Should the Media Have Reported Un-Redacted Manafort Content?

Omitted from the buzz about the poorly redacted court filings associated with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is the ethics of un-redacting and reporting sensitive content filed in U.S. courts.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, digital subterfuge was a key component, from creation of fake news to sale of Facebook user data. You’d think court filings on convicted Trump-campaign associate Paul Manafort might have been properly redacted.


Reporters hungry for more information about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation checked to see if a mistake was made in redacting a sensitive document prepared by Manafort’s attorneys.

It’s a common error. Tech experts will tell you that thousands of redacted documents online can be easily manipulated to view content. Often a staff person or official uses black boxes that can be moved or removed from a document or selects and conceals passages with black background, which of course and be removed. Just select the passage and use a white background, exposing the text.

In this case, Manafort’s lawyers had filed a response to an allegation that he lied to prosecutors. However, on page 5, either his attorneys or Mueller’s staffers did not “flatten” the PDF so that the redacted passages could not be read.

Adobe has a tool that properly redacts (i.e. flattens) content, also shown in the above video. Other ways include taking a photo of the document and making a PDF out of that or printing the document, using a felt pen to redact and scanning it back into a PDF.

An ethical question, largely ignored by the media, is whether reporters should have disclosed the sensitive information as it was not intended for public consumption. Perhaps the disclosure would cause prosecutors or defense attorneys to change their strategy or even taint the ongoing investigation.

The media associated the disclosure with collusion, reporting that Manafort may have met with a Russian intelligence contact and provided polling data from the Trump campaign.

According to the Washington Post:

Attorneys for Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, inadvertently included a big reveal in a court filing on Tuesday through their clumsy failure to properly redact key portions. They admitted that during the 2016 campaign Manafort and his longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI has said has ties to Russian intelligence, discussed a peace plan for Ukraine and that Manafort also shared with him political polling data.

As for media ethics, It seems the standard seems situational: “If you make a digital mistake, we are absolved and so can report confidential information.”

Perhaps not in this case, but one nevertheless can imagine other scenarios when the dissemination of such information could pose a national security threat.

In the digital age, someone viewing improperly redacted court filings is going to disclose the content. As soon as one party disseminates that, others will un-redact and report.

Ultimately, then, the government and officers of the court have a responsibility to know how to use digital tools before filing sensitive documents in the U.S. Court system.

Washington Post: Deep Fake AI Technology Targets Women

WARNING: Sensitive material. Content involves artificial intelligence weaponized against women.

The Washington Post reports a new disturbing use of artificial intelligence–in a free app, no less–that enables users to past the image of anyone onto the face of someone else depicted in a video. The menu of “deepfake” unethical issues are myriad but increasingly target women.

According to a Dec. 30, 2018 article by Drew Harwell,   

Supercharged by powerful and widely available artificial-intelligence software developed by Google, these lifelike “deepfake” videos have quickly multiplied across the Internet, blurring the line between truth and lie. But the videos have also been weaponized disproportionately against women, representing a new and degrading means of humiliation, harassment and abuse.

The Post reports that actress Scarlett Johansson’s face has been superimposed into dozens of graphic sex scenes now available on Internet. There is also a growing concern that the technology can use images from social media like Facebook and superimpose them on similar explicit videos as a new type of AI revenge porn.

The fakes “are explicitly detailed, posted on popular porn sites and increasingly challenging to detect.” Worse, the Post article states that victims may have little recourse as the legality of the technology has yet to be challenged and may even be protected by the First Amendment unless associated with existing laws on defamation, identity theft or fraud.

An anonymous online community of creators is instructing others on how to create deepfake videos, a dangerous new weapon in the troll arsenal.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine covers similar abuses of AI in several chapters, prophesying these new technologies will erode our perception of the world so that we no longer can discern what is real or fake. That impacts how we interact with others and the manner in which we experience the world.

The thesis of the book documents how “moral code is corrupted by machine code.”

NYT Report: Facebook Allowed Tech Giants Access to Personal Data

Facebook routinely allowed favored tech companies–including Amazon, Netflix and Spotify–unencumbered access to users’ personal data, “effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules,” according to the New York Times.

One of the ways Facebook facilitated the favored status of tech giants was through Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which gave access to “virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent,” the Times reported in its investigation.

For insight into the scope of the Facebook practices, consider this excerpt from the Times’ article:

Facebook also allowed Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada to read, write and delete users’ private messages, and to see all participants on a thread — privileges that appeared to go beyond what the companies needed to integrate Facebook into their systems, the records show. … Spokespeople for Spotify and Netflix said those companies were unaware of the broad powers Facebook had granted them.  

Here are other disclosures from the Times’ report:

  • Yahoo could view real-time feeds of friends’ posts. “A Yahoo spokesman declined to discuss the partnership in detail but said the company did not use the information for advertising.
  • Facebook’s internal records show deals with more than 60 makers of smartphones, tablets and other devices.
  • Facebook allowed Apple to hide from Facebook users “all indicators that its devices were asking for data. Apple devices also had access to the contact numbers and calendar entries of people who had changed their account settings to disable all sharing. …”

Interpersonal Divide’s author Michael Bugeja was one of the first in the nation to criticize Facebook practices, as detailed in this January 2006 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled “Facing the Facebook.”

Here are other Facebook-related posts from the latest edition of Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine:

This latest disclosure continues to show Facebook’s questionable business practices in yet another attempt to profit from users’ personal data.

The Times’ believes personal data “is the oil of the 21st century, a resource worth billions to those who can most effectively extract and refine it.” The newspaper notes that Facebook has never sold its user data. “Instead, internal documents show, it did the next best thing: granting other companies access to parts of the social network in ways that advanced its own interests.”

Privacy Roundup: Social Media News

Privacy and security breaches associated with email, Facebook and Amazon were in the news leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Ivanka Trump Emails

Ivanka Trump, senior adviser to President Donald Trump, reportedly used her personal email account to send hundreds of messages to government officials last year. The security breach was discovered as White House staffers responded to a public records lawsuit, according to the Washington Post.

Concern was that Ivanka Trump’s use of personal email echoed that of Hillary Clinton who came under investigation in 2016 for a similar infraction, although White House officials noted that Ms. Trump’s emails did not include classified documents. Secretary Clinton also used a private server.

A spokesman also stated that the president’s daughter occasionally used her private email before being informed about the rules.

Ethics Complaint Over Facebook “Like”

Ari Kohen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, saw this image on his smartphone, was bored, and clicked “like.”

That led to a series of public events that included Congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s chief of staff contacting Kohen and later, university officials, stating that the professor’s “like” promoted vandalism.

According to the Lincoln Journal-Star, William “Reyn” Archer III also emailed the university’s chancellor to discuss “the support one of your faculty has shown for political vandalism.”

Kohen and Archer then discussed the issue. A recording of that conversation was posted on YouTube.

Kohen has filed an ethics complaint against Archer with House Ethics Committee.

Amazon Publicizes Users Emails and Names

Amazon reported a “technical error” caused the names and email addresses of users to be visible on its website, according to The Verge.

The company sent email notices to users informing them of the breach.

Even though Amazon did not advise changing passwords, tech experts noted that the publication of personal information puts those users at risk for phishing attacks and hacking attempts.

In October, an Amazon employee was fired for selling user information to a seller. This latest security lapse was traced to a technical issue.

Calls for Mark Zuckerberg to Resign

There were new calls for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to resign following a series of privacy breaches and mishandling of corporate crises, dating back to the Cambridge Analytical scandal said to have influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Zuckerberg has no intention of resigning, even as reports emerged that the company used a PR firm to spread negative stories about other Silicon Valley tech firms to deflect attention away from its own crisis.

Interpersonal Divide on Iowa State homepage

Professor Michael Bugeja with a tableful of stacked books.

See: State Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication professor Michael Bugeja knows a thing or two (or 10) about textbooks. After all, this acclaimed professor doesn’t just use them to teach — he’s also written a few himself. Even more impressive? The fact that his textbooks are so influential, they’re on many required reading lists at colleges throughout the country.

Bugeja’s “Interpersonal Divide” book series, including the most recent “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine,” has made him a thought leader in technology and its impact on the world. Since technology is a subject Iowa State is known for, it’s no surprise Bugeja fits right in here. Said Bugeja, “In as much as Iowa State University is an institution of science and technology where the first computer was invented, I am continuing a long line of similar research with my “Interpersonal Divide” books, chronicling how to understand technology and harness its power for the common good.”

While it’s true to say that Bugeja is proud of his authorship, there’s something else he’s just as proud of — his students. “My students have gone on to great careers in advertising, journalism, and public relations,”  Bugeja said, “and I relish in their success.” There’s no doubt the students he taught during their time at Iowa State relished in Bugeja’s support.

When you’re a professor at Iowa State, there’s one thing you realize right away. Students here don’t just want an adventure — they also want to make a difference in the world. Professors like Bugeja are doing everything in their power to help that come true. Said Bugeja, “I hope my teaching, service, and research helps students achieve that goal — and their dreams.”

Your Portal to Privacy Invasion

From the editor: Michael Bugeja is an award-winning professor at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. He’s an early critic of digital technology, recognizing that the mediation of interpersonal relationships via screens would pose societal and ethical problems. He’s been examining this phenomenon for years, including with his 2005 book Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age, 2017’s update Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine, and an ongoing blog at that ties current events to briefs on the same themes. We’re grateful that Michael will occasionally share some of his topical posts with us here at The Technoskeptic, where we may include some extra contextual information for our readers.
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This one comes on the heels of Facebook’s latest product announcement, an honest-to-goodness piece of physical hardware called Portal, a video phone with a “smart camera” which pans and zooms to track users:

The latest Facebook feature, Portal, is really only a hands-free video chatting device that follows you in your own home or wherever you plant the dang thing, including your office or classroom (and yes, some early adopter assistant professor will do that and publish a paper titled: “Framing the Frame: Facebook Portal’s Integration in Blended Course Development.”)

Give me a break. Or better still, Facebook give us a break.

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