Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

May 18 2016 11:30 AM

Future Tense Newsletter: The Real Problem With Surveillance

Greetings, Future Tensers,

For some reason, whenever people worry about drones, they seem to worry about sunbathers. In an article for this month’s Futurography course on the alleged creepiness of drones, Margot E. Kaminski traces some of those references to accidental exhibitionists, proposing that they zero in on many of our most prominent anxieties about surveillance. “The problem with letting the sunbather narrative dominate drone privacy coverage is that it provides a woefully incomplete account of the kinds of privacy concerns that drones raise,” Kaminski writes.

Some of those concerns get a little easier to understand when you look into the ways drones operate in the wild. Slate video producer/editor Aymann Ismail tried to peer in on the private moments of some willing participants (that’s right, his boss let him spy on her). He found that his quadcopter was so loud, it was hard to use it without attracting notice, confirming a critical point made by Faine Greenwood in her article about drone myths from last week.

If we’re really concerned about privacy, drones might not be the right target. A Philadelphia-based computer science professor made national news last week when he noticed that someone (no one’s really sure who) had disguised an unmarked police SUV loaded with license plate reader tech as a Google Maps car. Meanwhile, Belgian police warned that Facebook’s new emoji reactions make it easier for the social network to track its users. And Stanford researchers showed that you can discern a great deal of personal information about individuals from their phone metadata. If anything, the relative obviousness of drones makes them far less problematic than some of these other surveillance technologies.

Here are some of the other stories that we wish we could inscribe on nickel plates this week:

  • Government hacking: The Supreme Court recently approved a change to Rule 41 of the “Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,” effectively giving the government permission to hack almost anyone’s devices, almost anywhere in the world.
  • Internet magic: The Simpsons image quotation site Frinkiac just made it easier than ever to make GIFs from the series. Frinkiac’s creators talked to me about how it works.
  • Social media: Do Facebook’s supposed political biases affect what you see online? Will Oremus explains the latest controversies.
  • Wildfires: Stephen J. Pyne argues that the tragic Fort McMurray fires aren’t just indicative of climate change. They speak to a larger more global shift toward what Pyne calls the Pyrocene.

Reconsidering my hashtags,

Jacob Brogan

for Future Tense

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May 17 2016 6:25 PM

Why Does It Still Take Five Hours to Fly Cross-Country?! A Future Tense Event Recap.

In January 1959, the first transcontinental commercial jet trip flew from Los Angeles to New York City in five and a half hours. Today, the same trip will take a half hour to an hour longer (that is, if your flight isn’t delayed). A lot has changed since 1959—fares are less expensive, planes have reduced effects on the environment, and we’ve reached astonishing levels of safety—yet the speed hasn’t increased, and the romance of flying is gone. So why is the Concorde, the fastest commercial airliner ever built currently sitting in a museum collecting dust? And what’s next for aviation? On Wednesday, May 11, Future Tense—a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University—brought together industry experts, leaders, and innovators to weigh in on the future of flight at an event in Washington, D.C.

Greg Zacharias, chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force, joined NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman in conversation with moderator James Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic, to discuss the historic role the Air Force and NASA have played in driving the research and investment that gets adopted by the private sector and creates jobs in the U.S. economy. In February, NASA announced the arrival of a new era of cleaner, quieter, and faster aircraft. “New Aviation Horizons,” an initiative included in the president’s budget, will design, build and fly a series of X-planes, or experimental aircraft, during the next 10 years. Newman emphasized the importance of investing in such new initiatives to ensure the United States is a leader of this field. According to her, the public/private partnerships are stronger than they’ve ever been with the goal of “transition[ing] these technologies sooner, quicker, and cheaper” into commercial markets.

The private sector, however, faces the financial challenge of taking designs to market. Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for the Teal Group Corp., reminded the audience that even with the support of public sector partnerships, the commercial aviation industry is a low-margin business. So private sector companies that aim to design paradigm-shifting planes face the additional challenge of making them economically viable. Joining Aboulafia in conversation were representatives of three companies—Airbus, Boom Technology Inc., and Lightcraft Technology Inc.—that are attempting to do just that. Airbus and Boom are aiming to build and market the next supersonic jet that can achieve what the Concorde could not, unmatched speed at a cost-effective price. Leik Myrabo’s lightcraft technology aspires to achieve speed and environmental sustainability within an entirely new infrastructure for air travel that includes light-ports and laser-projecting satellites.

But it’s not just about the cool new technology. David Lackner, vice president and head of research and technology for North America Airbus Group Innovations, reminded the audience that the industry must also grapple with existing policy and infrastructure. For instance, one of the greatest barriers to supersonic air travel is bans on flight over land. When supersonic jets travel at a speed of Mach 1 and above, they generate the sound we know as the sonic boom. Today, NASA is working with Lockheed Martin on a preliminary design for Quiet Supersonic Technology, aircraft that can fly at supersonic speeds while only registering a soft thump. As the technology moves to market, the public’s appetite will change and so will the policies that once limited supersonic travel. For example, when consumers realize they can travel faster from Los Angeles to Tokyo than from L.A. to New York due to regulations of supersonic travel over land, policymakers will feel the need to respond. Michelle Schwartz, chief of staff of the Federal Aviation Administration, said the FAA is more collaborative with industry than ever before and she understands that with “industry moving at the speed of Silicon Valley, FAA can’t be moving at the speed of government.”

But new technology won’t fix our aviation system. We still have other problems to deal with—like long lines at airports and an air traffic control system that needs modernization.  Justin Powell, principal at Arup Group, and Diana Pfiel, CTO of Resilient Ops Inc., believe that innovation in the private sector can respond to the infrastructure problems that affect passengers’ journeys. For instance, Pfiel and her team use crowdsourcing and data sharing to increase transparency and give passengers more control of their experience by identifying the source of delays in airports.

As Fallows noted, “Flight today is both a miracle and a frustration.” Perhaps in the future the romance of flying will once again return.

May 17 2016 6:15 PM

You Can Learn a Scary Amount From Someone’s Telephone Metadata

The National Security Agency used the Patriot Act to justify its large-scale telephone metadata collection program until the relevant sections expired last year. But the NSA and other government agencies can still access and collect metadata in various ways. Now, a new study from Stanford University is reasserting the problems this poses for individual privacy.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a custom smartphone app to collect the telephone metadata (phone numbers called, duration of calls, etc.) of 823 participants. The app logged 251,788 calls and 1,234,231 text messages. All told, these communications involved 62,229 unique phone numbers.

The researchers analyzed the metadata using some automated techniques and some manual work. They found that they could establish personal details about the study participants fairly easily by sorting the data in different ways and with “limited resources—far below those available to a large business or intelligence agency.” Depending on what numbers people were calling/texting, how long they were on the calls, and who they called or texted next, the researchers could figure out things like people’s medical conditions, romantic relationship statuses, and identities.

Telephone metadata has been used relatively freely by government agencies on the assumption that it is anonymized and meaningless without context. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in 2013 that the agency’s bulk metadata collection program “does not allow the Government to listen in on anyone’s phone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber.” But the study results reflect what privacy advocates have been saying for years: Collecting telephone metadata can erode individual privacy.

“Telephone metadata is densely interconnected, susceptible to re-identification, and enables highly sensitive inferences,” the researchers wrote. “The results of our study are unambiguous: there are significant privacy impacts associated with telephone metadata surveillance.”

The researchers are far from the first people to reach these conclusions, but their qualitative approach serves as a valuable reminder.

May 17 2016 12:54 PM

Belgian Police Caution Facebook Users About the Privacy Implications of “Likes”

In February, Facebook announced that the “like” button would be joined by five other emoji reaction options. For users who had wanted a dislike button, it was a welcome change. But people recognized from the start that Facebook could also benefit from giving its users this enhanced flexibility and choice by gaining more insight into their preferences and moods. And there could be some potential privacy issues there.

On Wednesday, the Belgian police department published a statement discouraging citizens from using Facebook’s reaction buttons. It explains that giving Facebook data about your opinions and mood allows the company to serve you ads based on what it thinks you will be most receptive to seeing in a particular moment or on a particular day.

My colleague Will Oremus wrote on Slate in February, “Facebook has come to believe that the key to its long-term success lies in gathering ever more and ever richer data on how its users react to the posts they see in their feed.” Limiting the reaction buttons to six choices instead of giving users the whole emoji library helps Facebook get a simplified and distilled idea of what its users think about things instead of having to wade through endless combinations.

“By limiting their number to six, Facebook is counting on the fact that you’ll express your thoughts more easily, which will allow the algorithms running in the background to track you better,” the Belgian police explain (as translated by Slates L.V. Anderson). “This will be a reason not to click too quickly if you want to protect your private life.”

Facebook’s “like” button has already been involved in legal questions about protected speech and the First Amendment. It feels like such a small thing to react to a photo of your friend’s new dog, but that tiny piece of data offers insight into who you are.

May 16 2016 5:47 PM

Report: Twitter’s 140-Character Limit May Not Count Photos and Links Anymore

Twitter’s trademark 140-character limit, which evolved from the number of characters that fit in a traditional SMS text message, is meant to be both refreshing and challenging for users. But as Twitter toys with questions about how to expand its user base and increase revenue, rumors that the service will change the character limit have surfaced more and more. And now there’s another one.

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Twitter is going to change how it counts media in tweets so that photos and links don’t eat up characters. Currently each component takes up 23 characters. And that’s even the allotment for links when they’re shortened or are less than 23 characters to begin with. Bloomberg’s anonymous source says that the change will come in the next couple of weeks.

As my colleague Will Oremus wrote on Slate in 2015, “In the nine-plus years since its founding, Twitter has honored its core product’s minimalist roots to a fault, endearing it to power users but alienating and confusing the masses.” Minimizing the demands of photos and links on the character count may be a good compromise. It gives users a little more leeway without too much mission creep. Maybe Twitter has finally hit on the compromise everyone’s been waiting for.

May 16 2016 4:15 PM

Now When You Browse BuzzFeed All Your Traffic Will Be Encrypted

You may associate BuzzFeed with cats and ’90s listicles, but on Monday the company announced something a bit more serious. The site has transitioned to using HTTPS encryption by default on all its pages, meaning your browser’s server requests and the data BuzzFeed sends back are all protected.

As cybersecurity has become a bigger priority to companies and organizations around the world, more of the sites and services we use every day have moved from using the foundational Web protocol HTTP to the more secure HTTPS. Google expanded its use of HTTPS for Gmail in 2014, and the White House Office of Management and Budget announced an HTTPS-Only Standard directive last year that requires all public-facing federal sites to use the protocol. Media companies have lagged behind on the transition, though.

In a blog post on Monday, BuzzFeed noted that this is partly because of unencrypted third-party advertising content. A page can only use HTTPS if all its embedded components use it, too, and BuzzFeed has an unusual amount of control over its ads because it produces them in-house. The Washington Post began transitioning its site to use HTTPS in June, but many other media outlets like the New York Times, the Gawker blog network, and Slate haven’t made the switch. “It was still a significant challenge for our engineering team to ensure that all of our embedded content (tweets, nstagrams, YouTube videos, etc.) is served over HTTPS,” wrote BuzzFeed’s Director of Global Security Jason Reich, Director of Engineering Clement Huyghebaert, and Assistant General Counsel Nabiha Syed. “Fortunately most of the major platforms we embed are already doing it.”

To incentivize the transition, Google said in 2014 that its search results would start giving preference to encrypted pages and would ramp up this weighting more and more. BuzzFeed acknowledges this, and given that the company that is so focused on virality and social promotion, it’s not surprising that the site would want to take advantage of the extra boost—HTTPS is a win-win for BuzzFeed.

Encryption helps to protect readers from surveillance or attack, creates a safer space for discourse, and could boost search engine optimization. BuzzFeed’s blog post notes that HTTPS doesn’t solve everything but adds that it is “one part of a long process towards helping protect users’ data and information from those who want to exploit it.” Hopefully, other media outlets will see all of this and get in on the encryption action.

May 16 2016 3:57 PM

Who Put a Google Maps Sticker on an Unmarked Philadelphia Police Car?

Last week, University of Pennsylvania computer and information science professor Matt Blaze noticed something strange while passing through the Philadelphia Convention Center’s tunnel. A white SUV parked in the tunnel was clearly loaded with license plate–reader technology—and one window of the vehicle prominently featured a Google Maps decal.

As Motherboard’s Dustin Slaughter reported, the story was all the more peculiar because a registration document on the vehicle’s dashboard clearly indicated that it belonged to the Philadelphia Office of Fleet Management. It was little surprise, then, when a representative for the Philadelphia Police Department later confirmed to Motherboard that the vehicle was theirs.

Why, then, the half-hearted disguise, assuming that’s what it was? Writing for Consumerist, Chris Morran points out that the bulky SUV looks nothing like Google’s dopey Street View cars, not least of all because their branding is so much more excessive. If the police really wanted to pass their vehicle off as something more innocuous, they were doing it in the laziest way possible. In fact, the Google logo may have called attention to a car that might have gone mostly unnoticed under ordinary circumstances.

As it happens, however, the police may not have applied the Google logo in the first place. The department representative quoted by Motherboard suggests as much, writing, that “the placing of any particular decal on the vehicle was not approved through any chain of command,” and adding “it was ordered that the decals be removed immediately.” (The Washington Post received a similar statement from the department.) Indeed, in Blaze’s photograph, the sticker does appear to adhere to the outside of the window, which means that almost anyone (anyone with access to large Google Maps stickers, that is) could have put it there.

To be sure, there’s something evasive about the awkward spokesspeak of the department’s official disavowal—nominalizations and passive constructions often serve to elide agency. But it’s entirely possible that these graceless constructions indicate a very real befuddlement. In any case, whatever else the Philadelphia Police are admitting to—and as one of Motherboard’s sources notes, they are all but acknowledging that they’re running a mass surveillance operation—it’s important to recognize that they’re not admitting to decorating it.

Despite that, some who’ve reported on the story continue to discuss it as if the police had placed the sticker. Morran, for one, writes, that Motherboard “confirmed … officers had indeed gussied up the vehicle to disguise it as a Google camera car, but that these particular cops had done so without approval.” Lee Matthews of Geek takes a similar approach, writing, “Apparently someone at the police department figured that it’d be a good idea to slap Google’s branding on the truck to keep possible targets from getting too suspicious when a big, white SUV came creeping down their street.”

While it’s possible that rogue officers placed the sticker, no one—the department least of all—appears to have definitively confirmed that they did so. Ultimately, the story is probably appealing in part because it suggests that the Philadelphia police are charmingly incompetent, Keystone Cops fumbling their way into the digital age. But the fact of the matter is that this is an organization backed by powerful technology running a sophisticated, warrantless surveillance operation. We shouldn’t let a clumsily placed sticker distract from that, no matter who put it there.

Blaze, for his own part, seems puzzled by the affair. On Twitter, he too noted that the police had acknowledged that the vehicle was theirs but wondered how his initial observation had become national news. Later, a receptionist at the dentist recognized him from coverage of the incident. “What is so damn interesting about this story?” he asked.

May 13 2016 6:17 PM

Badass Digital Publishing Platform Will Archive Its Content on Nickel Plates for 10,000 Years

Humans produce digital data every minute, and it’s still an open question whether we should be archiving all of it—and, if so, how. For the team behind Hi.co, a publishing platform that will stop accepting new submissions on Sept. 1, the decision was clear. Archiving everything from the site, which publishes writing about places around the world, felt like a moral imperative. So the group made an elaborate and awesome plan.

Co-founder Craig Mod explains on Medium that every Hi.co user’s submissions will be available for export (as they are now), while a complete archive of the site will migrate to the domain hitotoki.org, where it will live for at least 10 years, if not longer. Here’s the cool part: The complete data trove will be etched onto at least five 2-inch–by–2-inch nickel plates that can withstand exposure to fire and salt water to last for 10,000 years.

These aren’t DVDs or flash drives that store binary data, though. Norsam Technologies and Los Alamos Laboratories will use a special ion-etching process to physically transfer every word and image onto the nickel plates. It’s not the type of thing you can peruse with the naked eye, but you will be able to read the plates with an optical microscope. You keep one of those on you at all times, right?

The team will produce at least five plates, and they will be housed by libraries and museums around the world for their 10,000–year lives. The Library of Congress has already agreed to be one of the "stewards."

Mod writes:

We understand the moral duty we took on in creating Hi.co — in opening it up to submissions and user generated content. There was an implicit pact: You give us your stories about place, and we’ll give you a place to put your stories. ... We do not take this moral duty lightly.

Hi.Co is still encouraging signups and accepting submissions to its current trove of more than 2 million words and 14,000 photographs published about 3,000 cities worldwide. The team will use proceeds from selling the Hi.co domain name to fund the archival process that will begin immediately after Sept. 1.

Online interactions are often fleeting and disposable, but that doesn’t have to be the only approach to the digital world. Undertakings like the Future Library project are all about exploring the relationship between content and time. As Mod puts it, "Hi.co is not Snapchat."

May 13 2016 5:28 PM

How Three Simpsons Fans Created the Most Wonderful Thing on the Internet. (Now With GIFs!)

Frinkiac is the kind of website that makes the internet feel magical. Type a Simpsons quotation—say, “In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics”—into its search bar and you’ll be greeted with an array of still images from Simpsons episode associated with that scene, drawn from a database of more than three million screen grabs. Click on one of them, and you’ll have the opportunity to build a shareable meme image, superimposing the quotation over the picture. On Thursday, Frinkiac’s creators added a new function, incorporating the option to create short animated GIFs, which quickly filled up my Twitter timeline with a delightful array of moving witticisms from the show.



Despite its seemingly enormous scope, Frinkiac is the creation of just three individuals—Paul Kehrer, Sean Schulte, and Allie Young. Kehrer, who describes the project as “a love letter to the show that defined our childhood,” told me that Frinkiac emerged in large part out of his friendship with Schulte. “Sean and I mostly communicate at work by quoting the Simpsons,” he told me by email. Since it was sometimes hard to find images from their favorite moments, they set out to develop Frinkiac as a way of facilitating those interactions.

As Kehrer explained in a blog post when the initial version of Frinkiac launched in February, the three friends were able to automate the creation of their database. Their system chops scenes from the show up into small segments and then compares the color scheme of those segments to one another. It saves those that differ sufficiently and ultimately pairs them via time stamps to text drawn from subtitles. All that information lives on the servers of Kehrer and Schulte’s employer, the cloud computing company Rackspace.

Young, who developed much of the interface through which Frinkiac’s visitors interact with the site, told me that the warm response that the site has received offered them the opportunity to tinker with the setup. “Frinkiac is a user experience researcher’s dream, because so many people have been so generous with their feedback and suggestions,” she wrote by email. She and her collaborators have been working to implement many of those suggestions since they first launched the site, looking into support for additional languages, a gallery of user-created images, and searchability by episode.

From the start, Schulte told me, “the first thing people said in response to the original launch was, ‘This is great but I want GIFs!’” But the team initially thought that an animated-GIF feature would be too much trouble, a problem, according to Kehrer, that was at least partially computational. “Generating high-quality GIFs with somewhat reasonably limited file sizes costs a lot of CPU and a lot of RAM,” he said. That’s partially reflected in the limitations they’ve placed on GIFs made through the site, which are capped at four seconds long.



While the GIF option is technically still in beta, it works cleanly. The function’s coolest quality, however, may not be immediately evident. Kehrer worked to ensure that GIFs loop cleanly wherever possible, by writing “some code that compares the first frame and [approximately] 15 of the final frames to see if one of them will generate something that loops well.”

Elaborating on this, Schulte told me that Frinkiac’s creators effectively inverted the process by which they separated images in the first place, looking for end points that color match with the first frame as closely as possible. This feature means that GIFs occasionally cut off before the point that a user requests, but the final GIFs are cleaner and smoother for it. Indeed, Kehrer pointed me to one of his own favorite creations, which shows just how seamless the results can be.



Once a user has rendered a GIF, the file lives on Frinkiac’s servers, permanently accessible at the URL that the site spits out. “We might clear that cache every few months,” Schulte said, “but even if that happens all it means is that the first person who goes back to the GIF page will have to wait a few seconds.” He and his collaborators encourage people to simply refer back to those files via hotlink instead of posting them on other image sharing sites, since many of them “re-encode the GIFs and reduce the quality.” Good ding-dong-diddily point!

Though they’re handling a great deal of data, the three aren’t collecting any real intelligence about the way visitors use the site. “I can tell you that the current most popular episode… for GIF generation is Lisa the Vegetarian just by the number of generated GIFs,” Kehrer wrote. They have little additional information about user favorites, meaning that any data drawn from the site is bound to be anecdotal. That may, however, change somewhat if Young’s plans for a gallery page come to fruition.



Frinkiac’s work definitely isn’t done. As Schulte discovered when the three first launched the site, not everyone who loves the Simpsons thinks in terms of quotations. Few sequences from the show are more iconic, for example, that the scene in which Sideshow Bob steps on a series of rakes, but it would be hard to pin that moment to a particular bit of dialogue. Recognizing that challenge, Schulte told me, “made me realize that I need to upgrade the index to handle ‘scenes with Burns and Lenny,’ etc., not just what was being said.”

With this in mind, Kehrer says that he’d like to implement “more complex search parameters” that would allow visitors to find stills “by character, by readable text like newspaper headline gags,” and so on. Schulte suggested that doing so might involve incorporating “computer vision functionality,” before adding that they “haven’t invested enough time to really have any details about it.” Building on this possibility, Young observed that “the real challenge for us may be to look for creative solutions that, for example, invite users to participate in some form of cataloging or tagging of content that would enable new and better search options.”



As Young suggests, Frinkiac’s passionate users may be its greatest resource as it continues to develop. For now, the three are just happy to know that their fellow Simpsons fans are out there. “Given my penchant for using Simpsons references in almost any situation, it’s wonderful that so many people can understand me,” Kehrer claimed.



May 13 2016 10:12 AM

Netizen Report: Mapping “Disputed” Areas Could Become a Crime in India

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. Mahsa Alimardani, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, Hae-in Lim, James Propa, Elizabeth Rivera, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

Maps that label geographic areas of conflict as “disputed” territories in India could put one behind bars for seven years with a roughly $15 million penalty if a recently proposed bill becomes law. The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 would make it illegal to “depict, disseminate, publish or distribute any wrong or false topographic information of India including international boundaries through internet platforms or online services or in any electronic or physical form.” If approved, it could land entities like Wikipedia, Open Street Map, and Google Maps in trouble for showing areas of conflict like Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh near the China border as disputed, which many of them currently do.

Facebook and Twitter disappear in Uganda amid election tensions
Last week, Uganda's minister for information and national guidance banned media houses from covering opposition protests, and the executive director of the Uganda Communications Commission warned that the ban “may be extended to social media.” This appears to have come to fruition.

On Wednesday, the Uganda Communications Commission ordered telecommunications service providers to block access to major social media sites, in anticipation of the inauguration of incumbent President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday.

Musveni will begin his fifth term in office after winning more than 60 percent of the vote on Feb. 18. The election results were called into question by both the leading opposition party and international observers.

On Wednesday evening, Ugandan users began reporting that they couldn't access social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The country's major telecommunication companies, like Airtel Uganda and MTN Uganda, confirmed the shutdown in notices to their customers:

Dear Customers, as per UCC directive Social media has been temporarily blocked however all our other services are available. We regret any inconveniences caused.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye and other opposition figures have been under house arrest for much of the time since February. They have relied on social media to organize what they're calling a “defiance campaign” of protests.

Nepal gives Canadian man the boot over controversial tweets
Canadian citizen Robert Penner was arrested and charged with disrupting social harmony with critically worded tweets; it’s the first reported arrest of a person in Nepal over messages sent on Twitter. Penner’s visa was canceled and he was forced to leave the country. T

hough it’s unclear which tweets triggered his arrest, BuzzFeed reports that authorities received pseudonymous tweets reporting Penner for “doing politics” and violating immigration rules. Penner is a vocal critic of Nepal’s new constitution, which went into effect in September 2015 and which two Nepali ethnic groups argue could lead to their political marginalization.

Russian social mediaite convicted of promoting “separatism” online
A Russian regional court sentenced social media user Andrey Bubeyev to two years and three months in prison over charges of promoting extremism and separatism online. Bubeyev reposted two pieces of content connected with the crisis in Crimea. He is already serving a year in a penal colony for other social media posts and possession of ammunition supplies.

Iranian blogger-techie released from prison
Iranian blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki was freed on bail May 4, 2016. Maleki was arrested in December 2009, six months after Iran's disputed presidential elections, and was immediately incarcerated at the notorious Evin prison, serving 376 days in solitary confinement before his trial finally began in 2010. This led to a 15-year sentence on charges of “spreading propaganda against the regime,” “membership of the internet group Iran Proxy,” and “insulting the Iranian supreme leader and the president.” He went on a hunger strike this past April to protest his imprisonment.

With every departure there is a return. Even when weak and ill we must stand and smile. We must go on...

In a May 6 tweet, Maleki shared a recent photo with a poetic comment:

Will Australia loosen up its copyright regime?
Australia’s Productivity Commission, a government agency designed to give independent advice to the government, issued a report arguing the country’s copyright protection is “cast too widely and lasts too long.” In the report, the commission argues in favor of adopting fair use, saying “Australia’s copyright arrangements are weighted too heavily in favor of copyright owners, to the detriment of the long-term interests of both consumers and intermediate users.”

The report goes against the grain of previous policy lines taken by the Australian government, led by Attorney General George Brandis, to expand copyright laws in the country.

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