ICYMI: President Obama’s press conference

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:


Read the White House’s transcript, after the jump…
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Surveillance: Drones, drugs & ‘Domain Awareness’

On the domestic surveillance news front today: The Assembly Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow, Tuesday, Aug. 6, on domestic use of drones.

Among those scheduled to testify are Professor YangQuan Chen of the UC Merced School of Engineering; Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean; CalFire Deputy Director Andy McMurry; TerrAvion founder and CEO Robert Morris; Professor Elizabeth Joh of the UC Davis School of Law; Linda Lye, attorney with the ACLU of Northern California; and Jennifer Lynch, attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to noon, and the public can listen online.

“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.


John Yoo weighs in on NSA/PRISM leak

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:

John YooRecall 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?


Patron saint of whistleblowers to talk in Berkeley

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 EllsbergDaniel 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.”


Lee, progressives hold hearing on drone policy

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including the caucus’ Peace and Security Task Force Chair Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, held a hearing Wednesday on U.S. drone policy.

Predator droneAt 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.”


Bill would force police to get warrants for emails

A Bay Area lawmaker’s new bill would require California law enforcement agencies to get a search warrant before asking service providers to hand over a private citizen’s emails.

SB 467 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group. Leno introduced a place-holder version of the bill last month, but rolled out its operative language today.

go get a warrant“No law enforcement agency could obtain someone’s mail or letters that were delivered to their home without first securing a search warrant, but that same protection is surprisingly not extended to our digital life,” Leno said in a news release.

“Both state and federal privacy laws have failed to keep up with the modern electronic age, and government agencies are frequently able to access sensitive and personal information, including email, without adequate oversight,” he said. “SB 467 repairs the existing holes in California’s digital protection laws, ensuring that electronic communications can only be accessed by law enforcement with a warrant.”

Some law enforcement agencies have claimed investigators don’t need a warrant to obtain any email that has been opened or has been stored on a server for 180 days. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy recently announced it would support changes to federal law that would require a warrant in such cases.

“California, the home of many technology companies, should be a leader in protecting the privacy of people’s electronic communications,” EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury said in Leno’s release. “Many of the state’s technology companies have already indicated that they require a search warrant before disclosing the contents of communications. With SB 467, the warrant requirement becomes the status quo for all electronic communication providers and all law enforcement agencies across the state.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also supports the bill, which “would ensure that content stored in the cloud receives the same level of protection as content stored on a laptop or in a desk drawer,” said Nicole Ozer, the Northern California ACLU’s technology and civil liberty policy director.