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Is It Worth the Ink?

The CIA has disclosed a long-awaited report on its controversial interrogation methods as part of President Obama’s transparency promise. On his second day in office, he signed an executive order strengthening the Freedom of Information Act.

So now is the time for the public to read that █████ ███ ██ █████████ █ █████████ █████. And even more is revealed, e. g. ██████████ ██ ████ ███████ █ ███ █ ███████. If you have no idea by now, better ████████████████ ████ ████████ █ ██████ ██ ████████, because ████████████████████████ ██████ ██ ██ ██████████████.

The CIA's report on interrogation methods

The CIA's report on interrogation methods

In the future, the newly created “High Value Detainee Interrogation Group” will handle the questioning of high-level prisoners. It is led by the FBI and will act in strict accordance with the the US Army field manual on interrogations, the █████████. I’m sorry, this one, the FM 2-22.3, is of course “approved for public release; distribution is unlimited”.

If it is approved for public release, it cannot be bad, right? And if CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano notes that “The CIA in no way endorsed behavior – no matter how infrequent – that went beyond formal guidance. This has all been looked at. […] That’s how the system was supposed to work, and that’s how it did work,” then I wonder whether that formal guidance was blacked out in the first place, too?

ISN Weekly Theme: Preparing for a Pandemic

Travelling with Swine Flu / Photo: Diego Cupulo, flickr

Travelling with Swine Flu / Photo: Diego Cupulo, flickr


As countries prepare for the expected swine flu surge this fall, the ISN is taking this week to examine how they’re steeling themselves for the possible rise in cases.

In the ISN Special Report, Preparing for a Pandemic, Sara Kuepfer looks at the links between swine flu and globalization, while Shirya Malhotra suggests that visual and spatial analysis could help strengthen public health systems in the fight against the virus.

Also check out:

And as always, we’ll be updating the site with more on the subject throughout the coming days.

Prisons and Profit

Wallens Ridge State Prison /Photo: dombrassey, flickr

Wallens Ridge State Prison /Photo: dombrassey, flickr

Once upon a time, prisoners used spoons stolen at lunch to dig their way to freedom. Today’s prisoners seem to have found more comfortable methods. They prefer private helicopters to fly elegantly to freedom, as did one of Belgium’s most dangerous criminals, Ashraf Sekkaki, together with two other inmates. Apparently the aircraft was in the prison courtyard for five minutes without even encountering a guard.

Since the procedure was not as cheap as old-school methods, the trio was probably in dire need of money: Only a week after their escape, the three were suspected of having robbed a bank, a gas station and two storage facilities – all within two hours.

Their helicopter escape was not an original idea though. It seems to be a general trend in Europe, with 14 cases in the last eight years, mostly in Belgium, France and Greece. The three Belgian fugitives add to 36 others in their country alone – since the beginning of this year.

European prison services blame not only lax controls at tourist chopper rentals, but also their lack of funding at correctional facilities. There’s not even enough money to erect simple iron cables to stop choppers from landing.

Policymakers could be tempted to look across the Atlantic for money-saving, and even profit-making, solutions. With more than 2 million prisoners (more than 1 percent of the adult population) the US has found a way to create a recession-proof multimillion dollar industry out of incarcerations.

Reuters last week reported that the share price of Corrections Corporation of America has more than doubled since March. The company, which provides about half of America’s private ‘corrections solutions’ (or prisons, as they were once called) and has 77,000 beds on offer, cuts a profit of about $22 per inmate per day. Incoming CEO Damon Hininger says he would “love the opportunity” to take some of the 40,000 prisoners that must be transferred from overcrowded California prisons.

In other cases, the industry has taken a more direct approach to increasing its client base:

The Guardian reported that “[T]wo judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of jailing some 2,000 children in exchange for bribes from private prison companies.” Some of the offenses were “so trivial that some of them weren’t even crimes.”

With such worrying prospects, I hope that Belgian prison services will find other ways to deal with their lack of funding.

San Francisco Opens the Data Floodgates

Crime incident map / Photo: Brett L., flickr

Crime incident map / Photo: Brett L., flickr

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that his city will provide crime, health and other municipal data on an online portal and make it free to use for anyone.

Sporting a fashionable “beta” in its logo, all datasets are available at datasf.org.

From restaurant guides accessing health code ratings to navigation systems updating the status of roadblocks, the datasets open the way for applications giving more detailed information to citizens or tourists in the bay area.

Even though the available number of datasets is low at the beginning  (about 100 datasets are available), it is expected to increase, creating even more possibilities for creative and informative uses.

The data includes a whole range of topics and forms, such as data on crime incidents, list of street trees or geographical data on road center lines. Uses could include, but are not limited to investigating whether your new apartment is in a crime area or not or helping policymakers make informed decisions on road construction by being able to find dangerous intersections.

Advantages of opening the data to anyone are manyfold:

  • Users might develop new applications or mashups no one has thought about.
  • It leads to more transparency of the city government and its decisions.
  • Private users might get the data out to the general public more quickly than the traditional city council.

This move is in line with many other projects aimed at opening government data.

A quick overview:

While all this is exciting news for proponents of open government, even more exciting is the fact that other cities are mulling over opening up their data as well. These include Vancouver, Canada, Birmingham, UK and New York.

A very good overview can be found on David Eaves’ blog entry “The Rise of the Open City“.

US President Obama’s Travels Abroad

A couple of days ago, I came across a website, StepMap, that lets you create your own custom and interactive maps for free. StepMap is pretty easy to use, yet a powerful tool to illustrate your thoughts, so I played around with it a bit to trace US President Obama’s travels abroad (17 trips to 14 different countries so far) since taking office, based on Wikipedia’s list of presidential trips. If you click on the tiny flags (the Vatican flag is missing in their toolbox), exact dates and locations visited will appear. The numbers before the flags obviously indicate the sequence of Obama’s visits. You can also enhance your map with a lot of fancy stuff, such as PDFs, images etc. pp. which, for the first try, I didn’t make use of.

Be that as it may, from a geopolitical standpoint I found this admittedly far from perfect map quite interesting, not only for the places the POTUS visited, but even more so for the places he didn’t visit (e.g. South America).  Taking into consideration his Secretary of State’s trips to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea (her husband even travelled to North Korea), China, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Belgium, Switzerland, Turkey and Mexico, the map would be more balanced, of course.

US President Obama's Travels Abroad (as of August 21st)
Landkarten erstellen mit StepMap

StepMap US President Obama's Travels Abroad (as of August 21st)
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