Reason Roundup

Media Overhypes Russian Hacking, Again

Plus: human trafficking victims arrested in Florida, Beyoncé and Domino's targeted by disability discrimination suits, and more...

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The headlines sound pretty bad. "Russia Targeted Elections Systems in All 50 States," says The New York Times. "New Senate Intelligence report shows 'extensive' Russia 2016 election interference," reports Vox.

What these and many other fearmongering headlines leave out is that while Russians may have targeted state elections systems in 2016, there's zero evidence that they actually managed to interfere. We have no reason to believe that votes were changed or deleted, that voters were purged from rolls, that voter information was modified. And the assessment that all 50 states were targeted is just a guess—according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, officials could not "ascertain a pattern to the states targeted, lending credence to [Homeland Security's] latest assessment that all 50 states probably were scanned."

What the report does say is that Russia conducted "an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure," potentially to try and find vulnerabilities. But actually finding those vulnerabilities is another thing.

According to the report—released Thursday with extensive redactions—there were only two states, including Illinois, where "Russian-affiliated cyber actors gained access to election infrastructure systems" and accomplished some "successful extraction of voter data. However, none of these systems were involved in vote tallying." Much of this interference took place after the 2016 election.

Mostly, Moscow is accused of a "reconnaissance" mission in which it snooped on how states' election-related infrastructure was set up. The report quotes Samuel Liles, who told the committee that most of the activity was "simple scanning for vulnerabilities, analogous to somebody walking down the street and looking to see if you are home. A small number of systems were unsuccessfully exploited, as though somebody had rattled the doorknob but was unable to get in."

The report says many states have "interpreted the events of 2016 as a success story: firewalls deflected the hostile activity, as they were supposed to, so the threat was not an issue."

"While the Committee does not know with confidence what Moscow's intentions were, Russia may have been probing vulnerabilities in voting systems to exploit later," it continues. "Alternatively, Moscow may have sought to undermine confidence in the 2016 U.S. elections simply through the discovery of their activity."

The attempts alone certainly aren't reassuring—especially when coupled with the fact that, as Robert Mueller put in Wednesday, other "countries are developing capability to replicate what the Russians have done." It presents a strong case that we need to continue shoring up our election infrastructure and to be vigilant about potential threats. (To this end, Congress has already approved $380 million in grants to aid states in making their systems more secure, and Homeland Security has been working with states to "deploy resources to assist in securing elections." )

But it's disingenuous to hype the new Senate report as some sort of bombshell or to imply, as many outlets have done in their headlines and opening paragraphs, that Russia did more than merely target state election systems. The report states on the first page that the Senate Intelligence Committee "has seen no evidence that any voters were changed or that any voting machines were manipulated."

The Times says that "some administration officials have suggested that the issue is not getting enough high-level attention because President Trump equates any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory." Trump wouldn't be entirely wrong there, to judge from some of the more breathless reporting on this story.


FREE MINDS

Polk County, Florida, arrests victims of sexual exploitation. Another "anti–sex trafficking" sting in Florida that's actually aimed at adults engaging in voluntary activity. Dubbed "Operation No Spring Fling," the Polk County operation led to 154 arrests. Sheriff Grady Judd said the primary goal of the sting was "to rescue victims of human trafficking and to arrest people that are buying human beings." Instead, Judd and his team arrested the victims, as The Appeal reports:

three people out of the 154 arrested as a result of the sting were considered possible victims of human trafficking. Of those, two women, a 17-year-old and a 23-year-old, were charged with unspecific crimes. The vast majority of people arrested…were charged with solicitation, and their mugshots were displayed on a banner during the sheriff's press conference and subsequently published online by local newspapers.

More here.


FREE MARKETS

Websites are being targeted with lawsuits for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act if they are not accessible to blind visitors. The issue may make it to the U.S. Supreme Court. From CNBC:

Businesses, including Domino's, say the lawsuits are a nuisance, and argue that the federal government has not yet put out rules governing how to make their web platforms ADA compliant. But disabled groups and individuals argue that clear international standards exist, and companies must follow them or find another way to make their sites accessible.

CNBC notes that "the official website for Beyonce is among the many targeted by accessibility lawsuits."


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  1. What these and many other fearmongering headlines leave out is that while Russians may have targeted state elections systems in 2016, there’s zero evidence that they actually managed to interfere.

    Put these up against the thousands of illegals the ultimate winner saw voting Democrat in 2016 and it’s a wash.

    1. Mostly, Moscow is accused of a “reconnaissance” mission

      The Russians were probably trying to figure out how to make a ballot system with more than 1 option on it. Every software engineer that tries to add another name to the ballot over there ends up “missing.”

    2. Who needs computer hacking when local Dem critters will change the outcome for free?

      1. +2 “discovered boxes of uncounted ballots in the trunk of a car.”

    3. Hello.

      I know Reason is accessible to the blind because of the progs around here.

    4. Wow. It took the New York Times only about 100 years to see that the Russian government is trying to undermine ours.

      I wonder if the Times has now heard that the Civil War is over.

    5. Well, since I’ve never voted for the US Government trying to undermine other countries I can rest easy, knowing it will never happen.

  2. What benefit of having the machines connected to a network is greater than the risk of hacks?

    1. MMORPGs?

    2. Mining cryptocurrency?

    3. Locally our voting machines are not connected to the internet.

  3. it’s almost as if the Russians have no respect for us.

    1. Its almost like they act like every nation ever. Nations spy on each other, it’s what they do. Allies, enemies it doesn’t matter.

      1. Russians in particular are good at it. It’s part of their culture, part of their national soul. Germans make great cars. French make great food. Russians make great espionage.

        1. Meh, they learned it from the Mongols. Plus we kicked their ass in spying in the cold war.

          1. I don’t agree and for them, it’s constant and mean spirited. It’s what they do all the freaking time whether there’s a war (cold or not) going on or not. They trust no one and aren’t trust worthy. They are the paranoid, schizophrenic nation of the world.

            1. based on whats been happening in this country I’d say the politicians have been doing plenty of spying on their openents since long before the Clintons got Newts Tax forms and before that Nixons spying and before that Kennedy spying on Nixon and before that……..

    2. You know who else doesn’t respect us?

      Still nothing on the NYPD water bucket assaults. Given this rags love for all things Viral Video media story, and negative LEO/citizen interactions, that is curious.

      Also, and more importantly, nothing on Tulsi Gabbard’s $50 Million lawsuit against Google for their “algorithm’s” shut down of her fundraising ads after the Dem debates

  4. Operation No Spring Fling

    Jesus.

    1. Riverdance hit hardest.

    2. Jesus did want girls to have fun and go wild.

      1. He loved prostitutes but he also loved tax collectors, so his philosophy is a wash in my book.

    3. No fun!

  5. But disabled groups and individuals argue that clear international standards exist…

    Handicapped or globalist-capable???

  6. You may want to think again before donating your body to science.

    Buckets of body parts, a cooler filled with male genitalia and a woman’s head sewn onto a male torso “like Frankenstein” were found by FBI agents during a raid on an Arizona body donation center, a new lawsuit reveals.

    The stomach-churning scene was discovered by FBI agents at the now-shuttered Biological Resource Center in 2014 as part of a multi-state investigation into the illegal trafficking and sale of human body parts, as reported by the Arizona Republic.

    Details of the grim find were revealed in a lawsuit filed against the center this week by 33 defendants whose loved ones’ bodies were donated to the facility under the guise they would be used for scientific purposes.

    1. Sounds like they were doing science, to me.

      Hypothesis: body parts become useless for transplants when stored together in buckets.
      Result: confirmed

      Hypothesis: storing male genitalia is more effective in refrigerated units than fancy Yeti cooler.
      Result: confirmed

      Hypothesis: a hot chick’s head affixed to a hot dude’s body yields maximum sexiness.
      Result: fuck yeah!

    2. If it means my family doesn’t have to pay for a funeral service after i die I’d still donate it to science. i won’t care what they do with

    3. Details of the grim find were revealed in a lawsuit filed against the center this week by 33 defendants

      ?

      1. They were plaintiffs with their heads sewn on backwards.

        1. Bob Mueller?

    4. I’m trying to think of why you’d think it necessary to specifically cut the genitalia off a bunch of corpses, but all I can come up with is someone needs therapy.

      1. Maybe they were trying out “Cooler Full of Penises” as a band name?

        1. Afternoon act at the GWAR-BQ.

  7. The Department of Justice announced yesterday that after two decades, it would be reinstating the federal death penalty.

    In gladiatorial fights. Hey, if we’re not going to distract with new wars…

  8. “My two newest colleagues are very decent, very smart individuals,” said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

    “CANCEL HER!”

    1. Yeah, I read that and thought “Uh oh, does this make her a rape apologist?”

    2. How many progs had to be talked down from the ledge after reading that?

      1. Which way off the ledge?

  9. Listen to Reason Editor-at-Large Nick Gillespie interview newly non-Republican Rep. Justin Amash.

    Gillespie can explain to Amash why Trump is going to win reelection.

    1. I heard Amash is crashing on Jeff Flake’s sofa.

  10. 3D-printing could “make baldness obsolete.”

    Also we cured cancer.

  11. Mega-mind Ted Lieu: Someone got to Robert Mueller

    Rep. @tedlieu responds to Robert Mueller’s clarification regarding guidance against indicting a President: “I don’t know who got to him, I don’t know who talked to him, but that was very odd.”

    1. It was probably the guy sitting next to him. Not that big a mystery.

    2. Was his brother from Italy flown into the hearing sitting next to some crooked nose gentleman?

    3. I was joking about that yesterday. I didn’t think anybody would seriously say something like that.

      1. You clearly underestimated the genius of Ted Lieu.

  12. Why isn’t Microsoft being targeted as part of the political crackdown on “Big Tech”?

    SharePoint has no political affinity.

    1. Because FAANG doesn’t have room for an M and the government loves acronyms.

      1. Gotta be someway to create a FAGMANGE.

      2. It would be difficult to create an acronym out of Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Netflix.

        1. Or, for that matter, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Netflix. Difficult in kind of an opposite way.

    2. That’s so 1996.

  13. 3 year coup attempt to overthrow POTUS election moves toward impeachment farce.

    REASON can’t decide if it’s worth the trouble to pull its head out of its ass in order to bury it in sand, or just stay the course.

  14. So the New York Times and Vox are not reliable sources for the truth?
    Next thing we know, Reason will report that the sun may rise in the east.

  15. I respectfully disagree. It’s literally impossible to “overhype” Russian hacking, since it’s the biggest scandal in world history. I mean, anyone who watches MSNBC knows that the current occupant of the White House has been a Russian intelligence asset since 1987.

    #TrumpRussia
    #LibertariansForGettingToughWithRussia

  16. Making websites accessible to the blind. It’s easy, but hard, at the same time. Using alt tags in images, for example. That part is easy. AND that part should get you compliance.

    The problem is that a lot of websites are not linear in nature, and screen readers are linear. You can see this if you view many pages with an empty style sheet. They become incomprehensible. What’s needed is a different style sheet for the blind, that makes the content linear. But that doesn’t make sense for many sites. I’m wondering if that’s what these people are bitching about. The article really doesn’t go into details.

    p.s. I am NOT defending the accusers here. Whining to the regulators is not the appropriate solution.

    1. Thing is, any website that fills a real need is going to be complex enough that there will be some problems with accessibility.

    2. Simpler solution – ban all websites that aren’t accessible to the blind. Parks have closed off hiking trails that aren’t wheelchair accessible on the grounds that if everybody can’t use them, nobody can use them and that seems to have worked just fine.

      1. Just ban monitors and TV sets. We done here? OK, on to the deaf.

  17. If people are stupid enough to get their political information off of facebook, they deserve the kind of government they get.

    1. “If people are stupid…”

      Gonna stop you right there.

  18. “Why isn’t Microsoft being targeted as part of the political crackdown on “Big Tech”?”

    Part of it’s the business models–the underlying core businesses.

    That’s one of the reasons Apple’s behavior hasn’t been as bad as Google’s despite Apple competing with Google’s Android division in consumer phones. Apple can make a profit selling hardware, so their business model isn’t as dependent on selling your data like Google’s.

    If Microsoft had been more successful with their phone business, they might have been more like Apple in terms of collecting data from consumers, but they probably would have been less so than Apple–again, because of Microsoft’s underlying core business. Microsoft is more focused on the business side (see cloud computing), where Apple is almost completely a consumer products company. Business users are more concerned with privacy than average consumers, and the products of the companies that cater more to business users reflect that.

    I see the same kind of thing in Linux for the same reasons. Ubtuntu is like the Apple of Linux, for this analogy, and they were caught with their hand in cookie jar through a partnership with Amazon. Contrast that to Red Hat, which was recently acquired by IBM for their cloud computing expertise. Red Hat’s respect for user data has been pretty stellar, but then they’re mostly focused on the corporate market. Red Hat has been good with user data, presumably because they think they have more to lose from corporate customers by hurting their reputation for privacy than they have to gain by reselling user data. I bet that’s partially why IBM bought Red Hat rather than some other Linux distribution. IBM’s future is about cloud computing, and one of their corporate customers’ major concerns about that is privacy.

    That’s why if we want to change the business model, we need to change the market. If you think regulation is an excellent way to accomplish that, show me why that’s likely to improve the situation. As thing are now, the market is offering consumers and businesses a spectrum of options on privacy at all price points–some of which, like certain distributions of Linux, cost the user absolutely nothing. If the market doesn’t want we want the market to want, that’s not a good reason to force any market participants, including the entrepreneurs, to do as we say under the penalty of law.

    It sucks when the market doesn’t want what we want them to want, and persuasion can take a long time and require a lot of effort. The regulation alternative is invariably worse. Look at the Drug War. That’s what it looks like when the market doesn’t want what the government wants. Now we’re gonna try persuasion, and that takes a lot of effort but the Drug War wasn’t exactly cost free either.

  19. Tulsi Gabbard failed First Amendment 101, Property Rights 101, and Markets 101–all at the same time:

    “Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard sued Google on Thursday. She argued that the search giant illegally blocked her from buying ads on Google’s platform for several hours on June 28—two days after she appeared in the first Democratic primary debate.

    “Google plays favorites, with no warning, no transparency, and no accountability,” Gabbard wrote in her lawsuit. “Google’s arbitrary and capricious treatment of Gabbard’s campaign should raise concerns for policymakers everywhere about the company’s ability to use its dominance to impact political discourse.””

    —-Ars Technica

    What do we do with unaccountable companies that aren’t acting in the interests of the state? At this point, as far as I’m concerned, if she doesn’t call herself a democratic socialist, she loses points for being dishonest.

    This person has no business being the president of the United States.

    1. How is a lawsuit bringing down the power of the state on Google? Isn’t this exactly how we’ve been arguing that these disputes need to be settled–in court before a judge?

      What do we do with unaccountable companies that aren’t acting in the interests of the state?

      This is sort of begging the question, isn’t it? What if it comes up in discovery that Google execs or middle managers determined that she was to be specifically targeted for denial of commerce, but other candidates were to be left alone? That’s not nearly the same thing as a cake shop that refuses to bake a cake for a gay wedding out of religious conscience, but will provide other services for the same customer upon request. If it was just a fuckup by Google’s IT staff–and given how large the company is, and the fact that nearly 3/4 of tech employees in Silicon Valley are H1Bs, it’s not out of the question–then Gabbard’s case will die out rather quickly.

      If Tulsi can show that Google is showing favoritism for candidates in the Democratic primary, then she has a better case than you’re giving her credit for, and it also puts Google’s credibility on the line that they don’t have a direct stake in who becomes President and aren’t trying to game the outcome in their favor.

      1. I’ve already mentioned private property, the First Amendment, and respect for markets–and she wants the state to invalidate all three for the sake of her campaign.

        Even in traditional media, there’s no good reason why the The New York Times should be required to carry Tulsi Gabbard’s god awful advertising–for any reason they want.

        She might have a case if there were some contractual agreement between her and Google as a user of YouTube. Maybe, by the terms of that agreement, they shouldn’t be able to arbitrarily take down her videos. That isn’t what this is about.

        She’s suing them because they turned down her advertising. Do you really believe that your local broadcast network affiliate should be forced to run advertising over their objections and against their will? This is ridiculous.

        1. They didn’t “turn down” her advertising, Jeezus, they turned it OFF. She paid for it, and they suspended it for “suspicious activity”, because, as it was widely reported, she was the #1 Google search after her debate appearance.

          I suppose you are fine with newspapers and TV stations suspending Republican ads for a week or so around Halloween, and running them in late November instead?

      2. This is entirely true and entirely her right, but it’s my right to not want a litigious whiner as President.

        1. You do not have a right to advertise using other people’s property against their will.

          This is ridiculous on its face.

    2. “What do we do with unaccountable companies that aren’t acting in the interests of the state? ”

      Tulsi is suing Google for harm done to her. Nothing to do with the ‘interests of the state.’

      1. In Tulsi’s mind she is the state.

        1. Successful politicians need a certain amount of ‘chutzpah,’ an Hebrew term for nerve or cheek. That’s why we follow them on their way up. That’s why we rejoice at their downfall.

      2. Oh, so her campaign is all about HER!

        1. The lawsuit is about her and her troubles with Google.

    3. Name a candidate currently running that has any business near the levers to power.

      1. Suing people to force them to carry your advertising against their will takes a special kind of stupid.

        Also, I don’t believe she gives a shit about the principles involved. Hating on Google is popular, and she’s hoping to score some points at the polls by getting her name in the news.

        If she’s going to put her name in the news that way, I’d like to take the opportunity to point out that she doesn’t understand or hates property rights, doesn’t under stand or hates the First Amendment, and doesn’t understand or hates the beauty of markets. She’s a shithead in at least three important ways, and this proves it.

        1. STOP IT. Quit mischaracterizing what happened. They weren’t doing anything against their will. They suspended her already paid for ad account when she became the number one Google search topic, thereby denying people easier access to learn about her or donate.

          You are also destroying any semblance of the “platform” argument with your ridiculous stance

          1. It doesn’t matter why they decided not to carry her advertising. Do you see anything in the text of the First Amendment that says it only applies if the reason is good enough?

  20. Why isn’t Microsoft being targeted as part of the political crackdown on “Big Tech”?

    Because the government already went after Microsoft once and now they have all the lobbiest they need to pay them off. apple and google etc. just need more lobbiest. thats all congress wants

    1. Why isn’t Microsoft being targeted as part of the political crackdown on “Big Tech”?

      Who?!!

  21. Speaking of this, I didn’t watch much of the Mueller testimony. But other people did. And I’ve been watching the media’s reaction to the Mueller testimony and I’ve come to one conclusion. Reason’s article a couple of days saying that the Mueller hearings confirmed what both sides already believed is wrong.

    The caterwauling by the media, the blue checkmarks and the Democrats tells me someone didn’t get confirmation on what they already believed.

    1. Perhaps one day they will create an organization to move on.

  22. I’m not sure the Russians really care about who is president or how the elections play out. They have bigger fish to fry. A good deal of their efforts took place after the 2016 elections were held. Their purpose seems more to undermine confidence in the electoral system, suppress the vote, push the electorate into more extreme positions. Many here seem to sympathize with these goals.

    1. Do you even conspiracy, brah?

      1. I love conspiracies. It would be a lot of fun to be a Russian spy in the venerable GRU (military intelligence) playing the American public for a bunch of stooges.

        1. You would be rejoicing that the program worked magnitudes better than your analysts said.

          1. I would be much happier if my analysts told me that the ideas of commenters here denying Russian influence was widely held by the American public. I would be happier still if more Americans called each other traitor over trivial issues like asylum seekers. Face it, Russian intelligence sees America as the enemy and believes that what’s bad for America is good for Russia.

  23. Repeal the ADA. It’s nothing but abuse.

  24. “Media Overhypes Russian Hacking, Again”

    Well, “We lost because we had a terrible candidate and a terrible campaign strategy”, although the truth, wouldn’t fly.

  25. Media Overhypes Russian Hacking, Again

    Laying the groundwork for next November’s big “story”.

  26. Is there a way to get more people like ENB writing for reason? I’m sure there is something she published that wasn’t libertarian at some point, but it seems like she is one of the consistently more level headed writers in the magazine.

    1. “libertarian?” No.

      “Libertarian”, probably. She’s a Koch-bros, Chamber of Commerce, open borders shill with an incurable case of TDS that colors everything she writes with irrationality. Slathered over with a generous layer of ad hominem and ad hoc.

      But yeah, I guess you could say she’s consistent about it.

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