Who's That? MemRec Knows Every Member -- And So Can You!

Living in DC, we see politicians out and about all the time, but with so many around it can be a challenge to put names and faces together. Not anymore!

Years ago when I was an intern for the House Democratic Caucus, we were required to use an internal program developed for the Capitol Police called MemRec to memorize the entire Caucus because we had to know who to let into meetings at a glance. Ever since that internship I have been slowly losing track of the current membership of the House and Senate, yearning for access to that great tool again.

Cloakroom Doesn't Put Your Privacy at Risk

“Confide can read user messages,” security researchers Fred Raynal and Jean-Baptiste Bédrune told TechCrunch this week. Cloakroom, on the other hand, cannot read your encrypted messages.

Ever since Sean Spicer snooped on all his staffers' phones for encrypted messaging apps, DC has been abuzz with ways to thwart government spooks and connect with their colleagues privately. Wikileaks' Vault 7 release this week just added fuel to the fire. The leaks revealed that even trustworthy apps like WhatsApp may be vulnerable to the CIA and other hackers.

Cloakroom's private chat functionality sacrifices a little convenience in order to offer its users full control over their own data, including what to keep, what to delete, and what to encrypt. Users can enable encryption for any conversation, and because we don't send your private encryption keys over the internet the way Confide and even WhatsApp do, the neither I or CIA can use that vulnerability to spy on your discreet conversations.

To prove that, I'm open sourcing Cloakroom's encrypted chat code for iOS, so anyone may review our process and affirm for themselves that Cloakroom is a safer (and more fun) way to chat with your colleagues.

Review our code here!

Happy hacking.

Are you a Federal Worker? Here's an app for you!

Today I extended Cloakroom access to 260 new geofences around federal buildings and 309 .GOV email domains. Now federal workers from 474 agencies and subagencies can use Cloakroom to anonymously share tips and intel with their colleagues and chat one-on-one with end-to-end encryption.

A couple weeks ago I thought I hit gold while browsing the USA.gov APIs. I had just been reading about EPA employees turning to encryption apps like Signal and State Department employees “dissent channel” letters to thwart Trump, so when I found the Federal Agency Directory API I got excited about extending Cloakroom’s anonymous chat functionality, which House and Senate staffers have been using for nearly two years, to facilitate so-call dissent channels across the federal government.

Introducing Cloakroom: Live, streaming news and open civic data

At its heart, Cloakroom is a civic data app. Our goal has been to combine social networking with legislative data to promote bipartisan policy discussions and to help each other get work done. The latest Cloakroom iOS update introduces a stream of news, polls, legislative data, and live congressional video tailored to your professional interests. Think of Cloakroom: Live as a firehose of data carefully calibrated by you and filtered by the Cloakroom community to deliver important and relevant information straight to your phone. 

Introducing Cloakroom: Connect, matchmaking for informational interviews

Long-gone are the days of smoke-filled backrooms in Congress. Despite their merits, congressional ethics rules have eroded the bonds of community on Capitol Hill. Pile on the demands of the endless campaign season, and Members of Congress barely spend three days a week legislating. It’s no wonder our policymakers are incapable of reaching a bargain on anything; some don’t even know each others’ names.

Nevertheless, one important social tradition is still alive and kicking in DC: the informational interview. An informational interview is a face-to-face meeting with someone whose career or work you want to learn more about. In a recent Cloakroom poll of congressional staffers, 75% said they currently participate in informational interviews.

Guest Blogger: Brad Traverse, the King of Hill Jobs

Brad Traverse joins us for a Cloakroom Q&A, Friday June 17th at 3:00pm EST. In order to help Cloakroomers prep for his visit, Mr. Traverse, wrote us a brief primer on his career path to becoming the King of Hill jobs.

Hi, I’m Brad Traverse, President of the Brad Traverse Group, the most comprehensive resource for anyone seeking a job on and off the Hill in the fields of government relations, public policy and affairs, PR, communications, and political campaigns. I’d like to talk today about getting a policy or PR job on or off the Hill: the importance of networking, resume review and social media assessment.

Cloakroom Extends Members-Only Access to the 100 Most Influential Groups in Politics

The Capitol Bells team and I launched Cloakroom in 2015 with the ambitious goal of creating a community of policymakers dedicated to collaboration and consensus building over partisan brinksmanship. It was an idea I personally felt strongly about. As a former staffer, I couldn’t help noticing the divisions among staff from party line to committee — for all their shared experiences, they weren’t talking to one another. This wasn’t always the case: Once upon a time, Democrats and Republicans socialized and shared camaraderie when passing in the halls or working side-by-side. This led to more grand bargains, better legislation, regular order, and a Congress that WORKED.

Since Cloakroom’s inception, over 6,500 verified Congressional insiders have flocked to our social network, forming an active community of content creators and legislative debaters. We have hosted bipartisan Q&A's with some of the nation's leading policy and political professionals, like Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine, David Wessel of the Brookings Institution, Kevin Kosar of the R Street Institute, and even Bill Nye the Science Guy. Everyday our users are going head-to-head with each other and experts on issues no matter how controversial.

Because of Cloakroom’s success fostering discourse and acting as a sounding board for Congressional staff, we have decided to expand. Cloakroom will now be open to everyone working at the 100 most influential groups in politics, such as top think tanks, lobbying firms, media and PR companies, advocacy groups, and campaign organizations. Check out the full list of new members here.

We want to give more verified political insiders the ability to speak openly and freely, break down partisan blockades, and get work done. Cloakroom users can be as anonymous as they want to be. They get full control over their own data, the right not to be tracked, and full end-to-end encrypted chat to keep private conversations private -- even on heavily monitored government networks.

Opening Cloakroom’s doors to more insiders does not mean we are stripping our lively Capitol Hill community of their own exclusivity. Cloakroom is now organized into public channels shared by everyone on the app and private channels accessible only to specific groups, like Congress. However, we expect our current users will value the influx of new professionals on the network. For instance, the "Careers" channel will receive a fresh infusion of seasoned veterans offering advice to political newbies and hot job leads.

Connecting Capitol Hill to the rest of the political economy has the potential to harness the power of technology in politics like never before. Cloakroom includes tools that allow policy experts to share their positions on bills to virtually lobby their colleagues, generate big data about the best and worst policy proposals, and bring the secret discussions of back room deals to light.

Are you ready to bring politics into the 21st century? Download Cloakroom today!

We're Back: Congressional Shadowban Edition

After an 11-day shadowban by the House of Representatives, Members of Congress and their staff are now free to use Capitol Bells and Cloakroom on the House network again.

On Thursday, May 5th the House of Representative's Information Resources office (HIR) shadowbanned Capitol Bells and Cloakroom and every other Google AppSpot app on the House network in response to an 11-month old public intelligence FBI report. on Monday, May 16th, House IT laconically lifted the block:

From: Technology Service Desk
Date: May 16, 2016 at 1:35:21 PM EDT
To: "System Administrators, All"
Subject: System Advisory - Google's appspot.com is now accessible on the House Network

Based on Google’s corrective actions of removing suspicious applications from appspot.comInfoSec has unblocked access to appspot.com on the House Network.

If you have any questions, please contact the CAO Technology Service Desk at 5-6002 or 1-800-HIR-USER.

Resistance is Futile // We Have Adapted

At Capitol Bells, we think ahead when contemplating our team’s vision; how are people using our technology three years from now, who gets to vote in a virtual congress comprising of millions of people, how do we maintain the system’s integrity? As developers, we often consider far-reaching consequences of our designs for new products and features.

However, over-emphasizing such foresight can lead to it’s own challenges. Worse, it can lead to ignoring the concerns of users. In some cases, solving for a future problem can cause even more problems today, which is a position we have found ourselves in with Capitol Bells. In order to protect the integrity of voting in Capitol Bells far into the future when there are millions of people on the platform, we made it too hard for people to use Capitol Bells today, thus making it hard for the community to grow into that future in the first place!

We previously wrote about why we chose to use social networks in order to verify users. We understood that we would get some pushbacks on this issue, but we believed our implementation was frictionless and users would understand why and how we were using their social identities. We were wrong. Even though we do not share user data with third parties, we found that our users simply do not feel comfortable logging in through big social networks.

We have heard our users, and to remedy this mistake we are announcing the new Capitol Bells login. Anyone can now sign up for Capitol Bells using nothing but their own email address. That’s it! There are no tricks, no special hoops to jump through, no third party verification. Tapping into democracy through Capitol Bells should be as easy as possible.

We want to use this opportunity to thank all of our users and supporters. Our hope is to make this a community driven platform for the people and moderated by the people. We encourage each user to bring forward issues they care about in order have engaging and intelligent dialogues. As for us, we will continue to evolve with the demands of developing a mobile platform and continue to build out the most powerful features we can think up to connect you to Congress.

Have a minute? Try out our new verification system today by downloading Capitol Bells: www.capitolbells.com

Dirty Sexy Congress: Capitol Hill Gossip is Good for Democracy & Tech

Call it the House of Cards effect. For the last few days our small community on Capitol Hill has been lambasted by the voyeurs at Re/code, Vanity Fair,Gawker, and MSNBC over “horny, fratty, and nerdy” conversations about sex, race, and Donald Trump. Cloakroom is an anonymous social network used by thousands of mostly young professionals working on Capitol Hill. In a political year like this one, how can critics not be appalled that young people in government can be, well, just as crass and offensive as anyone else on social media?

These recent media reports missed an opportunity to reveal something else happening on Cloakroom that appears to be far more objectionable (and sadly rare) in Washington, DC: bipartisan debate and camaraderie. This “gossip app” is building bridges across the ever-widening partisan divide. And we are infusing technology into American democracy by combining this young internet-native Hill community with high-tech tools on our sister app, Capitol Bells, that allow constituents to track their representatives and translate their opinions into congressional code. That’s the story people should be writing.

When the right-leaning Heritage Foundation hosts an event on Capitol Hill, they don’t expect many liberals to attend, but our team of three developers on a shoestring budget is accomplishing what the multi-million-dollar No Label campaigncould only dream about in the form of aspirational press releases. Heritage Budget Director Paul Winfree conducted a Q&A for Cloakroom’s “Ask an Expert” series, and hundreds of Republicans and Democrats alike tuned in to learn about Mr. Winfree’s budget proposal, resulting in an intense back-and-forth bipartisan policy debate. When’s the last time you saw that on C-SPAN?

In a Congress that shies away from every controversial, third-rail issue, would you expect to see a Congressman Andy Harris staffer participating at a medical-marijuana legalization briefing? Yet when John Hudak from the Brookings Institution hosted his marijuana policy Q&A on Cloakroom last week, the anonymity of Cloakroom enabled legislative staff from even the most anti-pot offices to do just that.

The ability to introduce diverse and innovative policy proposals to Capitol Hill at-large is inherently valuable, but bipartisan productivity isn’t borne of wonky policy debates alone. Coalition-building depends on human relationships too. Last fall when a sexual harassment victim came to Cloakroom for advice on defending herself against her harasser, party lines didn’t prevent our community from offering her many helpful resources.Some even opened up with their own secret stories of harassment. Tech can break down the physical brick and mortar barriers between people to create more human workplaces, even in Congress.

The bipartisan success of Cloakroom bodes well for bridging the divide between Congress and voters too. Our congressional engagement app Capitol Bells is powered by high-tech tools to translate constituents’ opinions into legislative positions and measure their representation in Congress. As we integrate these tools into Cloakroom, young professionals working on Capitol Hill will have innovative new ways to tap into real-time trends in their districts and to collectively vet and promote the most promising bills introduced in the House and Senate. Just don’t be surprised when they still find time to gossip.

Reporting on congressional dalliances is great for clicks, but it’s not as sexy as the democratizing power of technology. In this case a little gossip has led to Democrats and Republicans eschewing partisan rancor to find common ground on divisive policy issues, like marijuana legalization, and to a community coalescing around a colleague in need. Tech is already breaking down the walls of hyper-partisanship, and it’s going to build bridges between Congress and voters next.