August 3, 2015

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Increasing Civic Engagement Requires Understanding Why People Have Chosen Not to Participate

Last month, I was a poll watcher for the mayoral primary in Washington, DC. My duties were to monitor several polling places to confirm that each Precinct Captain was ensuring that the City’s election laws were being followed on site; in particular, that everyone who believed that they were qualified to vote was able to do so, even if through a provisional ballot. While, thankfully, I did not witness any violations of DC law, I also did not see many voters. The turnout for the election was the lowest since 1974, the beginning of home rule in the District of Columbia. Only 27% of registered voters cast ballots.

Between conversations with friends and neighbors and reading post-mortems on the election, anecdotal evidence abounds as to why turnout was so low. [Read more…]

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Threshold signatures and Bitcoin wallet security: A menu of options

Before Bitcoin can mature as a currency, the security of wallets must be improved. Previously, I motivated the need for sharing Bitcoin wallets using threshold signatures as a means to greatly increase their resilience to theft. For corporate users, threshold signatures enable cryptographically secure access control. For individuals, threshold signatures can be used to build two-factor secure wallets.

Our work was predicated on the assumption that there exist threshold signature schemes that are compatible with Bitcoin. Indeed, there are various threshold signature schemes that meet this requirement. But it turns out that there are a number of desirable properties of such schemes, and each alternative satisfies some subset of them. In this technical post, I’ll examine the desirable properties and how each available solution fares. While no scheme is suited to all possible applications, it appears that almost every use case can be satisfied by one of the schemes I describe.

[Read more…]

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Free Law Project Partnering in Stewardship of RECAP

More than five years ago, I spoke at CITP about the US Federal Courts electronic access system called PACER. I noted that despite centuries of precedent stating that the public should have access to the law as openly and freely as possible, the courts were charging unreasonable rates for access to the public record. As it happened, David Robinson, Harlan Yu, Bill Zeller, and Ed Felten had recently written their paper “Government Data and the Invisible Hand“, arguing that:

…the executive branch should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that exposes the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data.

After my talk, Harlan Yu and Tim Lee approached me with an idea to make millions of court records available for free: a simple browser extension that made it easy for individuals to share the records that they had purchased from PACER with others who were looking for the same records. The idea became RECAP (“turning PACER around”), and the tool has indeed helped to liberate millions of public records in the years since then. But the time has come to turn over our stewardship, and we could not be more pleased that CITP is announcing a new partnership with Free Law Project to take over and expand upon RECAP.
[Read more…]

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Google Spain and the “Right to Be Forgotten”

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) has decided the Google Spain case, which involves the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet. The case was brought by Mario Costeja González, a lawyer who, back in 1998, had unpaid debts that resulted in the attachment and public auction of his real estate. Notices of the auctions, including Mr. Costeja’s name, were published in a Spanish newspaper that was later made available online. Google indexed the newspaper’s website, and links to pages containing the announcements appeared in search results when Mr. Costeja’s name was queried. After failing in his effort to have the newspaper publisher remove the announcements from its website, Mr. Costeja asked Google not to return search results relating to the auction. Google refused, and Mr. Costeja filed a complaint with Spanish data protection authorities, the AEPD. In 2010, the AEPD ordered Google to de-index the pages. In the same ruling, the AEPD declined to order the newspaper publisher to take any action concerning the primary content, because the publication of the information by the press was legally justified. In other words, it was legal in the AEPD’s view for the newspaper to publish the information but a violation of privacy law for Google to help people find it. Google appealed the AEPD’s decision, and the appeal was referred by the Spanish court to the CJEU for a decision on whether Google’s publication of the search results violates the EU Data Protection Directive.
[Read more…]

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Will Greenwald’s New Book Reveal How to Conduct Warrantless Bulk Surveillance on Americans from Abroad?

Tomorrow, Glenn Greenwald’s highly anticipated book ‘No Place to Hide’ goes on sale. Apart from personal accounts on working with whisteblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong and elsewhere, Mr. Greenwald announced that he will reveal new surveillance operations by Western intelligence agencies. In the last weeks, Sharon Goldberg and I have been finishing a paper on Executive Order 12333 (“EO 12333”). We argue that EO 12333 creates legal loopholes for U.S. authorities to circumvent the U.S. Constitution and conduct largely unchecked and unrestrained bulk surveillance of American communications from abroad. In addition, we present several known and new technical means to exploit those legal loopholes. Today, we publish a summary of our new paper in this post.

We stress that we’re not in a position to suggest that U.S. authorities are actually structurally circumventing the Constitution using the international loophole we discuss in the paper.  But, we’re wondering: will the gist of our analysis be part of Greenwald’s new revelations tomorrow? A first snippet of Greenwald’s new book in The Guardian, about hacking American routers destined for use overseas, seems to point in that direction. Here’s our summary. [Read more…]

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The importance of anonymous cryptocurrencies

Recently I was part of a collaboration on Mixcoin, a set of proposals for improving Bitcoin’s anonymity. A natural question to ask is: why do this research? Before I address that, an even more basic question is whether or not Bitcoin is already anonymous. You may have seen back-and-forth arguments on this question. So which is it?

An analogy with Internet anonymity is useful. The Bitcoin protocol doesn’t require users to provide identities, just like the Internet Protocol doesn’t. This is what people usually mean when they say Bitcoin is anonymous. But that statement by itself tells us little. A meaningful answer cannot be found at the protocol level, but by analyzing the ecosystem of services that develop around the protocol. [*]

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