Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: Internet


NSA data-spying has left the Constitution intact

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Hollywood sometimes portrays intelligence agencies as almost omniscient in their power to track Internet traffic. It turns out that Hollywood is sometimes right.

Libertarians of various stripes are raising a stink over last week’s revelations that the National Security Agency has routinely been tracking billions of phone calls – maybe most phone calls made in America and many other countries.

On top of that, the Washington Post reported that the NSA has been sifting through the central servers of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other Internet giants, dredging up emails, chats, documents and other digital connections among unsuspecting people.

The libertarians are wrong on this one.

The details so far suggest that the digital surveillance has been limited, constitutional and supervised by all three branches of government. Not to mention effective at spotting terrorists.

Part of the stink is a matter of timing: A second-term-scandal narrative has begun gathering around President Obama.

His Justice Department stepped into dangerous territory when it swept legitimate journalists into criminal investigations.

It also looks as if Internal Revenue Service people – at some level – persistently singled out small-government advocates and other political opponents for special scrutiny during the president’s first term.

But the NSA business doesn’t belong in this story line.
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The Internet is eternal for crude videos and racy snapshots

I’ve been thinking about the intersection of two very different stories in the news in recent days: the Muslim riots over that trashy anti-Muhammad video and the nudie shots of Princess Kate that are showing up in various European newspaper.

The Muslims want the video to disappear, and the royals are going to court trying to do the same to the revealing photos of Kate. Alas, thanks to the Internet neither will happen. The video and the racy photos will be with us as long as the Internet – or some future version of it – exists. As soon as

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After routing SOPA, Web giants must protect creators

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

America saw political history made Wednesday. Think colonial Minutemen decimating formidable redcoats – but firing from the Web, not fences and trees.

The British army in this case was a powerful alliance of film makers, music labels, media companies and artists – creators and copyright-holders whose films, recordings, software and products have been getting plundered or counterfeited by Internet pirates.

They had the lobbyists; they had the money.

The colonials were such Internet upstarts as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia, and countless Web enterprises that depend on user uploads and links.
The creators desperately wanted Congress to approve the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act, a measure that would have made it far easier for them – too easy – to threaten even websites unintentionally linked to thieves. Lawmakers looked all but certain to send the president a version of SOPA or its Senate cousin, the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

No bills so well-greased may have been smacked down so quickly. SOPA and PIPA were demolished by an online onslaught that culminated Wednesday when popular websites staged blackouts and Google steered its users to condemnations of the legislation.

Some of the bills’ most fervent supporters suddenly discovered reasons to back down: “Not ready for prime time,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch – one of PIPA’s original cosponsors.
The clash demonstrated the muscle and reach of the Web’s new giants – and their power to push around the old media giants of Hollywood, music and publishing. And now, Congress itself.
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Program aims at closing the low-income ‘digital divide’

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

It’s a long-held belief in America that education is “the great equalizer.”

But not all educations are created equal. In years past, a child with access to up-to-date textbooks and libraries had an advantage over a child who did not. Today, access to technology – computers and the Internet, in particular – is critical to an education that will prepare a child for living and working in the 21st century.

Yet an estimated one-third of U.S. households lacks a computer. That’s often a factor of age, but it’s also one of income. Only 45 percent of households earning less than $30,000 have broadband Internet access at home.

That’s why the new Internet Essentials program sponsored by Comcast and launched statewide last week in Tacoma is so promising. The cable giant is providing $10 per month Internet access and $150 computer vouchers to families that have at least one child eligible for free school lunches and meet a few other requirements.
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Criminals, too, love the Internet

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

You can’t blame the Web for the brutal home invasion that left an Edgewood father dead Wednesday – but you can’t ignore its role, either.

The murder was inhuman and purely gratuitous. The four killers reportedly tied up James Sanders and his wife, forced them to the floor, then began pistol-whipping their 14-year-old son in front of them. When Sanders struggled helplessly to protect the boy, the intruders shot him repeatedly.

Craigslist was the matchmaker that brought killers and victims together.

Sanders had advertised an heirloom diamond ring and other valuables on the site; a woman responded and reportedly said she wanted to buy the ring for Mother’s Day. Sanders – described by all as a caring, devout Christian – trusted her with his home address. The “sale” turned into the robbery-murder.

Some other reports of Craigslist-enabled crime in recent weeks, all from The Associated Press:

• Hartford, Conn.: “A Connecticut man who was feuding with his neighbor targeted her in an explicit online posting that invited strangers to a rowdy orgy with a bored soccer mom, police said. …”
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About those anonymous comments

Leonard Pitts’ column Thursday brings up a problem that has bedeviled newspaper people for years: the ugliness of some of the anonymous comments on our Web sites. Why do newspapers allow trolls to hide behind pseudonyms?

Excellent question. I’m not going to defend the practice, which is decided far above my pay grade. I will point out it is almost universal, as far as I can tell, on newspaper Web sites and most other Web sites that host discussions.

It’s an Internet norm – which is an observation, not a defense. The original idea was to encourage robust, thoughtful online debate in which people felt free to sound off without feeling personally threatened. Lesson: Never overestimate human decency.

Pitts’ own paper, the Miami Herald, accommodates anonymous snipers. In fact, when I looked up this very column on the Herald’s site, I found responses from WaterGoddess, FormFactor and Exile. Well, you know who you are.
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Google vs. China

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The issues behind Google’s decision to stop censoring its own search engine in China are perfectly encapsulated in the Chinese government’s response to it.

Here are some of the instructions – as translated by the Washington Post – the government handed down to Chinese Web forum managers this week in reaction to Google’s move:

• It is not permitted to hold discussions or investigations on the Google topic.

• All Web sites please clean up text, images and sound and videos which attack the party, state, government agencies, Internet policies with the excuse of this event.

• All Web sites please clean up text, images and sound and videos which support Google, dedicate flowers to Google, ask Google to stay, cheer for Google and others have a different tune from government policy.

• Chief managers in different regions please assign specific manpower to monitor Google- related information; if there is information about mass incidents, please report it in a timely manner.

For all of China’s economic dynamism and modern trappings, it remains ruled by a dictatorship terrified of independent political thoughts and the means of communicating them. Google co-founder Sergey Brin – who pushed for the company’s new policy – was dead on when he cited the “earmarks of totalitarianism” in a regime that still perpetuates the cult of Mao Zedong.

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Hey, no fair

Occasionally I google my own name. I know it’s a sign of vanity, but I also want to see what friends and enemies are going to see when they google me.

The Law of the Web is that if you don’t want the world to know your business, don’t put it online. I always figured the law couldn’t be applied retroactively to things you did before Al Gore invented the Internet. (Isn’t there something in the Constitution about ex post facto prosecution?) But I’m now discovering that some of my ancient, distinctly pedestrian, cub-reporter stuff – like this

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