This Interactive Map Shows Just How Awful America’s Internet Is

A map of the U.S. covered in red. The red areas are communities with median broadband speeds below the FFC's recommended benchmark.

Screenshot: NTIA/Gizmodo

Today the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released an interactive map illustrating who doesn’t have access to the FCC’s recommended minimum broadband speeds. Folks, look above: It’s all the red areas.

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The “Indicators of Broadband Need” tool lets you apply different filters to a U.S. map based on aggregated data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the FCC, internet speed-testing companies M-Lab and Ookla, and Microsoft. The highlighted areas are those with median broadband speeds below the FCC’s recommended benchmark speeds of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload—a standard that many consider to be outdated in the modern area. If you want to feel particularly depressed about the state of infrastructure in this country, you can also toggle on filters to see where underserved areas overlap with high levels of poverty, tribal lands, and communities where more than 25% of households do not have access to broadband, computers, smartphones, or tablets. Having tried all of them, rest assured there’s no scenario where broadband access in the U.S. looks good.

“Broadband is no longer nice to have. It’s need to have. To ensure that every household has the internet access necessary for success in the digital age, we need better ways to accurately measure where high-speed service has reached Americans and where it has not,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in an NTIA press release.

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A map of the US showing the overlap between areas where the median speed is below 25/3 Mbps and where 20% or more live below the poverty line.

The pink areas are areas with high levels of poverty. The outline black areas are tribal lands. And, as we noted, the red areas are where the median broadband speeds are below 25/3 Mbps.
Screenshot: NTIA/Gizmodo

The pandemic underscored the importance of fast broadband. According to Pew Research, 53% of Americans said the internet was “essential” during the pandemic for remote work and online learning. The reality is the pandemic shed light on the millions who didn’t have adequate or affordable access to the internet. You’d think that would inspire some legislative initiative. And it has—just not in the way you’d hope, particularly with regard to municipal broadband.

Municipal broadband has been touted as a way to ease the digital divide by providing fast and cheap internet as a public utility. Its detractors, however, argue that it’s an inappropriate use of public funding and that taxpayers get saddled with the cost of maintaining service. In February, House Republicans introduced a bill that would prevent cities nationwide from establishing their own networks if they were in an area served by more than one commercial ISP. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Republicans are pushing to ban municipal broadband for roughly 98% of the state. The amendment in question defines broadband access as 10 Mbps downloads and 1 Mbps uploads—well below the FCC’s benchmark. While those speeds might suffice for casual web browsing for a household of one person, it’s not enough for smooth group Zooms or streaming Netflix.

A zoomed in view of areas in Ohio with inadequate broadband speeds and high levels of poverty.

Seems like a lot of overlap.
Screenshot: NTIA/Gizmodo

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Using the NTIA’s map, you can see there’s plenty of counties in Ohio that fall below the 25/3 Mbps standard, and that many of those areas also happen to be in communities where 20% or more of households are below the poverty line. One might say municipal broadband might be a good solution for those folks.

As grim as this looks, all is not completely lost. As part of the American Jobs Plan, President Biden has proposed a $100 billion investment to bring “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American.” But the bill is facing strong opposition from some lawmakers and lobbyists who say it’s bad for competition. The FCC also announced in October that it was planning to set aside $9 billion over the next decade to fund 5G wireless broadband expansion in rural America—though the FCC’s inaccurate service maps are a major hurdle. Others have floated the idea of satellite internet services like Starlink as a potential solution, though that’s also unlikely to bridge the digital divide. OK, so maybe it is pretty grim.

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Big Tech Antitrust Crusader Lina Khan Joins the FTC

Illustration for article titled Big Tech Antitrust Crusader Lina Khan Joins the FTC

Photo: Graeme Jennings (AP)

Today the senate overwhelmingly confirmed tech critic and 32-year-old Columbia professor Lina Khan to join the Federal Trade Commission by a vote of 69-28. They can agree on reforming big tech; given their track record of bitching and moaning and proposing terribly uninformed and/or nefarious proposals to do it themselves, it’s nice to see them band together to do the bare minimum.

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Khan, a Biden appointee, is a promising problem-solver who’s floated specific proposals to update antitrust law in order to give Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook’s competitors a fighting chance. In a well-known paper, she’s proposed broadening traditional antitrust policy and applying carrier rules to regulate Amazon. She’s also proposed reigning in tech companies by revisiting structural separations that would prevent Apple (eg) from both controlling the market and competing with businesses that depend on the App Store. As counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, Khan contributed to an investigation into the tech oligopolies’ business practices.

Biden might be building a cross-departmental academic A-team of big tech critics. In March, he appointed Columbia professor Tim Wu, author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age,” as a presidential advisor on technology and competition.

This makes a 3-2 majority Democratic commission, though Democratic commissioner Rohit Chopra might relocate to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a Biden-appointed head. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, it could take months to fill his seat. Additionally, Biden has yet to nominate an FTC head as well as the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general who would work with the FTC to enforce penalties against tech companies.

The FTC is already looking into tech companies’ acquisitions of small companies which hadn’t previously been reported to regulators. It has also launched a joint investigation with New York and California attorneys general into Amazon, Bloomberg reported last year. Over an up to seven-year term, Khan will be empowered to help craft rules, enforce regulations, and launch investigations.

In another positive change, the FTC will no longer be harangued to enforce a personal vendetta against social media companies for perceived censorship.

Biden Reverses One of Trump’s ‘Most Reckless and Irresponsible’ Decisions

Tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest.

Tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest.
Photo: Charles Rex (AP)

Conservation advocates are gearing up for a major win. On Friday, the Forest Service said it would “repeal or replace” a Trump-era rollback that allows companies to build roads and other infrastructure in much of America’s largest national forest. It could be biggest victory for public lands the Biden administration has delivered yet—if the details pan out.

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Three months before leaving office, President Trump opened up more than half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, to road building, logging, mining, and other development. That decision reversed protections under the Alaska Roadless Rule, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 2001. The new development was first reported by the Washington Post.

“Taking an axe to Tongass old-growth protections was among the most reckless and irresponsible of the previous administration’s environmental rollbacks. Indigenous communities, hunters and anglers, the tourism and fishing industries, those who care about protecting our planet’s biodiversity and climate—all opposed removing roadless protections on the Tongass,” Andy Moderow, Alaska director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement.

If Biden puts the 20-year-old protections back on the books, it could mean the Tongass will once again be shielded from destructive industry, protecting the people and wildlife who call it home. But as Moderow pointed out, the White House hasn’t said exactly what protections it will instate.

“We applaud the Biden administration’s and the Forest Service’s commitment to addressing that rollback,” Moderow said, “but also want to make clear that a full reinstatement of roadless protections is a necessity.”

The forest plays a crucial role in climate efforts, as it sequesters 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. The U.S. is home to 154 national forests, but recent research found the Tongass holds 44% of the total carbon stored by all of them. Chopping down trees in the Tongass for lumber or to clear space for development removes that essential source of sequestration, which could turn the carbon sink into a carbon source.

Development would also erode the forest’s incredible biodiversity. The Tongass is full of old-growth cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees, as well as five varieties of Pacific salmon, grizzly bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, bald eagles, and rare varieties of wolves and goshawk birds.

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Several Indigenous communities, including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, also call the Tongass National Forest their home and rely on it to live. Development could endanger sites long-considered sacred by Native people and threaten their water supply and ability to perform traditional cultural practices.

This past January, a coalition of Indigenous organizations, Alaska businesses, and environmental organizations sued the U.S. government in an attempt to block the Trump administration from stripping protections. Let’s hope that Biden reinstates full protections for the forest immediately, making that case obsolete.

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Biden should go even further and protect land across the U.S. On his first day in office, Biden issued a pause on new oil and gas leasing on public lands, and this month, he announced a plan to suspend oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, undoing a policy Trump pushed through last year. But last month, his administration also said it will defend another Trump-era massive oil and gas drilling project in the Arctic, and writer Branko Marcetic recently reported that the administration has approved nearly 1,179 drilling permits on federal lands so far.

Clearly, Biden’s got a ways to go to show he’s serious about conservation. Reviving protections for the Tongass would be a good start.

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Biden Will Reportedly Buy 500 Million Pfizer Vaccine Doses to Donate Globally

Illustration for article titled Biden Will Reportedly Buy 500 Million Pfizer Vaccine Doses to Donate Globally

Photo: Brendan Smialowski (Getty Images)

The Biden administration just struck a deal with Pfizer to buy 500 million doses of the covid-19 vaccine from the pharma giant, with plans to donate the doses to countries that need them, sources familiar with the pact told the Washington Post on Wednesday.

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Of those doses, 200 million are scheduled to be donated this year, with the remaining 300 million doled out in the first half of 2022. The doses are slated to be distributed through COVAX—a program spearheaded by the World Health Organization and other humanitarian groups, meant to distribute vaccines to countries in need—92 of those countries (along with the African Union) will be on the receiving end of these Pfizer doses.

This is a bit of a boost from what the administration announced previously. Last week, the White House put out plans for an international vaccine rollout, saying the administration would share “at least” 80 million vaccine doses globally by the month’s end. During the first leg of this rollout, roughly 6 million doses would be shared directly with countries like India, which have recently experienced severe coronavirus outbreaks.

Per the Post, Biden is set to announce the plan for the 500 million doses at the G7 meeting in Britain this week. Thus far, the administration’s global coronavirus response has been panned by international allies and healthcare advocates alike, who say efforts like COVAX will do little to actually level the playing field for countries struggling to vaccinate their populations right now.

Attempts from wealthy countries to close that gap thus far have been less than perfect—a recent analysis by Bloomberg found that 40% of the covid-19 vaccines delivered globally have gone to people in the 27 wealthiest nations. The least wealthy countries have administered just 1.6% of those doses.

To put things into a bit of perspective: While more than half of the U.S. is vaccinated, countries like Pakistan and Guatemala have vaccinated less than 4% of their populations, per the New York Times. Syria, a country with less than 1% of its citizens vaccinated, is in the middle of a massive viral surge of its own. If Biden wants to close the gap between the haves and have-nots, then the administration needs to step it up.

Russia Threatens to Leave ISS Because U.S. Sanctions Are Actually Working

The ISS in low Earth orbit.

The ISS in low Earth orbit.
Image: NASA

Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, said Russia will pack its bags and leave the International Space Station by 2025 unless the United States lifts sanctions that are currently impeding the country’s space sector.

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As Tass reports, Rogozin made the remarks during a Russian state duma, or parliamentary, hearing held on Monday June 7 to discuss Western sanctions and possible countermeasures. If sanctions “are not lifted in the near future,” he said, the “issue of Russia’s withdrawal from the ISS will be the responsibility of the American partners,” according to a translation provided by NBC. Rogozin said Russia would leave the orbital outpost as early as 2025, Reuters reports.

“Either we work together, in which case the sanctions are lifted immediately, or we will not work together and we will deploy our own station,” said Rogozin.

Sounds like a kid threatening to take his ball and go home, except that the ball—the International Space Station—is a longstanding collaboration featuring contributions from not just Russia and the U.S., but also the European Union, Canada, and Japan. Russia can leave the game, but the ball will have to stay behind.

A few years ago, Russia’s departure would have been even more complicated, as NASA purchased expensive rides on Russian rockets in order to get its astronauts to space. But now, with NASA relying on SpaceX vehicles for the journey, the situation has changed.

The Roscosmos chief pointed to sanctions against two Russian companies in particular: JSC Rocket and Space Center – Progress and JSC Central Research Institute of Machine Building, also known as TsNIIMash. Back in December, the Trump administration placed these space companies, along with 43 other Russian firms, on the naughty list of firms with alleged ties to the Russian military. American exporters now need to obtain a special license should they wish to work with these sanctioned companies.

As a result of these measures, Russia now lacks a key ingredient involved in the construction of satellites. The country has “more than enough rockets but nothing to launch them with,” Rogozin admitted. “We have spacecraft that are nearly assembled but they lack one specific microchip set that we have no way of purchasing because of the sanctions.”

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Oof—that’s quite the reveal. As Reuters aptly put it, Rogozin’s remarks were a “rare admission by a senior Russian official that Western sanctions are seriously impeding the development of a given industry.”

International sanctions were imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Since then, the U.S. has imposed additional sanctions owing to alleged election meddling, cyber attacks, and the poisoning of Putin critic Alexei Navalny. Rogozin himself is under personal sanctions imposed by both the United States and European Union.

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As for the Biden administration easing sanctions on the two companies, that seems unlikely, given that these measures are clearly hurting Russia and that Biden announced new sanctions this past April. Biden has also referred to Putin as a “killer,” so there’s that.

The ISS has been in orbit since 1998, and it consists of an American and Russian segment. Back in October of last year, veteran Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka said the Russian modules are “exhausted,” fitted with expired equipment in desperate need of replacement. Recent incidents within the Russian segment include a persistent air leak, a failed oxygen supply system, and a failed toilet. Russia, it would seem, is no longer super invested in the ISS, anyway. What’s more, and as Russia said back in April, it plans to launch its own space station in 2030. China, too, is currently building its own space station, called Tiangong, which should be completed in about two years or less.

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For Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, this news doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

“Politically I think it is not surprising for Russia to end its space partnership with the U.S. in the years to come,” he explained in an email. “Equally, it’s clear that, despite some words about welcoming international participation, the U.S. was not interested in having Russia as an equal partner in its Artemis lunar program.”

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Similar threats made by Russia in the past were thinly veiled attempts to get more money, but “this seems more genuine or at least more strongly linked to the overall U.S.-Russia political situation, which seems unlikely to improve in the next few years,” McDowell added.

All this said, it would suck to see Russia leave. NASA administrator Bell Nelson has said as much, recently saying “it would not be good” if Russia left the program. Since 2000, the space station has always hosted at least one American and one Russian together, and it would be a shame to disrupt this continuity. Moreover, the ISS represents a kind of safe space, where Americans and Russians can work together and set politics aside. The current U.S. plan is to support the ISS through to 2030 at least.

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More: A busted toilet kicked off a seriously crappy night on the ISS.

Biden Order Declares TikTok Not Quite a Threat to National Security, Yet

Illustration for article titled Biden Order Declares TikTok Not Quite a Threat to National Security, Yet

Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP (Getty Images)

The Biden administration passed an executive order on Wednesday that seeks to create a “criteria-based” framework for establishing whether foreign-owned apps present national security risks or not. In so doing, the regulation overturns three executive orders previously signed by former President Trump that took a decidedly more aggressive approach to the issue.

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Trump’s orders targeted dozens of Chinese companiesincluding TikTok and WeChat—often cutting them off from U.S. investment, on the grounds that they were potential vectors for foreign espionage. Trump’s TikTok order went so far as to ban distribution of the app within the U.S. on the grounds that the company left user data “vulnerable to CCP [Chinese Communist Party] access for nefarious purpose.” Multiple federal judges subsequently shot down the order—with some calling it “hypothetical” as well as “arbitrary and capricious.”

Biden’s new regulation seeks to pursue a more sober approach—arguing that the U.S. Government should “evaluate these threats through rigorous, evidence-based analysis” as a way of addressing “any unacceptable or undue risks consistent with overall national security, foreign policy, and economic objectives.”

In addition to overturning Trump’s bans, the order gives the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and a host of other business- and intelligence-related agency heads approximately four months to compile a report with recommendations about how best to protect against “United States persons’ sensitive data” being compromised “by persons owned or controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of, a foreign adversary.” After its completion, the report will be sent to the President’s advisors so that the White House can make a more informed decision about how to proceed with further regulation.

This is very much in line with Biden’s style: whatever Trump did brashly and impulsively—probably after a 20-minute conversation with his national security advisors—Biden wants to address via committees and official agencies, thus turning decision-making back over to the natural flow of bureaucracy instead of ruling by hip-shooting, ill-informed fiat.

It doesn’t ultimately mean that Biden’s government will end up in a drastically different place. If anything, Biden has signaled more consistency than change when it comes to foreign policy precedents set by the previous administration—particularly when it comes to China. This is doubtlessly because the consensus in the U.S. national security community remains that China is our biggest geopolitical foe (just look at that giant anti-China, Big Tech pork barrel that just passed the Senate, for instance).

Indeed, as Biden officials told the Wall Street Journal this week, they “remain concerned about security risks from Chinese and certain other foreign-owned apps.Relevantly, Biden just followed in Trump’s footsteps by categorically banning U.S. investment in 59 different Chinese companies, including Huawei, in an effort to combat the threat “posed by the military-industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”

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Lawyer Who Sued Treasury Department for Exxon Nominated to Be Agency’s General Counsel

President Joe Biden answers questions from members of the press before departing from the White House on May 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Photo: Win McNamee (Getty Images)

Last week, the White House announced a slate of nominations to fill roles in the Biden administration. Among them is attorney Neil MacBride, who has been tapped to be general counsel for the Treasury Department.

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Right now, MacBride is a partner at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell. He formerly served as Biden’s chief counsel on the Senate. Oh, and he once sued the very department he’ll be working in on behalf of energy giant Exxon. For an administration that has pushed a whole of government approach to tackle the climate crisis, it’s an odd choice.

MacBride represented the energy major in 2017 when it sued the government just hours after it got hit with a $2 million fine for violating foreign sanctions. Specifically, U.S. authorities found that the firm was working with Igor Sechin, the president of Russian oil giant Rosneft, who was blacklisted by the U.S. after the nation’s takeover of Crimea from Ukraine. This happened while Rex Tillerson—who President Trump later chose as his secretary of state—was Exxon’s CEO.

Max Moran, research director for the personnel team at the Center for Economic Policy Research’s Revolving Door Project, said it’s clear Exxon didn’t do this because it couldn’t afford to pay the fine.

“It was a $2 million fine. I did the math, and that is .0001% of Exxon’s earnings that year,” he said. “So it seems like it was really about the principle of the thing, that the Treasury Department’s would dare to defy them on their business.”

The Treasury should play an important role in the Biden administration’s strategy to bring the weight of the government to bear on the climate crisis. The agency advises the White House on all economic matters and sets economic policies and regulations for rich and powerful companies. Like what it did with Exxon, it can also fine those companies for failing to adhere to regulations. Given the manifold threats that climate change poses to the economy and the number of corporate bad actors that have fueled the crisis, the department will have no shortage of work to do.

Within the agency, the general counsel is meant to advise officials on what they can and can’t do to enforce rules. Nominating someone for that role who has fought against fines and regulations on behalf of major companies—including not only Exxon but also automotive corporations, pharmaceutical companies, and the rating agencies and banks behind the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis—doesn’t bode well.

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“With MacBride in, that means that this guy is very well-positioned to be constantly telling Treasury they can’t do things or they shouldn’t take action or they shouldn’t do anything that’s going to interrupt, business as usual for his former clients and his probably future clients down the road once he ultimately leaves this job,” said Moran.

Under the right leadership, the Treasury Department could take the lead on not only enforcing stricter economic standards for polluters; it could go even further by helping put an end to fossil fuel subsidies and financing due to their climate risks. The move could inspire similar actions by the world’s other economic heavy hitters. But if he’s confirmed, MacBride’s record doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the Treasury will be advised to take the climate crisis as seriously as it should.

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“We’re just sending the message that it’s business as usual, and we are not serious on our climate commitments, especially ahead [the UN’s international climate talks known as] COP26 of this November,” Dorothy Slater, research assistant at the Revolving Door Project, said. “I think it’s a message, specifically to corporations, that says ‘you can go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing.’”

On his law firm’s website, MacBride boasts that he “helps clients navigate financial fraud, anti-corruption, money laundering, economic sanctions, False Claims Act violations, securities enforcement, and procurement and tax fraud.” In other words, he’s helped clients avoid the kind of controls that it will be his job to enforce in the Treasury Department.

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“Really, the story of his career is defending corporations trying to worm their way around government regulation and be exempted from it,” said Slater.

FBI Effort to Expose ‘USA Today’ Readers Was Likely Unlawful, Experts Say

Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), pauses during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on April 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), pauses during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on April 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Pool (Getty Images)

The FBI announced Saturday it had withdrawn a subpoena seeking to identify readers of a USA Today story concerning a Florida shooting that left two of its agents dead. The decision to do so, however, is purportedly unrelated to allegations raised in court last week by USA Today’s publisher, which accused the FBI of violating longstanding Justice Department rules concerning the press.

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An FBI spokesperson told Gizmodo that investigators no longer had the need to identify online readers of the article, saying only that “intervening investigative developments have rendered it unnecessary.”

Attorneys and other civil rights experts reached by Gizmodo on Friday were widely skeptical of the FBI’s push to identify readers of the February article, pointing to an array of concerns centered on First Amendment grounds, as well as DOJ policies for subpoenaing newsrooms.

The subpoena had instructed USA Today to hand over the IP addresses and other identifying information belonging to readers who had accessed the particular story during a 35-minute window on the day of the shooting.

An FBI spokesperson said the shooting happened while agents were serving a warrant in an alleged case of child exploitation. The USA Today subpoena did not seek to compromise the communications of any reporters, or their sources, the spokesperson said.

The FBI’s motivation for trying to identify the article’s readers remains unclear. It’s also unclear whether it obtained that same information by soliciting a third party capable of monitoring traffic to the USA Today site. The story in question was published after the suspect shooter, David Huber, 55, had died by suicide inside a barricaded apartment outside Fort Lauderdale on the morning of February 2.

News of the subpoena arrived on the heels of multiple reports concerning the Justice Department’s targeting of reporters’ communications under Trump—a controversy that has flamed concerns over the chilling effects on journalists’ sources. The revelations provoked harsh criticism from current White House officials, including the president, who personally denounced DOJ’s aggressive tactics.

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Justice officials on Saturday said the government was abandoning all efforts to secretly obtain reporters’ records as part of leak investigations. The announcement came one day after news broke that the Biden Justice Department had continued to pursue reporters’ records initially sought after by Trump administration officials.

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“As a longtime critic of unnecessary government surveillance, it is refreshing to see an administration impose new guardrails for Americans’ privacy,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, who is planning to introduce legislation soon aimed at further protecting journalists and their sources.

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Although not involving the records of any particular journalist, the USA Today subpoena was nevertheless widely denounced by prominent First Amendment defenders.

“This is an extraordinary demand that goes to the very heart of the First Amendment,” Jameel Jaffer, executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told Gizmodo.

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“For good reason, the courts have generally refused to give the government access to this kind of sensitive information except in the most unusual circumstances. It would be a highly atypical case if the FBI had a need for this information so great as to justify the profound intrusion into constitutional rights,” Jaffer said.

David Heller, deputy director of the Media Law Resource Center, said the subpoena issued Gannett—the publisher of USA Today and more than a hundred other newspapers—stood on “very shaky grounds under the First Amendment,” adding there is “no obvious government need for the information sought, let alone a compelling one.”

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Added Heller: “That’s not to say there are no circumstances where readers’ identity can be revealed,” he added. “But that requires careful judicial balancing of the constitutional issues at stake—not a rubber stamp.”

The FBI had issued the subpoena under administrative authority. This means, unlike a grand jury subpoena, only the approval of a senior FBI supervisor was required, as former FBI agent Michael German, now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty & national security program, explained.

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“Administrative subpoenas like this one,” German said, “can be issued directly by FBI agents, requiring only a senior supervisor’s approval. For this reason, they have been quite controversial and in fact, the FBI’s use of them has been fairly strictly limited by Congress, to just a few types of investigations.”

“The FBI has long sought to broaden this authority,” he added, “but this case is a good example of why that is a bad idea.”

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DOJ’s office of legal policy has previously told Congress that the use of administrative subpoenas is an important tool for investigating child sexual exploitation, writing in 2001, for instance: “In cases where children are at ‘high risk’ and/or may be in imminent danger, the execution of an administrative subpoena allows immediate requests to be made to the appropriate entity.”

German, however, pointed to the timeline offered by Gannett in court, saying the amount of time elapsed suggested the case did not involve “imminent” risk. (Gannett said in court its motion for the FBI to withdraw the subpoena was made nearly a month after it was received and that the FBI did not immediately respond, except to acknowledge receiving the publisher’s motion.)

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“The FBI and DOJ’s failure to timely respond to Gannett’s letter suggests it perhaps was not such an urgent matter, in addition to the failure to follow the policy regarding subpoenas to the press,” German said.

Gannett had taken other issue with the subpoena, pointing to long-standing policies requiring the FBI to give newsrooms advanced warning when seeking information, except under limited circumstances. The rules, enacted more than six years ago, also require the head of the Justice Department to sign off on efforts to compel journalists to disclose information.

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The rules say the government is to pursue negotiations with news organizations before issuing subpoenas—which are often accompanied by a gag order—unless doing so would cause a “clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.”

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Gannett argued in court these procedures had not been followed, saying the subpoena was therefore “not authorized under federal regulations, in additional to being unconstitutional.”

“Our attorneys attempted to contact the FBI before we moved to fight the subpoena in court and afterward,” Maribel Perez Wadsworth, publisher of USA Today, told Gizmodo on Friday. “Despite these attempts, we never received any substantive reply nor any meaningful explanation of the asserted basis for the subpoena.”

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“Being forced to tell the government who reads what on our websites is a clear violation the First Amendment,” Wadsworth added.

German, who declined to comment on the specific arguments in the case, said a failure by an agency generally to follow its own policies would raise “serious questions about the legitimacy of whatever actions it took in violation of those policies,” and would further justify “serious scrutiny.”

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Prior to the FBI withdrawing the subpoena, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had publicly demanded an explanation.

“As this incident is the first we know of regarding a subpoena to a news organization authorized by President Biden’s administration, we call on the Justice Department and the FBI to immediately explain how officials applied these long-standing policies that limit when and in what manner the government can seek records from news organizations,” said Bruce Brown, the committee’s executive director.

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Parker Higgins, a spokesperson at Freedom of the Press Foundation, said the timing of the Gannett subpoena speaks to a pattern of press violations that transcends electoral politics; a revelation that follows a months’ worth of reporting regarding the Trump Justice Department’s seizure of journalists phone records at the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN; apparent efforts to expose White House critics that President Biden firmly denounced last month.

Government demands to identify news readers are no less egregious, Higgins said. (Higgins is a past contributor to Gizmodo on matters of privacy and digital rights.)

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“Reader privacy is a fundamental aspect of press freedom, and that the government should not only seek this data, but ask a publisher to produce it under a gag order, should strike anybody concerned with that principle as outrageous,” he said.

Some of the Best Easter Eggs Hidden in Sites Across The Web

Illustration for article titled Some of the Best Easter Eggs Hidden in Sites Across The Web

Screenshot: Shoshana Wodinsky (Gizmodo)

Typically when we talk about things that are “hidden” in websites, we’re referring to something malicious—data-hoovering cookies, for example, or massive amounts of malware. But not every website dev is trying to con visitors out of their personal info or utterly wreck their devices; some of them just want to say “hi.” And sometimes, that “hi” is written in code.

Companies like Yahoo and eBay have spent years sneaking job ads into the HTML that makes up their websites in the hopes that curious coders would find them. Other sites might have unicorns, guns, or obscure, cryptic messages. Even if you’re not particularly web-savvy, it’s not hard to crack open your favorite site’s source code and comb through it for a bit. If you’re also a diehard Chrome user, then all you need to do is type “view-source:” before a website’s URL. You can also access these codes in any browser by right-clicking on a webpage and hitting “view source.”

To give you some ideas of where to start looking, we’ve rounded up ten of our favorites from across the internet.

Lauren Boebert Spends Drought Hearing Rambling About ‘Green New Deal Extremists’

Then-candidate Boebert pictured on the campaign trail in September.

Then-candidate Boebert pictured on the campaign trail in September.
Photo: David Zalubowski (AP)

Rep. Lauren Boebert, the gun-toting, Trump-loving, riot-goading, Congresswoman from Colorado, has a new conspiratorial obsession. And she’s fixated on it rather than working to address the multiple environmental crises facing her state.

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E&E News reported that Boebert joined fellow Republican extremists Rep. Bruce Westerman and Rep. Paul Gosar in sending a letter Thursday complaining about Elizabeth Klein, the senior counselor to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The letter concerns Klein’s previous role at New York University’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, which placed legal fellows at state attorneys general’s offices to help work on climate litigation. Several right-wing outlets, including the oil-and-gas-funded Western Wire, have been worrying at this issue for years, accusing Michael Bloomberg, via his donations to NYU, of footing the bill to attack poor, defenseless oil and gas companies. In the letter, Boebert, Gosar, and Westerman demand to see copies of Klein’s ethics pledge and memo on her possible conflicts (which all federal staffers are required to sign and submit), as well as other documents.

Boebert’s timing on all of this and her obsession with Klein is weirdly belated. Klein was actually tapped earlier this year by the Biden administration to serve as deputy secretary of the Interior Department. But centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who both have deep-seated fossil fuel interests in their states, expressed discomfort with Klein’s nomination. Their opposition, as the Washington Post reported in March, seemed to be having too many people in Interior leadership such as Secretary Haaland committed to addressing climate change. Accordingly, the Biden administration dropped Klein’s nomination and proposed a more oil-friendly option; Klein was appointed to a lower position in Interior.

That should have been that. But Boebert, who seems eager to invent the idea of a Big Corrupt Green Left rather than acknowledging that our planet is falling apart in front of our eyes, simply won’t let it go. At a public hearing on the West’s dire drought conditions in late May, Boebert showed that she’d rather score points with Breitbart readers than actually help her constituents on the precipice of a disastrous climate crisis.

Nearly the entirety of Boebert’s district is in drought, including large portions in the most severe form of drought included in the Drought Monitor’s scale. The West as a whole is mired in its worst drought in at least 1,200 years, and the Colorado River and reservoirs it feeds that serve the water needs of millions are in dire straits.

After Klein’s testimony, which mostly covered the scientific facts of the water shitstorm the West is in right now, Boebert used her five minutes of questioning to badger Klein about her ethics obligations, including accusing her of “help[ing] infiltrate state governments with Green New Deal extremists for the sole purposes of suing the federal government on environmental policies you all disagreed with.” Boebert was chastised by the hearing’s chairman, Rep. Jared Huffman, for not sticking to the issue (you know, the catastrophic drought that we all need to figure out a way to deal with), but she nevertheless used her closing arguments to accuse Klein of “slither[ing] her way into a high-level position at the department that doesn’t require the scrutiny of a public confirmation process” while calling her an “extremist partisan hack,” which is honestly pretty incredible coming from Boebert.

Lots of Boebert’s claims about Klein are echoed in an anonymous attack webpage launched on March 23, a day after Biden said he would pull Klein’s nomination. The page details about Klein’s career are bombastic, saying she “was a key player in prosecuting President Obama’s War on Coal and advancing the radical policy goals of environmental special interests” among other claims. The picture of Klein on her attack site is identical to the one used on another anonymous webpage put up recently called Protect the Public’s Trust, which targets various environmental leaders in the Biden administration, including Haaland and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, for supposed conflicts of interest.

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The irony of Boebert rattling on about conflicts of interest infiltrating government is pretty rich, given her still-unwavering support of former President Donald Trump, who essentially kept the door propped open for oil and gas players to shape environmental policy throughout his presidency. Boebert complaining about partisan hacks is also pretty wild since she has mostly used her time in Congress to tweet mind-numbingly stupid falsehoods and lies to further the culture war rather than, you know, actually legislating.

Her cosigners on Thursday’s letter also don’t have much of a foot to stand on here. Murphy Oil was Westerman’s number two campaign contributor, while Koch Industries gave $10,000 to Gosar and $30,000 to Westerman last year. The idea of painting Michael Bloomberg—who, despite the enormous amounts of money he has poured into environmental causes, was pretty universally “meh”ed by many climate activists during his campaign, and who once said the Green New Deal “[stood] no chance”—as some sort of radical is also pretty laughable.

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What is true is that the West is facing a summer of wildfires, water restrictions and other impacts from the drought that will leave residents in a hard spot. Congress and the White House will almost certainly need to extend a hand to those states in some way, whether through funding adaptation measures or disaster relief. Yet extremist members of the GOP seem most interested in shitposting. Manure is good for crops, sure, but they still won’t grow without water.