This just in from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who met earlier today with President Obama to discuss the latest developments in Ferguson, Missouri:
“This morning, I met with President Obama to discuss the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Like the President, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the family of Michael Brown. While his death has understandably caused heartache within the community, it is clear that the scenes playing out in the streets of Ferguson over the last several nights cannot continue.
“For one thing, while the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, acts of violence by members of the public cannot be condoned. Looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement officers who are genuinely trying to protect the public do nothing to remember the young man who has died. Such conduct is unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned.
“By the same token, the law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them. Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times. And journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.
“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message. At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities. Also at my direction, the Department is offering – through our COPS office and Office of Justice Programs – technical assistance to local authorities in order to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force. The local authorities in Missouri have accepted this offer of assistance as of this afternoon.
“Department officials from the Community Relations Service are also on the ground in Missouri to help convene law enforcement officials and civic and faith leaders to plot out steps to reduce tensions in the community. The latest such meeting was convened in Ferguson as recently as this morning. Over time, these conversations should consider the role that increased diversity in law enforcement can play in helping to build trust within communities.
“All the while, the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting incident itself continues, in parallel with the local investigation into state law violations. Our investigators from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorney’s office in Missouri have already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene at the time of the shooting incident on Saturday. Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair.”
Those who collect data with automatic license-plate readers would be prohibited from selling or sharing it except among law enforcement agencies, under a bill introduced Friday by a Bay Area state Senator.
“Automatic license plate reader technology is a useful tool for law enforcement,” state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “But use of this technology must be balanced with personal privacy.”
Used mainly by law enforcement agencies, automatic license plate reader technology uses high-speed cameras – often mounted on police cars, but sometimes mounted at fixed points as well – along with software and criminal databases to rapidly check and track the license plates of millions of Californians. It’s also often used by private, non-law enforcement entities, such as parking and repossession companies.
Under SB 893, data that’s less than five years old could be sold or provided only to law enforcement; data that’s more than five years old would be available to law enforcement only with a court order. Violators would be subject to civil lawsuits, with anyone affected by a privacy breach entitled to recover damages including costs and attorney’s fees.
Hill notes license-plate readers are an important law-enforcement tool: The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, in its first 30 days of using the technology, identified and located 495 stolen vehicles, five carjacked vehicles, and 19 other vehicles that were involved in felonies. These identifications led to 45 arrests, including some people suspected of bank robbery and home invasion.
“Law enforcement will still be able to continue to use LPR technology to catch criminals,” Hill said. “But Californians will have peace of mind that their personal information is safeguarded.”
California state agencies and officials, as well as corporations providing services to the state, would be prohibited from supporting or assisting the federal government’s collection of certain data on Californians, under a bipartisan bill introduced Monday by two state lawmakers.
“The National Security Agency’s massive level of spying and indiscriminate collecting of phone and electronic data on all Americans, including more than 38 million Californians, is a direct threat to our liberty and freedom,” state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said in a news release.
Lieu co-authored SB 828 with state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego. “I support this bill because I support the Constitution, our Fourth Amendment rights and our freedoms to live in the United States of America,” Anderson said in the release.
A federal judge ruled last month that the National Security Agency’s blanket collection of phone records is unconstitutional, calling the dragnet “near Orwellian,” the lawmakers noted. “I agree with the NSA that the world is a dangerous place. That is why our founders enacted the Bill of Rights. They understood the grave dangers of an out-of-control federal government,” Lieu said.
“All 317 million Americans cannot reasonably be considered to be suspicious simply for making or receiving telephone calls,” he said. “The NSA’s blanket seizure of the telephone records of all Americans is therefore an ‘unreasonable seizure’ by any definition of the term under the Fourth Amendment.”
The lawmakers said the NSA sometimes relies upon services provided by the state, or upon private entities that provide services on behalf of the state. SB 828 would ban state agencies, officials, and corporations providing services to the state from giving any material support, participation or assistance to any federal agency to collect electronic or metadata of any person, unless there has been a warrant issued that specifically describes the person, place and thing to be searched or seized.
The state Senate last year voted 32-1 to pass Lieu’s resolution urging Congress to vote to stop the NSA’s unconstitutional practices.
Rep. Mike Thompson helped introduce a bipartisan bill today that he and his co-authors say would strengthen congressional oversight and improve accountability from the nation’s intelligence community, which has been accused of overstepping its bounds in surveillance of U.S. citizens.
The Intelligence Oversight and Accountability Act of 2013, H.R. 3103, requires that any Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decision, order or opinion that includes a denial or modification of an intelligence community request, or that results in a change to any legal interpretation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, be shared with Congress.
“Our government has a responsibility to both protect American lives and our citizens’ civil liberties,” Thompson, D-Napa, said in a news release. “This bill helps us meet that responsibility by strengthening Congress’ aggressive oversight of our Intelligence Community. Through the oversight and accountability provided by this bill, we can help make sure our Intelligence Community operates within legal and constitutional boundaries while they continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”
Under current law, when the FISC or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review issues a decision, order, or opinion, the attorney general must determine if the issue considered by the FISC includes a “significant construction or interpretation of the law.” If the attorney general determines that the decision is significant, that information must be shared with Congress. But if the attorney general determines that the decision is not “significant,” the information doesn’t have to be shared with Congress.
The bill also requires the Justice Department to include enhanced summaries of the FISC’s decisions, orders, and opinions to make the facts, issues, and legal reasoning involved in these matters more accessible to Congress.
Capitol Hill and the American public are going bananas today over a Washington Post report that National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008.
“Press reports that the National Security Agency broke privacy rules thousands of times per year and reportedly sought to shield required disclosure of privacy violations are extremely disturbing.
“Current laws governing NSA’s collection activities contain safeguards to ensure the protection of privacy and civil liberties including provisions that require that incidents of non-compliance be reported to Congress and the FISA Court. Congress must conduct rigorous oversight to ensure that all incidents of non-compliance are reported to the oversight committees and the FISA court in a timely and comprehensive manner, and that appropriate steps are taken to ensure violations are not repeated.”
“Reports that the NSA repeatedly overstepped its legal boundaries, broke privacy regulations, and attempted to shield required disclosure of violations are outrageous, inappropriate and must be addressed. These reports, if accurate, highlight the need for aggressive oversight of the NSA’s intelligence gathering activities. This is exactly why I worked to establish an independent Inspector General for the intelligence community that will detect and deter abuse and misconduct within intelligence programs. Now we must act to make sure the abuses are not repeated.
“Congress and the Intelligence Committees can and should do more to ensure the NSA’s operations respect Americans’ civil liberties, that all incidents of non-compliance, if substantiated, are reported in a timely and comprehensive manner, and that appropriate steps are taken to make sure the incidents are not repeated.
“I do not believe protecting our citizens’ lives and civil liberties are mutually exclusive pursuits. Through aggressive oversight we can ensure our intelligence community can continue working to keep our country safe while respecting our citizens’ constitutional rights.”
Among those who voted for the Amash amendment was Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who today said:
“It’s clear that oversight of the NSA and the broader intelligence community is failing. I fear the NSA has abused its power and lost the trust of many Americans. Congress needs to re-examine its relationship to the intelligence community if we are going to restore confidence that privacy rights are protected in this country.
“First, the internal audit released today needs to be held as a model practice for transparency. Audits such as this one should be done more frequently and comprehensively. The findings of these audits must be delivered to Congress. Second, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must be privy to the NSA’s actions and no longer reliant on the NSA’s self-reporting. Third, there need to be stronger protections for whistleblowers. Intelligence community employees and contractors must feel safe to report wrongdoing and be protected from retribution.
“Congress cannot allow such sweeping violations of privacy to continue.”
We’ve posted an article about President Obama’s press conference today, in which he unveiled proposals to address the federal government’s ability to spy on Americans, but if you’d like to hear it straight from the source:
“The Public Safety Committee has been called upon this session to evaluate some bills involving the use of drones,” committee chairman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said in a news release. “However, it’s such a new subject; we need to develop a base of knowledge and a context for making decisions on these important bills.”
Also, Reuters reports today that a secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit – operating in tandem with the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security – is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
And, I was on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California” on Friday night to discuss Oakland’s controversial decision to expand its public video surveillance:
It was a lively discussion, but I wish I’d had a chance to delve into other topics such as how Oakland and other cities share the intelligence they gather with a regional “fusion center” located in a federal building in San Francisco; varying policies on how long such video footage is retained; and how easy it is for cities with extensive video surveillance networks to later add in software such as facial-recognition programs. I touched on some of these topics in a story I co-authored in June.
Berkeley’s John Yoo, the Cal law professor who previously was the George W. Bush administration’s architect of legal policies supporting the war on terror and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” wrote a piece in the National Review urging the prosecution of NSA/PRISM leaker Edward Snowden – and perhaps some other folks, too:
Recall that the Obama Justice Department claimed that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a co-conspirator in the alleged leak of classified intelligence. If the Justice Department truly believed what it told the courts when seeking a wiretap on Rosen, then it should indict the reporters and editors for the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers who published information on PRISM.
Except, of course, that Rosen wasn’t indicted. I guess we should just be glad Yoo isn’t offering a legal justification for waterboarding reporters.
Actually, Yoo goes on to say he believes “the Post is protected by the First Amendment, but Holder’s Justice Department clearly doesn’t think so.” Wonkette offers a (rather profane) smackdown of what it says is Yoo’s hypocrisy on such things. What do you think?
Perhaps the most famed whistleblower in U.S. history will take part in a panel discussion tonight in Berkeley about new revelations of government surveillance.
Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the “Pentagon Papers” exposing U.S. policy on the Vietnam war, will participate in the panel at 7:30 p.m. tonight in St. John’s Church, 2727 College Ave. in Berkeley. The event is free and open to the public.
Other panelists include Nadia Kayyali, is a legal fellow and organizer with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee; Norman Solomon, an activist and media critic who ran in the 2nd Congressional District last year; and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of Iceland’s parliament and director of the International Modern Media Institute.
The panelists posit that Americans’ civil liberties are vanishing at an alarming rate, jeopardizing democracy and the rule of law. They’ll discuss dragnet warrantless spying and domestic surveillance, indefinite detention without trial, and secrecy and the war on whistleblowers.
“In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago,” Ellsberg wrote for the Guardian yesterday. “Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an ‘executive coup’ against the U.S. constitution.”
At issue were lethal drones operations abroad, questions of due process, implications for executive and congressional war-making authority, and the precedent being set as other nations rapidly adopt drone technology.
“I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus on this issue, and am especially grateful for their efforts in calling this hearing,” Lee said in a news release. “We need to ensure that both chambers publically debate the implications of drones and drone warfare. We cannot retreat from our Congressional duties of oversight and accountability, especially on issues like this where the stakes are so high.”
Caucus members heard testimony from former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ron Dellums, D-Oakland; Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security with Human Rights Campaign; international human rights lawyer and New York University Professor Sarah Knuckey; Chris Rogers, program officer of the Regional Policy Initiative at the Open Society Foundation; counterterrorism and human rights lawyer Professor Naureen Shah; and journalist Adam Baron. The hearing also includied video testimony from Baraa Shiban, a youth representative in Yemen’s National Dialogue and Reprieve Project.
Caucus co-chairs Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., recently wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking the administration to explain the legal basis for drone strikes. “It is far past time that the White House openly discuss the drones program,” the letter said. “The President has full reign to protect the United States as Commander in Chief, but Congress has a vital oversight role in this issue, and we cannot shy away from those responsibilities.”