TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 19

1. China should match its massive investment in Africa with robust support for the Ebola fight.

By James Gibney in Bloomberg View

2. The market alone can’t drive advances in biomedical science. Philanthropy has a role.

By David Panzirer in Wired

3. Far from radical, the new USA Freedom Act protects citizens from government spying with better oversight and less secrecy.

By Mary McCarthy in USA Today

4. Outdated laws on debt collection and wage garnishment are crushing the working poor.

By Paul Kiel in ProPublica and Chris Arnold at National Public Radio

5. Scotlands referendum was a reassuring exercise in the ‘majesty of democracy.’

By Michael Ignatieff in the Financial Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME espionage

Germany Asks U.S. Intelligence Official to Leave Amid Spying Concerns

German Federal Chancellor Merkel receives the Prime Minister of Moldova, Leanca, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany on July 10, 2014.
German Federal Chancellor Merkel receives the Prime Minister of Moldova, Leanca, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany on July 10, 2014. Adam Roe—Scholz Press/Corbis

With tensions between the two allies already high

Germany told the top U.S. intelligence official at the American embassy in Berlin to leave the country, the German government said Thursday.

Steffen Siebert, a spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the American official has been asked to leave as a result of ongoing investigations into alleged U.S. spying in Germany.

“We have seen these reports and have no comment on a purported intelligence matter,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council. “However, our security and intelligence relationship with Germany is a very important one and it keeps Germans and Americans safe. It is essential that cooperation continue in all areas and we will continue to be in touch with the German government in appropriate channels.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that “any sort of comment on any reported intelligence acts would put at risk U.S. assets, U.S. personnel and the United States’ national security.”

“We do continue to be in touch with the Germans at a variety of levels, including through law enforcement, diplomatic and even intelligence channels,” Earnest added. “The strength of our national security relationship with Germany is important to American national security; it’s also important to the national security of the Germans.”

Earnest said he knew of no contacts between POTUS and Angela Merkel, other than last week’s conversation that preceded the announcement by German law enforcement officials about the alleged espionage.

The move comes amid growing tension between Germany and the U.S. over revelations of spying. Reports surfaced last year that intelligence officials tapped Merkel’s personal cell phone. And German media reported earlier this month that a foreigner arrested on suspicion of spying had been acting on behalf of the U.S.

“If this is true … I would see this as a clear contradiction to what I understand as trusting cooperation of intelligence services as well as of partners,” Merkel said when asked about the arrest Monday.

-Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller

TIME United Kingdom

Terrorism Trial in Britain Sparks Accusations of Excessive Secrecy

Britain's Court of Appeal overturned a judge who agreed to hold the trial of two men in absolute secrecy but most of the proceedings will still take place out of public view

A terrorism trial due to be held in London has caused heated debate in Britain with civil liberties advocates and media organizations critizing the country’s main prosecution service for attempting to conduct the trial in total secrecy.

In May, a senior judge agreed to prosecutors’ requests and ruled that the trial would be held entirely in secret. On June 12, just four days before the trial was due to start, Britain’s Court of Appeal overturned this decision, ruling that most of the trial would be heard in private and the rest in public.

The appeal court’s decision was prompted by a joint challenge from a number of British media outlets that had found out about the May ruling and then moved to overturn it. The media had been forbidden by law to even mention the trial’s existence until June 4 when the court lifted a ban on reporting information about the case.

The trial concerns two defendants, Erol Incedal and Mounir Rarmoul-Bohadjar, both 26 and from London, who are accused of collecting or recording information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

Though the bulk of the trial will be heard in private, a small number of accredited journalists will be allowed to attend the closed hearings. These journalists will only be from those media outlets that made the appeal and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the government department that prosecutes criminal cases, will hand pick them.

That has angered a number of politicians and activists who worry that allowing the CPS to select journalists to attend the trial goes against the British tradition of open justice.

In a statement on his website, the Conservative MP David Davis condemned the trial’s secrecy. “We should be wary of accepting as the new norm in camera trials with controlled journalistic access,” he said.

These comments are the latest in a stream of criticism that the trial has generated. On June 5, the trial made the front pages of three major British newspapers: the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian.

Philip Johnston, an editorial writer for the right-leaning Telegraph, wrote: “We are being asked, in other words, to sacrifice one of the key principles of justice – that it should be seen to be done – for security.” Owen Jones, a columnist for the left-of-center Guardian called the trial “an affront to basic principles of justice, and a frightening precedent to boot.”

Lord Gross, one of the appeal court judges who overturned the secret trial, said in his ruling that secrecy is sometimes necessary to protect matters of national security. “For the [intelligence agencies] to operate effectively, at least much of their work is secret and must remain so as a matter of necessity.”

Andrew Scott, associate professor of law at the London School of Economics echoed this. He told TIME: “It is never a question of aspiring to total openness. Most obviously weighing against transparency are matters of national security and highly private personal information, but also, for example, matters that are commercially sensitive or confidential.”

Some legal experts and civil liberties groups have suggested that there is a growing movement towards secrecy in the U.K. courts. After the terrorist bombings in London in July 2007, the British intelligence agency, MI5, angered families of the victims when it attempted to exclude them from hearings on the attacks because they said the evidence would include sensitive intelligence material. This request was overturned the official in charge of the hearings in 2010. In 2013, the British parliament passed a law that extended use of secret information into civil cases.

This practice is known as closed material procedure (CMP), and allows classified information to be introduced in a trial that can only be seen by the judge and by lawyers who have received security clearance.

Scott condemned the proceedings, telling TIME: “CMPs are an abomination in the face of the principle of open justice.” Juan Mendez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, has also criticized them.

The trial of Incedar and Rarmoul-Bouhadjar has been postponed until October. Full details of the case are likely to emerge at the end of the trial when the accredited journalists will have their notes from the closed hearings returned to them.

TIME apps

Secret Enters Chinese Market Days Before Tiananmen Anniversary

Secret Co-Founders David Byttow And Chrys Bader-Wechseler Interview
Chrys Bader-Wechseler, chief product officer and co-founder of Secret, speaks during a Bloomberg West Television interview in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Anonymous social-networking app may prove headache for Beijing authorities looking to keep a lid on dissent ahead of Wednesday's Tiananmen Square anniversary

A smartphone application that allows users to share anonymous messages with those in their extended social networks launched in mainland China on Saturday, coming amid Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on online dialogue ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4.

The app, called Secret, recently went global after making waves in the U.S. as an online “burn book,” where individuals can post short statements without fear of being identified, and up-vote those posted by others. While the service initially established itself as a vehicle for gossip — a recent Daily Beast story described it as the “digital bathroom wall” for Washington, D.C.’s gay community — it has now gained traction internationally as a voice for the otherwise voiceless.

“I want to go to Ukraine and fight for Europe, but my wife won’t let me (and she’ll be right),” reads one post from Russia, where in recent weeks Secret has been among the country’s top 10 most-downloaded apps.

TechCrunch reported that Secret had partnered with a “large Chinese gaming company” to enter the Chinese market, where other smartphone-based messaging services have been restricted in a state effort to quash “rumors and infiltration of hostile forces.”

TIME Secrecy

Study: Obama Administration More Secretive Than Ever

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks about Ukraine in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Feb. 28, 2014. Charles Dharapak‚—AP

The administration cited national security concerns a record 8,496 times as an excuse for withholding information from the public, a 57% increase from the year before

Barack Obama came to office promising a new era of transparency in government. What he has delivered is something closer to the opposite, a new analysis from the Associated Press makes plain: the most secretive presidency in American history. And it’s worse now than when his presidency began.

According to the Associated Press analysis, which covers 99 federal agencies over six years, the Obama administration censored more documents and delayed or denied access to more government files than ever before. In 2013, the administration cited national security concerns a record 8,496 times as an excuse for withholding information from the public. That’s a 57% increase over the year before and more than double the number in Obama’s first year in office.

At some agencies—like the National Security Agency, which has seen a surge in requests amid the controversy stemming from revelations about mass domestic surveillance—requests for information were almost uniformly denied or heavily censored last year. The NSA blacked out or refused to release records in 98 percent of requests in 2013.

Part of the increase in the federal government’s refusals to release information may be due to an uptick last year in requests for information; in 2013, citizens asked the White House to release secret information 704,394 times, an 8% rise from the year before. Under the Freedom of Information Act, known commonly as “FOIA,” any citizen is supposed to be able to request and receive any piece of information from the federal government at little or no cost, unless the release of that information would harm national security or violate the privacy of a person or business. The Obama White House cited such exceptions in denying FOIA requests more times that ever before in 2013: 546,574.

“Generally speaking, increasing secrecy tends to have a corrosive effect,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists, a leading organization that follows the issue. “It encourages public cynicism and widens the distance between the public and its government. In a democracy that is unhealthy.”

The solution, Aftergood told TIME, is creating more opportunities to challenge official secrecy, like interagency panels and citizen’s review boards. “I think it is unrealistic to expect government agencies to voluntarily become more transparent. Openness is not a central part of their mission, and it has financial and operational costs,” he said.

In response to the AP investigation, the White House pointed to the data—which includes an increase last year in the number of FOIA requests to which the government responded—as evidence “that agencies are responding to the president’s call for greater transparency.”

[AP]

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Snowden Says NSA ‘Setting Fire’ to the Web

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks via videoconference at the "Virtual Conversation With Edward Snowden" during the 2014 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at the Austin Convention Center on March 10, 2014 in Austin.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks via videoconference at the "Virtual Conversation With Edward Snowden" during the 2014 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at the Austin Convention Center on March 10, 2014 in Austin. Michael Buckner—Getty Images for SXSW

Speaking via a video link to a tech conference at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, the former NSA contractor said that the spy agency undermines the trust and security upon which a well-functioning Internet depend

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said Monday that the United States government is “setting fire to the future of the Internet” with its massive domestic surveillance programs.

“When we think about what’s happened with the NSA in the last decade, the result has been an adversarial Internet, a global free fire zone,” Snowden, whose leaks last year sparked debate about surveillance, told the South by Southwest Interactive tech conference via video link from Russia, where he’s living under temporary asylum. “Nothing we ever asked for. Something we don’t want. Something we need to protect against.”

Snowden was joined by his American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Wizner and the ACLU’s chief technologist Christopher Soghoian for a conversation on digital privacy issues, a major theme of this year’s conference. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange drew substantial crowds for his own address via video link on Saturday.

For much of Monday’s talk, Snowden hammered home an argument he and his supporters have been making since his leaks first pulled the curtain back on the NSA a year ago: that mass surveillance makes the Internet a more dangerous place. By systematically working to crack and weaken online security systems in order to harvest user data for surveillance, Snowden said NSA in effect undermines the trust and security upon which a well-functioning Internet depend.

“They’re setting fire to the future of the Internet,” Snowden said, addressing the tech savvy audience. “And the people that are in this room now—you guys are the firefighters.”

During an audience Q&A segment, the first question asked of Snowden came from Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist credited as the creator of the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee, who has been a vocal supporter of Snowden’s, asked what changes the leaker thought should be made to prevent abuse of government surveillance capacities.

“We’ve got a good starting point and that’s what we have to remember. We have an oversight model that could work,” Snowden said, stressing that the people ultimately tasked with overseeing the intelligence community—Congress—must be held to account. “We need a watchdog that watches Congress,” he said.

The decision to invite Snowden to speak at SXSW drew criticism from some quarters. Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo wrote to festival organizers asking them to cancel the event. Pompeo derided Snowden as a man “whose only apparent qualification is his willingness to steal from his own government and then flee to that beacon of First Amendment freedoms, the Russia of Vladimir Putin.”

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