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House passes bill on NSA phone records program

The House voted 338-88 Wednesday to pass a bill that would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, the Washington Post reports.

Supporters say the USA Freedom Act would keep phone “metadata” out of government hands and make other changes to surveillance practices; some critics say that it goes too far, others that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The Senate still must take up the bill amending Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which without congressional action will expire June 1.

Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, voted against the bill Wednesday, while the rest of the Bay Area’s all-Democrat delegation supported it.

“Congress may have changed the name but the USA Freedom Act is just a watered-down version of the Patriot Act,” Farr said in a news release. “I commend the bipartisan effort to adhere to the 2nd Circuit Court’s ruling and to develop more safeguards to protect our civil liberties. Unfortunately, this bill still contains too many provisions that threaten the privacy of American citizens.

“I cannot vote for a bill that does not protect the privacy rights enshrined in the 4th Amendment,” Farr added. “The risk of faulty information collection is not a risk I am willing to take with any American’s privacy. Upholding the Constitution is non-negotiable.”

But Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, issued a statement saying “our government has a responsibility to respect people’s civil liberties and protect our national security. This legislation does both.

“It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe,” Thompson said.

Records of phone numbers, call dates, times and durations would be kept by telecommunications companies under this bill, not by the government. Company employees could still search such records under a court order specifying a particular person, account or address, but not an entire phone or Internet company or a broad geographic region, such as a state, city or Zip code.

The bill has the rare combined support of House Republican leaders and President Obama.

“In order to stay secure in these dangerous times, we must have the tools to track terrorists and spies. But the American people have strong concerns about a big government watching over our phone calls, collecting our metadata, and possibly invading our privacy,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said in a news release.

“So the House has looked at the facts on the ground and recalibrated our approach to keep America safe while protecting civil liberties,” he said. “The USA FREEDOM Act stops bulk data collection while still making sure those fighting terrorism have access to what they need so they can do their job and prevent future terror attacks. That’s what makes it a good, bipartisan bill.”

But in the wake of last week’s 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down the NSA’s phone-records collection program as illegal, civil libertarians aren’t happy with this bill.

“Last week’s historic court decision makes clear that this bill must be strengthened to protect privacy rights,” Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, had said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Following the court’s ruling, the House should have amended the bill to prevent the government from amassing and keeping the information of innocent Americans. The Senate should not make the same mistake and instead remedy the bill’s many deficiencies, which have been criticized on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “Letting Section 215 expire would be preferable to passing the current version of this bill, which fails to adequately protect Americans’ information from unwarranted government intrusion.”

Posted on Wednesday, May 13th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, Civil liberties, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House | No Comments »

Police-community relations hearing set for Tuesday

The state Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees will hold a four-and-a-half-hour joint hearing Tuesday on police-community relations issues that have roiled California and the nation in recent months.

It’s been a hot topic since police shootings including those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last August and Tamir Rice in Cleveland last November, and the tremendous protests that followed in cities across the nation. Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have grappled with tremendous street demonstrations in which most participants were peaceful while a few resorted to property damage and violence.

“Recent tragic events have led to an increased focus on law enforcement practices. The President has put together a task-force to tackle the issue of police practices across the nation, but I am interested in what we can do in California,” said Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. “I look forward to hearing about what data is being collected and how our data collection efforts can be improved. I additionally look forward to learning about innovative programs that have improved relations between the community and law enforcement.”

Hancock’s husband, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, has taken some heat from the community for his police department’s handling of protests late last year.

The hearing’s agenda includes segments on statewide and local law enforcement data collection; “promoting trust and confidence through data;” investigating and prosecuting officer-misconduct allegations; and building trust and confidence between police and the communities they serve. The witness list includes law enforcement officials, community leaders, educators and criminologists from around the state.

Bill Quirk“I believe that this hearing will give us an opportunity to ask hard questions, gain new perspective, and guide us in proposing effective solutions to rebuilding trust,” said Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.

The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 4203 of the State Capitol; it’s expected to be broadcast live on the California Channel and audio of the proceedings will be streamed on the State Senate’s website.

Posted on Monday, February 9th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Bill Quirk, California State Senate, Civil liberties, Loni Hancock, Public safety | 2 Comments »

AG Eric Holder in Oakland, SF on Thursday

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will be in Oakland and San Francisco on Thursday to wrap up his national “Building Community Trust” tour seeking stronger bonds between law enforcement and the people they’re supposed to protect and serve.

Eric HolderHolder – in his final days in his job, as his nominated successor, federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, awaits Senate confirmation – will take part in a roundtable discussion with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Rep. Barbara Lee, and other selected officials and community members at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Oakland’s federal building on Clay Street.

The event isn’t open to the public.

“I am very glad the Attorney General accepted my invitation to come to Oakland and hear first-hand our community’s concerns and ideas to enact much needed change,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “We must work together to take the long overdue action needed to build trust between the community and law enforcement and ensure justice for all. This dialogue is an important step in that effort.”

Holder on Thursday afternoon will meet with students and police officers and tour the Willie Mays Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco.

Holder in September announced a National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a $4.75 million effort to combat distrust and hostility between law enforcement and the communities they serve – a reaction to the massive protests following the slaying of a young black man by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

This will be the final stop on his tour. Previous stops included Atlanta in November; Cleveland, Chicago and Memphis in December; and Philadelphia in January.

Posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 2015
Under: Attorney General, Civil liberties, Public safety | No Comments »

Jerry Brown proclaims today ‘Fred Korematsu Day’

Gov. Jerry Brown has issued a proclamation deeming Friday a day for celebration of an East Bay hero:

When Fred T. Korematsu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, President Clinton said that “in the long history of our country’s constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls — Plessy, Brown, Parks. To that distinguished list today we add the name of Fred Korematsu.”

Fred Korematsu was, in the best sense of both words, an ordinary hero. A native Californian, born and raised in Oakland and a welder by trade, he simply refused to accept his government’s order to relocate under the brutal and misguided policy of Japanese-American internment during World War II. Korematsu’s staunch determination to be treated like the loyal American citizen he was came to define his life story, in both his decades-long legal battle against internment and his later recognition as a leader in the cause of civil rights. On this 96th anniversary of his birth, we remember him as one who resisted injustice during a dark chapter in our nation’s history, and later worked tirelessly to prevent its repetition.

NOW THEREFORE I, EDMUND G. BROWN JR., Governor of the State of California, do hereby proclaim January 30th 2015, as “Fred Korematsu Day.”

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 30th day of January 2015.

Actor, activist and social-media phenomenon George Takei – who as a child was interned with his family in a relocation camp – will keynote the 5th Annual Fred Korematsu Day Celebration at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the City Arts and Lectures-Nourse Theatre in San Francisco.

Some Bay Area folks were tweeting on Korematsu today:

Also, California isn’t the only state to mark this day, and some would like to see this made a national holiday.

Posted on Friday, January 30th, 2015
Under: Civil liberties, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | No Comments »

Your International Human Rights Day review

Hey, it’s International Human Rights Day!

The date was set by the United Nations in 1950 “to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Nice! Let’s take a celebratory scan of some of today’s top stories!

“All senior U.S. officials and CIA agents who authorized and carried out torture like waterboarding as part of former President George W. Bush’s national security policy must be prosecuted, top U.N. human rights officials said Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports.

Ah. Well, at least we can be sure ordinary people’s voices are heard by lawmakers come election time.

“The $1.1 trillion spending agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday night would vastly expand the amount of money that donors can give political parties, bolstering party leaders’ ability to tap into the wallets of their largest contributors and reclaiming some clout from the outside groups that can accept unlimited dollars,” the New York Times reports.

OK, maybe we should look a little closer to home.

“For the third time in four nights, mayhem defined a protest march from Berkeley to Oakland, as demonstrators took over a freeway, looted businesses and threw objects at police, authorities said,” our own Bay Area News Group reports. “The demonstrations were part of an ongoing national movement against police violence, spurred by grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in Missouri and New York after the deaths of two unarmed black men.”

Yeeeesh. Well, at least there’s some progress elsewhere on protecting that most basic of human rights – life itself.

“The Ebola virus that has killed thousands in West Africa is still ‘running ahead’ of efforts to contain it, the head of the World Health Organization has said,” the BBC reports.

I give up.

I surrender

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Under: campaign finance, Civil liberties, War on Terror | 1 Comment »

Campos aims to curb police militarization, drones

Local police forces’ militarization would be curtailed on the ground and in the air, under bills introduced Monday by a South Bay lawmaker.

Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, introduced a bill that would forbid local law enforcement agencies from buying surplus military equipment without public input and approval from their local elected governing body, like a city council or a county board of supervisors.

Nora Campos“My bill is intended to help California communities and local law enforcement find the balance that is right for them. We are not a military state and our neighborhood streets shouldn’t be turned into warzones,” Campos said in a news release.

“Excessively militarizing the police isn’t necessarily in the best interest of a community,” she continued. “It does nothing to improve community relations when routine police actions, including crowd control, center on heavy military weaponry. Obviously, there are situations that require a strong law enforcement response and I will always support efforts to keep our law enforcement officers safe.”

Campos introduced another bill Monday that would require warrants for human surveillance collected by airborne drones; destruction of drone-collected data within one year; and limits on sharing that data.

“We must ensure that information collected by drones is not used against law-abiding people, and that people’s civil rights remain intact,” Campos said. “This is a common sense bill that stands on our tradition of fair treatment and justice under the law.”

The bill provides exceptions. For example, law enforcement agencies wouldn’t have to get a warrant before using a drone in response to exigent circumstances, traffic accidents, fires, environmental disasters, and searching for illegal vegetation in wilderness areas.

Gov. Jerry Brown in September vetoed another bill on this subject, AB 1327 by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, Campos noted, but “drones are here to stay and my bill will be a vehicle for finding the right balance. I look forward to working with all the interested parties.”

Posted on Monday, December 1st, 2014
Under: Assembly, Civil liberties, Nora Campos, Public safety | 6 Comments »

AG Eric Holder tells Missouri cops to back off a bit

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:

Eric Holder“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.”

Posted on Thursday, August 14th, 2014
Under: Civil liberties, Obama presidency | 34 Comments »

Bill would ban sale of license-plate reader data

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.

But as use of this technology has increased, so has the concern of civil libertarians; current law doesn’t require LPR operators to keep the data private.

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.

license plate readersHill 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.”

Posted on Friday, January 10th, 2014
Under: California State Senate, Civil liberties, Jerry Hill, Public safety | 5 Comments »

Bill would bar state from aiding NSA surveillance

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.

Ted Lieu“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.

Posted on Monday, January 6th, 2014
Under: California State Senate, Civil liberties | 3 Comments »

Mike Thompson helps introduce FISA oversight act

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.

Mike Thompson“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.”

The bill’s other co-authors are Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J.; Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; and J. Randy Forbes, R-Va.

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.

H.R. 3103 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, on which Gutierrez and Forbes are senior members, and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which Thompson, LoBiondo and Gutierrez are senior members.

Posted on Monday, September 16th, 2013
Under: Civil liberties, Mike Thompson, national security, U.S. House, War on Terror | No Comments »