ENTRIES TAGGED "data-driven politics"

Strata Week: Court case sheds light on FBI stingray surveillance

Intrusiveness of FBI stingrays, IRS vs Fourth Amendment, Liquid Robotics' AWS of open seas, and Republicans want big data.

FBI and IRS push privacy envelope

Details about how the FBI uses stingray or IMSI-catcher technology — and how much more intrusive it is than previously known — have come to light in a tax fraud case against accused identity thief Daniel David Rigmaiden. Kim Zetter reports at Wired that the FBI, in coordination with Verizon Wireless, was able to track Rigmaiden’s location by reprogramming his air card to connect to the FBI’s fake cell tower, or stingray, when calls came to a landline controlled by the FBI. “The FBI calls, which contacted the air card silently in the background, operated as pings to force the air card into revealing its location,” Zetter explains.

The U.S. government claims it doesn’t need a warrant to use stingrays “because they don’t collect the content of phone calls and text messages and operate like pen-registers and trap-and-traces, collecting the equivalent of header information,” Zetter says, but in this particular case they got a probable-cause warrant because the stingray located and accessed the air card remotely through Rigmaiden’s apartment.

The issue at stake in this case is whether or not the court was fully informed as to the intrusiveness of the technology when it granted the warrant. Read more…

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Strata Week: What to do with Obama’s election tech — open source vs mothballs

The battle to open source OFA code; a student hacker uncovers security flaw, gets expelled; and ethics and taxes for user data collection.

A cloudy future for Obama’s election code

Obama for America AppA battle is brewing between politicians and the dream team of programmers that helped Obama win the nerdiest election ever. Ben Popper reports at The Verge that the programmers who worked on the Obama for America (OFA) 2012 campaign want to open source the code behind the campaign’s website, its donation collection and email systems, and its mobile app. Yet “[t]hree months after the election, the data and software is still tightly controlled by the president and his campaign staff, with the fate of the code still largely undecided,” Popper writes.

OFA’s director of front-engineering Daniel Ryan told Popper that he believes the Democratic National Committee (DNC) will “mothball” the tech and argues that it should be open because it was built on top of open source code and, therefore, should go back to the public. Popper also notes that if the DNC keeps the code on ice until the 2016 election, it will be useless. “But if our work was open and people were forking it and improving it all the time,” Ryan told Popper, “then it keeps up with changes as we go.” Ryan also points out that not opening up the code not only would stifle development for the next election, but would also hinder opportunities for other progressive organizations to build on the code in the next four years.

Popper reports that a DNC official responded to a request for comment, stating that “OFA is still working out the future of their tech and data infrastructure so any speculation at this time is premature and uninformed.” You can read Popper’s in-depth report at The Verge.

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Strata Week: Data-driven politics

Big data's role in the US presidential election, trends shaping the future of data, and extenuating consequences of the Megaupload case.

Here are a few stories from the data space that caught my attention this week.

Big data, big politics

In the aftermath of the US presidential election, much attention has been focused on Nate Silver’s art of predicting the election results with data. Some looked at it from a coverage angle and how Silver’s work in the spotlight will affect the process of covering elections in the future. John McDermott reports at AdAge that Silver’s work will help shift the “nebulous aspects” of reporting that focus on “feel” and “momentum” to reporting that is anchored in facts and statistics. ComScore analyst Andrew Lipsman said to McDermott, “Now that people have seen [statistics-driven political analysis] proven over a couple of cycles, people will be more grounded in the numbers.”

Which also shows the attention Silver attracted may serve to help democratize big data as well. Tarun Wadhwa reports at Forbes that the power of big data has finally been realized in the US political process:

“Beyond just personal vindication, Silver has proven to the public the power of Big Data in transforming our electoral process. We already rely on statistical models to do everything from flying our airplanes to predicting the weather. This serves as yet another example of computers showing their ability to be better at handling the unknown than loud-talking experts. By winning ‘the nerdiest election in the history of the American Republic,’ Barack Obama has cemented the role of Big Data in every aspect of the campaigning process. His ultimate success came from the work of historic get-out-the-vote efforts dominated by targeted messaging and digital behavioral tracking.”

Michael Scherer at Time has an in-depth look at the role big data and data mining played in Obama’s campaign as well. Campaign manager Jim Messina, Scherer writes, “promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means” and hired dozens of data crunchers to establish an analytics department. The team put together a massive database that merged information from all areas of the campaign — social media, pollsters, consumer databases, fundraisers, etc. — into one central location. Scherer reports: “The new megafile didn’t just tell the campaign how to find voters and get their attention; it also allowed the number crunchers to run tests predicting which types of people would be persuaded by certain kinds of appeals.”

Scherer’s piece is a fascinating look at how data was put to use in a successful presidential campaign. It is this week’s recommended read.

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