:02 PM

Can Technology Make Sports Safer? A Future Tense Event.

We’re a nation of sports nuts. We rally around our favorite teams, deify athletes, and sustain a multibillion-dollar industry built to celebrate athleticism and human endurance. As a result, athletes face intense pressure to consistently outperform one another and their own prior outings, often at their own expense. Despite how effortless athletes make their performances look on the field, their bodies are constantly under duress, constantly on the verge of the next injury, often maximizing short-term glory at the expense of longer-term health and well-being. Now technologies like high-tech helmets, mobile virtual players, training robots, and biometric data services are being deployed with an eye toward sidelining most sports injuries.

Join Future Tense—a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University—on Thursday, March 23, in Washington, D.C., to consider the effectiveness of these efforts to make sports safer, and our relationship as fans to the bravado sports culture that can at times romanticize injuries and view them as an integral part of the game.

The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by the main program at 6 p.m. For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.


Ellen Arruda
Professor of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering, University of Michigan

George Atallah
Assistant executive director for external affairs, NFL Players Association

Derek Belch
Co-founder and CEO, STRIVR Labs

Victoria Jackson
Sports historian, Arizona State University

Josh Levin
Executive editor, Slate

Roderick Moore Jr.
Vice president of sports performance, Catapult Sports

Nicholas Schmidle
Staff writer, The New Yorker

Kenneth Shropshire
Director, Wharton Sports Business Initiative, University of Pennsylvania

Buddy Teevens
Head coach, Dartmouth Football

March 8 2017 10:58 AM

Future Tense Newsletter: Space Exploration Isn’t Just About Scientific Discovery

Greetings, Future Tensers,

Nothing gets me in the spirit of International Woman’s Day quite like reading two accomplished female leaders on the future of space exploration. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, and Ellen Stofan, the former chief scientist of NASA, continue our March Futurography unit on the “New Space Race” by exploring the role of competition and collaboration in space endeavors. Elkins-Tanton writes that the purpose of space exploration is more than just scientific discovery—it’s about inspiration. She warns that if India or China beats the U.S. to Mars, it would be akin to a military defeat. Stofan says that we won’t get to our next big space milestone without international collaboration, writing, “When you are exploring space, going it alone has never been, and will never be, an option.”

On a more terrestrial note, WikiLeaks has released thousands of new documents detailing the CIA’s hacking capabilities. The document dump shows the CIA’s ability to hack smartphones, computers, and smart TVs—not just your AOL email accounts. (I’m looking at you, Vice President Pence.)

Other things we read this week while testing our reading comprehension before trolling the comments section:

  • When A.I. can’t be trusted: Using Google’s Home smart speaker and Uber’s self-driving cars as examples, Will Oremus discusses the consequences of releasing consumer technologies with A.I. too soon.
  • Wikipedia’s battle over short articles: If you, like so many, turn to Wikipedia for quick answers, you should be wary of how volunteer editors interpret Wikipedia’s policies in favor of longer articles.
  • Cyber extortion: Josephine Wolff argues that no one should pay hackers holding data for ransom unless it’s a life or death situation.
  • The origins of the rubella vaccine: Meredith Wadman, author of The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease, shares the untold story of the aborted fetus that helped created the rubella vaccine.*
  • Prenatal testing: Read an excerpt from Bonnie Rochman’s new book, The Gene Machine, on how prenatal genetic testing will change the way we procreate and the ethical dilemmas it raises for us.

Sent from my iPhone,
Emily Fritcke
For Future Tense

*Correction, March 9, 2017: This post originally misspelled Meredith Wadman's last name.

March 8 2017 10:54 AM

WikiLeaks Says the CIA Can “Bypass” Secure Messaging Apps Like Signal. What Does That Mean?

When WikiLeaks released Vault7, a series of leaks on the CIA’s hacking tools, people who use secure messaging apps were alarmed. The press release accompanying the trove of documents stated that the CIA was able to “bypass” the encryption of secure messaging tools—including Signal—“by hacking the ‘smart’ phones that they run on and collecting audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

This led some to believe that the CIA broke Signal, compromising their favorite secure messaging app. But a closer look reveals that the situation isn’t as dire as it seems. The CIA does not have a way around the cryptographic elements of the app. “They did not break Signal any more than looking at your phone over your shoulder breaks Signal,” said Nicholas Weaver, a computer security researcher at the International Computer Science Institute.

The CIA and other government agencies can circumvent messaging apps if they compromise your smartphone. But that’s not something they can do on a mass scale at the push of a button. Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology, says that the kind of bulk surveillance we learned about through Edward Snowden’s revelations is now much more difficult to accomplish thanks to the proliferation of end-to-end encryption (including HTTPS, iMessage, and Signal).

Open Whisper Systems, developers of the Signal app and the Signal protocol used by WhatsApp (and others) wrote a series of three tweets saying as much:

The CIA/WikiLeaks story today is about getting malware onto phones, none of the exploits are in Signal or break Signal Protocol encryption. The story isn't about Signal or WhatsApp, but to the extent that it is, we see it as confirmation that what we're doing is working. Ubiquitous e2e [end to end] encryption is pushing intelligence agencies from undetectable mass surveillance to expensive, high-risk, targeted attacks.

Weaver says the term “bypass,” which showed up in the WikiLeaks press release, isn’t inaccurate, even though it’s misleading. “It does bypass encryption, but it actually means the encryption is good, so this is the only way left,” he says.

No app or tool is foolproof. But Hall both points out that hacking target phones and installing tools surreptitiously is an expensive, risky, and time-consuming process. That said, governments have been known to target both activists and terrorists, and they are definitely capable of breaking into the underlying operating system and capturing information on the device. So it’s not a good idea to share secret information about your plans to overthrow dictatorships on Signal, or to blast out incriminating information when you’re on the run from the state. If a government agency breaks into your device and your phone operating system is compromised, no messaging app or tool can protect your information.

For phones that haven’t been compromised, Signal has a myriad of benefits over many messaging apps. (Learn how to set it up here.) It’s impervious to Stingrays, or cell-site simulators that trick phones into connecting to them and capture the content of their communications. “Signal does not use your actual phone. It’s mimicking a phone in software, and because it’s not using the radio on your phone that’s associated with your cellular network, it can’t be tricked,” says Hall. Since Signal uses your internet connection rather than your cell signal, it bypasses any kind of eavesdropping technique designed for cellular or mobile networks.

Another benefit is that Signal keeps extremely limited data on its users. When Open Whisper Systems received a subpoena from the Eastern District of Virginia requiring it to provide information about two Signal users for a federal grand jury investigation, the only information the company had was the date and time one of the two users registered with Signal, and the last date of that person’s connectivity to the service.

So, should Signal users do anything different in light of the leaks? If you use Signal on an iPhone, Nexus, or Pixel, Weaver recommends looking at your threat model. If you don’t think you’re at risk of the CIA or another government risking a $1.5 million zero-day exploit to access your phone, you can rest easy. But he recommends other Android users toss their phones in the trash. “Most Android phones don’t meet the security requirements of a teenager,” he says. But that’s not exactly a secret. These phones have long been criticized for slow updates and out-of-date software that makes users vulnerable to a whole host of publicized security flaws.

It’s always a good idea for users to update their phones and apps to the newest versions, if possible. In fact, Apple told Tech Crunch that many of the iOS exploits in the WikiLeaks dump have already been patched—and it’s working on the rest of them.

But vendors can only create patches for flaws they know about, and another thing that makes both Android and iOS users vulnerable to security flaws is when the CIA holds onto these vulnerabilities rather than disclosing them. In a blog post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that stockpiling these vulnerabilities rather than ensuring that they are patched makes everyone less safe.

March 7 2017 2:34 PM

No One Should Give In to Cyber Extortion Unless It’s a Life or Death Situation

In time, we may look back on Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election as the good old days of cybercrime and information warfare. Sure, poorly protected computers enabled some fairly dramatic attempts at large-scale manipulation and humiliation—but on the bright side, there was nothing subtle or secret about it. Large-scale dumps of embarrassing political documents on Wikileaks are far preferable to the activity that Bloomberg attributed to Russian hackers this week: demanding payments from liberal U.S. organizations to prevent their stolen data from being released.

According to Bloomberg reporter Michael Riley, at least a dozen progressive groups have been told to make payments ranging from $30,000 to $150,000 or face the public release of compromising stolen emails and files. It’s not yet clear whether the Russian government is actually driving these extortion efforts, and the sums of money demanded in anonymous Bitcoin payments seem far too small to be of much interest to a major national government. But, Riley writes, the perpetrators of these extortion attempts “used some of the techniques that security experts consider hallmarks of Cozy Bear,” the Russian government hacking group.

Whether or not a foreign government is making these particular ransom demands, they’re an important reminder that governments certainly could leverage their ability to compromise computer networks as a tool for demanding money or other concessions from U.S political organizations. Wikileaks dumps are a fairly crude, blunt instrument for manipulation. Targeted blackmail has the potential to be a much defter and more dangerous one.

Online extortion is not new—ransomware has been plaguing victims for years, enabled by the development of anonymous, largely untraceable cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin—and it undoubtedly has a bright criminal future. Extortion eliminates the need for cyber thieves to find customers for their stolen data or risk wading into black market forums where law enforcement officials may be lurking. It allows criminals to wring value out of even the least interesting or commercially valuable information by selling it back to the one person to whom it has value: you.

Furthermore, we’re hurtling toward a future of more and more Internet-connected devices that will perform crucial everyday functions but store very little interesting data. In this world, extortion will give criminals a way to profit off compromising your light bulbs or refrigerator or toaster oven. There’s unlikely to be data of any value to you (or anyone else) stored on those devices, but you’d probably be willing to pay a small ransom to someone who figured out how to make them malfunction in sufficiently irritating ways.

But you shouldn’t. And the groups currently being targeted shouldn’t pay up, either, even if the release of profoundly humiliating—or even compromising—information is at stake. There may be a small number of special, life-threatening circumstances in which paying an online ransom demand is the right choice—at a hospital, for instance, or stuck inside a compromised moving vehicle. But otherwise, it is absolutely the worst thing victims can do both for themselves and for everyone else.

That may seem sort of counterintuitive—obviously there are some kinds of public humiliation that it could be worth $30,000 to avoid. To some organizations, it may even seem easier (and perhaps cheaper, too) to pay off online intruders than to invest in better protections for their computer systems. But an organization that agrees to pay the hush money has no guarantees that the information won’t still end up being released—or, even more likely, that their adversary won’t return a few months later to demand an additional payment. Unlike a kidnapping victim who can be safely returned, or even a hard drive encrypted by ransomware that can be decrypted upon payment, someone who has stolen your data will likely always retain a copy of that data. That means no amount of paid ransom will ever definitively resolve the situation to the victim’s satisfaction.

Paying ransoms and caving to extortion demands just encourages more of the same activity, directed at both previous victims and new ones. The only way to effectively discourage this kind of crime is to make it so fruitless, so unprofitable, so profoundly ineffective that the perpetrators find a new outlet for their energies. And the only way to do that is to stop relying on individual victims and organizations to make these choices themselves and implement policies that explicitly penalize the payment of online ransoms in most circumstances.

Comparable policies outlawing the payment of ransoms for kidnapping victims—and freezing the assets of their families to prevent such payments—have, unsurprisingly, been very controversial. A 2013 study of the 1991 Italian law that froze kidnapping victims’ families’ assets found that the policy ultimately reduced the number of kidnappings in Sardinia as well as the duration of such incidents. Others have argued pretty persuasively that, in the case of kidnapping, when victims’ lives are at stake, an outright ban may be too stringent a policy, leading to deaths that might otherwise have been avoided.

These arguments lose much of their force when transferred to the realm of online extortion where, for now at least, few lives hang in the balance and all hope of tracking the perpetrators by following the payment pretty much disappears given the nature of cryptocurrencies. Most of these payments, including the ones demanded of breached liberal groups, should be illegal—or, at the very least, heavily taxed.

That may seem like an unfair burden to put on the victims of these crimes when it's the perpetrators who are at fault and deserve to be punished. But as is so often the case when it comes to online crime, identifying the perpetrators is difficult—and even if they can be identified, there’s no guarantee they’ll fall within the jurisdiction of U.S. laws. So the onus has to fall on the rest of us, even if it means sometimes sacrificing our pride, our data, and our reputations when we might have much preferred to just spend a little money.

March 7 2017 1:34 PM

WikiLeaks Has Released a Trove of Documents Detailing the CIA’s Hacking Capabilities

On Tuesday, WikiLeaks released thousands of new documents it claimed were from the Central Intelligence Agency. The documents, which detail some of the CIA’s hacking capabilities, are part of a larger trove of data WikiLeaks says it will continue to release in a series. WikiLeaks is calling the series Vault 7 and has named Tuesday’s dump Year Zero:

Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized “zero day” exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

“Year Zero,” WikiLeaks writes, “introduces the scope and direction of the CIA’s global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal and dozens of ‘zero day’ weaponized exploits” against vulnerabilities in smartphones, computers, and Samsung smart TVs. The smartphone vulnerabilities reportedly allow the CIA to hack into phones running popular secure messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp and intercept messages and data before the apps’ encryption is applied. (While some on Twitter have interpreted this to mean that Signal has been "broken,” that isn’t the case.) The dump also reportedly reveals ways in which the CIA has attempted to cover its digital tracks in its hacking efforts and the location of a major base for CIA hackers in Europe.

WikiLeaks says many of the hacking tools described in Vault 7 were made unclassified to skirt rules on posting classified information to the internet—most of the CIA’s malware requires the use of the internet for communication. “This means that cyber ‘arms’ manufactures and computer hackers can freely “pirate” these ‘weapons’ if they are obtained,” WikiLeaks claims. “The CIA has primarily had to rely on obfuscation to protect its malware secrets.”

WikiLeaks says it has elected not to release the actual code for the CIA’s malware and cyberweapons “until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should analyzed, disarmed and published.”

The New York Times reported that a former intelligence officer it contacted has said the some of the information included in the dump “appears to be genuine.” David Kennedy, CEO of the information security firm TrustedSec, told Wired the dump’s information appeared genuine as well:

“From what I can tell, this seems to be legitimate,” says David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec, who formerly worked at the NSA and with the Marine Corps’ signals intelligence unit. “It shows expansive capabilities of the CIA and divulges NSA tools as well. But a lot of it seems to be missing, as far as direct codebase used for these.” Wikileaks says it redacted much of that more specific information.
Those redactions, in part, make it difficult to ascertain just how comprehensive the leaked information is. In spite of Wikileaks’ claims, it is only a small fraction of the CIA’s total arsenal.

March 6 2017 3:41 PM

Futurography Newsletter: Cybersecurity and the New Space Race

Hello, fellow Futurographers,

This month, Futurography is focusing on the new space race, a competition that’s no longer just about the old Cold War superpowers. We’re starting with a conversational introduction to the geopolitics of space that’ll help bring you up to speed about why everyone from India to Luxembourg is heading for the heavens. We’ve also got our usual cheat sheet, laying out key players, further readings, big debates, and other information.

There’s plenty more coming in the weeks ahead, including an event Wednesday event in Washington: “Will Collaboration or Competition Propel Humans to Mars and Beyond?” Even if you can’t attend in person, we’ll be streaming the event online, so there’s no excuse to miss it.

In the meantime, here’s what we published in last month’s course on cybersecurity self-defense:

Once you’ve read all of those, test your knowledge with our quiz on the topic. And check out what other Slate readers had to say.

Blasting off,

Jacob Brogan

for Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

March 6 2017 3:33 PM

What Slate Readers Think About Personal Cybersecurity


Over the past month we’ve published articles about cybersecurity self-defense as part of our ongoing project Futurography, which introduces readers to a new technological or scientific topic each month. We’ve published a lot of practical articles on the topic, but we’re also interested in what you have to say, so we’ve written up the results of our survey on the topic. Meanwhile, Futurography continues with our March course on the new space race.

Futurography readers offered a wide range of responses in response to our question about their relative levels of confidence in their personal cybersecurity. Many claimed that they were somewhere between “moderately” and “very” confident (“My stuff is probably better secured than most people’s stuff,” one claimed), but others were less sure of themselves. “I do a[n] inadequate job, but feel the alternatives are worse,” a reader wrote, and another described him or herself as merely “cautiously alert.” One went so far as to describe him or herself as “helpless,” writing that even trying to read the fine print on smartphone apps “just makes me feel more anxious.”

Whatever their feelings, almost all agreed about the one cybersecurity technology we should all be employing: password managers. While others advocated complex, unique, or frequently changed passwords, most of our readers simply focused in on the value of this relatively accessible security strategy. “Perhaps the best reason is to keep track of your accounts on different apps and services so that you can shut down old stuff you don’t use and so on,” one typical respondent wrote.

That said, a few offered objections to commercial password management systems and proposed alternative solutions. Concerned that password managers “all send stuff over the net,” one such reader explained, “I do have one which does not use the net for anything, so I have to carry it around with me. It keeps my password list in a 128-bit encrypted text file on a USB drive. I only plug this into a PC I know is clean (which is increasingly hard to know.)” Another reader suggested that the old-fashioned method may be the best one, telling us, “I use paper and pen to keep track of passwords, why have PW info anywhere on line if you’re worried about having your PW compromised?”

This approach squared with another reader’s suggestion that “less technology” may be key to our cybersecurity best practices. “Segmenting that technology into specific areas of our lives and keeping control of it should be the priority,” he or she wrote. Other popular answers on that front included setting up two-factor authentication and relying on apps such as Signal that feature end-to-end encryption. And at least one suggested good cybersecurity doesn’t necessarily begin at home, echoing Jamie Winterton’s warning that you should be very cautious about connecting to public Wi-Fi.

When it came to the cybersecurity threats that actually worry them, the majority of readers pointed to ransomware. Many others identified phishing—attempts to trick the unsuspecting into furnishing their passwords or other information—as a prominent concern. A few suggested that this wasn’t necessarily because they thought they would fall prey to some scheme, but because, as one put it, they feared “relatives or others tied to me” might. Similarly, some mentioned that they were troubled by the possibility big data leaks, especially of records from government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration.

Not everyone agreed with those conclusions, and a few ranked some of those prominent answers among the most overrated cybersecurity threats. Others rolled their virtual eyes at topics such as car hacking, retail breaches, basic computer viruses. To that last one, a respondent wrote, “Those are just toys that some bored kid makes.” Despite that, many of our readers claimed that they do use anti-virus software. Those who said they didn’t mostly identified themselves as Mac users, though a few others seemed to agree with Michael Thornton’s suggestion that you just can’t rely on such programs these days.

One way or another, the majority of our readers seem to be cautious types. Many who wrote in proposed that it’s important to acknowledge all possible threats, however insignificant they may seem. As one put it, “[N]othing is overrated in cybersecurity.”

This article is part of the cybersecurity self-defense installment of Futurography, a series in which Future Tense introduces readers to the technologies that will define tomorrow. Each month, we’ll choose a new technology and break it down.

March 3 2017 12:38 PM

After Mike Pence’s AOL Account Was Hacked in 2016, He Started Another One

On Thursday, the Indianapolis Star reported that Mike Pence had employed a personal email account for official correspondence while serving as governor of Indiana. As the Star observes, this revelation—much like other stories about government officials using private email—raises important transparency questions. It’s also obviously hypocritical, coming as it does from an official who attacked Hillary Clinton for similar missteps—not least of all because scammers hacked his account in 2016 and sent out an email to his contacts list, pretending that he was stranded in the Phillipines and needed money.

More puzzling, though—or at least more amusing—was Pence’s choice of email providers. In an age of easily accessible Gmail accounts and customizable domains, Pence continued to rely on America Online for his email needs. Pence was, in fact, so committed to the platform that, according to the Star, “He also set up a new AOL account” after apologizing to those who’d received a scam message from his account.

Yes, that AOL. The one whose signup CDs you used as frisbees.

Once upon a time, Pence’s choice of providers would have been unremarkable: In the early days of the commercial internet, it all but went with territory. Since then, however, the domain has become vaguely embarrassing. Rightly or wrongly, to keep employing AOL was to implicitly admit that you didn’t really get the internet—that you were happier to let the spider come to you than to crawl the web of your own accord.

Over the years, some have pushed back against that largely unspoken premise. Most notably, in a 2011 Politico blog post, Ben Smith suggested that AOL accounts might actually be status symbols. Claiming that they were still employed by figures such as Dick Morris, Ann Coulter, and Matt Drudge, Smith wrote that he’d “started to notice a certain prestige attached to the AOL.com survivors.” Adrian Chen quibbled with Smith’s conclusions, arguing, “This is another example of the sycophantic logic that twists powerful people’s flaws into reinforcing how much better they are than normal people.”

As Mike Pence demonstrates, though, the powerful do use AOL, whether or not they employ it to prove how powerful they are. Perhaps Pence’s choice was more like that of Slate’s Derreck Johnson, who wrote in 2014 that he’s been using the same AOL address since the mid-’90s. “Do I hold onto it for the same reason I hold onto my Air Huaraches and my seemingly endless back issues of The Source? Possibly,” Johnson asked and answered. But ultimately, his persistence was (and remains! He’s still got the account) a matter of simple practicality. “I just haven’t switched because I haven’t needed to,” he wrote.

But if that’s the case for Pence, we still have to account for a lingering detail—that he apparently created a new AOL account after his old one was hacked. (Why, one wonders, did he not simply initiate account recovery protocols and change his password? Did he think his account was tainted? Haunted, perhaps?) Assuming the Star’s reporting on this detail was right, we have to assume that Pence was so committed to AOL that he was willing to keep using it, even if that meant starting over with a new, unfamiliar address.

In an attempt to better understand the new vice president’s mindset, I did something I would have never expected to do in 2017: I created a new AOL account of my own.

Today, the AOL.com homepage is a busy mess, seemingly designed to cram as much information into as little space as possible. If you’re logged in, it’ll give you the weather, local news, your horoscope, and more, all condensed onto a single screen, and available with minimal scrolling or clicking. This is the distant descendant of the company’s old quasi-walled garden model, the entire internet (or a simulacrum thereof) writ-small and rendered safe. So long as you remain incurious, there’s enough here to distract you all day.

AOL’s email application, by contrast, feels at least a little more contemporary. On first pass, its design is reminiscent of Gmail’s. But look a little closer and you’ll start to notice the sort of features you might associate with the AOL of old. Button placement on the formatting bar emphasizes file attachment and image insertion—the better, presumably, to forward along those adorable pictures of your grandkids. Similarly, it offers users easy access to emojis, but only 16 of them, enough to enable expressive correspondence, but not enough to beget choice paralysis. As in many other email clients, the font defaults to Arial—a largely inoffensive sans serif option—but click the dropdown to switch it up, and the first alternative it furnishes is Comic Sans. (Google Inbox, by contrast, defies alphabetical order and buries Comic Sans in the middle of the list, as if to avoid accidental clicks. And unlike AOL Mail, it eschews WingDings altogether.)

Good luck to those employing these features to their fullest, though. When I tried to send Slate’s Katy Waldman an email showing off the newfound ease with which I could switch between colors and fonts, the service cut me off, telling me only, “The message was not sent because of an error.” After I tried a few more times, it finally acknowledged that it was concerned that I was a spammer, and made me pass a test to prove that I wasn’t a bot.

Given that I had just created my account and wasn’t writing in complete sentences, AOL’s caution was probably appropriate. And while I don’t doubt that other email providers have similar protections in place, it somehow seems apt that the once ubiquitous AOL would be so hesitant about a new user. Why would anyone join AOL in this day and age, if not to fill the internet up with more garbage? But it also makes one wonder how the message from Pence’s hacked account, which went out under the subject line “Nefarious News !!!” and featured at least three significant errors in its first sentence, passed muster.

This is all to say, I almost get it. AOL may be dorky, but it’s convenient and mostly functional. As it happens, though, Pence may have moved on as he moved up in the world. In January, CNN reported that the official vice president Twitter handle linked to a Gmail account.

March 2 2017 4:41 PM

Netizen Report: Man in Myanmar Sentenced to Prison for Defaming Aung San Suu Kyi on Facebook

The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Leila Nachawati, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

new advox logo

In a manifesto published in mid-February, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out a sweeping vision of the social network’s role in “bringing us all together as a global community.” It echoed a 2015 Facebook ad that promised “the more we connect, the better it gets.”

Of course, the ubiquitous connectedness to which Zuckerberg aspires can serve the interests of many different actors—including governments seeking to keep a clean, positive image online and to quiet their critics. Highlighted below are a few such examples from February 2017.

A man in Myanmar was sentenced to six months in prison for defaming State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Facebook. Activists from Myanmar are calling for amendments to Section 66D of the Telecommunications Law, which criminalizes defamation. According to PEN Myanmar, 38 people have been charged under section 66D since Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took power, among them human rights activists and journalists known for their critical commentary on the party.

Palestinian journalist Sami al-Saai, a political reporter with the local and independent Al Fajer Al Jadeed TV Station, was arrested by Palestinian Intelligence Services on Feb. 2 in the West Bank and charged with “inciting sectarian strife” in Facebook posts. Despite having posted bail, he was held in Jericho Prison for 20 days, where he says he was forced to stand for very long periods of time, deprived of sleep, and injected with an unknown drug four times a day. Al-Saai believes that he was actually arrested because he has sent reports on Palestinian political prisoners in Israel and the West Bank to Hamas, the militant movement that governs the Gaza Strip and is the main political rival to the nationalist Fatah party, which controls the Palestinian Authority.

Dengin Ceyhan, a Turkish pianist and supporter of the 2013 Gezi Park protests, was arrested in mid-February for social media posts that allegedly insulted Prime Minister Erdogan. Ceyhan is in good company—Turkish Minute cited statistics from Turkey’s Ministry of Interior indicating that from August 2016 to January 2017, 1,656 social media users were arrested “on suspicion of terrorist propaganda and insulting senior state officials on social media.” For regular updates on social media censorship and persecution of journalists by Turkish authorities, see the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Turkey Crackdown Chronicle.

In India, students push back against online harassment
University students in India rallied behind a female student facing online rape and death threats for standing up to the right-wing student group Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi, which has ties to Hindu nationalist organizations. The student, Gurmehar Kaur, started the #StudentsAgainstABVP protest after ABVP protesters disrupted a conference about the culture of protest that included members of the “Free Kashmir” movement.

Hong Kong daily suffers cyberattacks, vandalism
Staff at the pro-Beijing newspaper Sing Pao Daily have reported physical and digital attacks on their work and homes to local police. In addition to multiple cyberattacks on the newspaper’s website on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19, vandals believed to be associated with local organized crime attacked the home of a senior editor at Sing Pao, leaving his front door covered in red paint. The attacks indicate a divide among pro-Beijing leadership in Hong Kong.

Ukraine will censor websites that “undermine sovereignty”
Ukraine's Ministry of Information Policy is preparing a list of websites that “undermine Ukrainian sovereignty” in an effort to uphold the country's new information security doctrine. The policy appears to target the dissemination of pro-separatist and pro-Russian information. A statement from the presidential administration said the policy was introduced “with a view to counter the destructive information impact of Russia in conditions of hybrid war unleashed by it.”

Wanna blow the whistle in Tunisia? There’s a bill for that.
Tunisia’s assembly voted unanimously on Feb. 22 in favor of a draft law that would protect the rights of whistleblowers denouncing corruption. The law also provides penalties for individuals seeking to reveal the identities of anonymous whistleblowers.

Russian regulators are eyeing Telegram
Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor held a closed-door meeting with the authors of several popular channels on the messaging app Telegram. While it remains unclear what they discussed, a critic of Roskomnadzor wrote on his channel that officials were seeking information about the service in order to find new content to ban. The meeting was reportedly organized by the head media liaison for the All-Russia People’s Front, a political movement created by Vladimir Putin in 2011.

U.K. Parliament zeroes in on algorithms
The U.K. Parliament Science and Technology Committee launched a new inquiry into the use of algorithms in public and business decision-making. “How an algorithm is formulated, its scope for error or correction, the impact it may have on an individual—and their ability to understand or challenge that decision—are increasingly relevant questions,” said the Committee in its announcement. Submissions on this topic may be sent to the committee through April 21.

New Research

Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age”—Information Law and Police Centre, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies

Internet Rights at the Human Rights Council 34th session”—Association for Progressive Communications

March 2 2017 4:18 PM

Will Collaboration or Competition Propel Humans to Mars and Beyond? A Future Tense Event.

Between the close of the Cold War and the more recent retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet, we’ve long since left the first Space Age behind. But now it seems there’s a new space race brewing—one that may take humans out of our planet’s orbit.

The first Space Age was a geopolitical race between superpowers eager to outreach one another. Today's space race is a more complex interplay of networked nations and private players alternatively competing against, and collaborating with, one another. Once the exclusive provenance of old power nations, space exploration has increasingly opened to new global players with India, China, Nigeria, Japan, the European Union, and the United Arab Emirates getting in the race. Private enterprises are also playing an increasingly prominent role in our interplanetary yearnings, as evidenced by the ventures backed by Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson.

NASA is still very much in the game, but without a moonshot-like commitment for Mars, its projected 2040 manned mission seems far off. A start-up company, or an upstart country, may beat us there—or perhaps help us all get there together as partners.

Join us at noon on Wednesday, March 8, in Washington, D.C., to consider whether it will be competition or cooperation that finally gets us to Mars and beyond.

For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.


Andrés Martinez
Editorial director, Future Tense

George Whitesides
CEO, Virgin Galactic and the Spaceship Company

Anne-Marie Slaughter
President and CEO, New America

Lindy Elkins-Tanton
Director, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University

Scott Pace
Director, Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs
Professor of the practice of international affairs, George Washington University

Eric Stallmer
President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation

Ellen Stofan
Former chief scientist, NASA

Konstantin Kakaes
Fellow, New America
Author, The Pioneer Detectives

Talal M. Al Kaissi
Senior adviser, commercial affairs and special projects; director of U.S./UAE space affairs, UAE Embassy Trade & Commercial Office

Rob Chambers
Orion production strategy Lead, Lockheed Martin Space Systems

Thomas Cremins
Associate administrator for strategy and plans, NASA

Véronique Dockendorf
Deputy chief of mission, Luxembourg Embassy

Deji Bryce Olukotun
Author, Nigerians in Space and After the Flare (forthcoming, 2017)
Senior global advocacy manager, Access Now

Karl Schroeder
Science fiction writer and futurist