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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Surveillance News

Unsealed court documents revealed that while pursuing Edward Snowden, FBI prosecutors demanded access to passwords, encryption keys and computer code that would give the government unlimited access to all of the accounts on Snowden’s secure e-mail service. The founder had given the government access to specific accounts previously, but shuttered his business rather than hand over the information indiscriminately. He was fined $10,000, held in contempt of court and threatened with arrest.

The Obama Administration’s rationale for allowing extensive surveillance of American citizens is that it’s crucial for national security. It is using this argument in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to prevent companies from revealing the scope of user data they turn over to intelligence agencies. The NSA director, however, has admitted that the bulk collection of phone records has led to few, if any, foiled terrorist plots. What it has done instead is allow the government to bypass getting grand jury subpoenas when spying on journalists.

Health of Oceans Deteriorating

A review from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) warns that the oceans are facing a “deadly trio” of threats: global warming, declining oxygen levels and acidification. Increased carbon dioxide in the air creates a weak acid when it reacts with sea water, while fertilizers and sewage reduce overall oxygen levels. The problems, moreover, compound each other. Coral reefs, for instance, suffer from higher temperatures and acidification, but the effects are magnified as they are simultaneously weakened by pollution, toxic algae and bad fishing practices.

Scientists worry it may already be too late to stop mass extinctions. In related news, for the second time in two months, a tank at Fukushima overflowed, likely sending highly contaminated water into the Pacific. Meanwhile, BP won a partial victory in court, as judges halted some of its required repayments for the massive oil spill it caused in 2010.

Brotherhood Plans Rallies, Military Targets Journalists

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for new anti-military protests on Sunday, as the group attempts to adapt to the heaviest crackdown it has faced since the 1960s. The EU’s foreign policy chief has called on both sides – the army-backed government and the Brotherhood – to come to the table. Neither seems interested, however, and an inclusive democratic process seems increasingly unlikely (the Brotherhood compared the military to Hitler and Nero today alone).

Meanwhile, a video leaked yesterday shows Egyptian generals plotting how to control the media months before it ousted ex-president Mohamed Morsi. Two methods floated were to ‘win over’ journalists or ‘terrorize’ them. Since the military coup, dozens of  journalists have been arrested and, based on reports from two Canadians who are still imprisoned without charge, tortured.

‘Modest Progress’ in Colombia-FARC Peace Talks

In the 15th round of talks between the Colombian government and FARC, a partial agreement has been reached on land reform, a crucial issue for the rebels. The peace agenda has six major points, the others being political participation, disarmament, illicit drugs, rights of the victims and the ultimate implementation of the deal.

The Colombian Agency for Reintegration has said it is ready to receive up to 40,000 ex-combatants. The government has experience with mass demobilization, having rehabilitated 56,000 former paramilitary and guerrilla members in the past 10 years.

Over 100 Dead After Migrant Boat Capsizes

Over 100 are dead and hundreds more are missing after a boat carrying 500 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea, took on water, caught fire and sank off the coast of the Italian island Lampedusa. It was the third boat to leave for Italy that night and is one of the deadliest single accidents that has happened during this perilous crossing. Over the past two decades, around 20,000 people have died trying to reach Europe’s southern borders. Worst of all, this tragic loss of life is largely avoidable.

While the people traffickers who send people off on dangerously crowded and unseaworthy boats are largely to blame, the international community is divided what actions to take – whether to prioritize saving human lives or deterring traffickers through tighter border control.

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