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Congress extends Patriot Act sections for 4 years

Congress voted yesterday to extend several controversial parts of the Patriot Act for four more years.

The Senate approved S.990 on a 72 to 23 vote, with both of California’s senators in support; the House passed it on a 250 to 153 vote, with no support from any Bay Area member. President Obama signed it into law minutes before the provisions would’ve expired.

The votes made strange bedfellows, with libertarian-leaning Republicans standing with some of Congress’ most liberal Democrats in opposition.

Extended were provisions that authorize roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; provisions that let the government access “any tangible items,” such as library records, as a part of surveillance; and a “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of those in the United States without citizenship, a green card or political asylum who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

Civil liberties advocates and much of the Bay Area’s House delegation had believed — especially now that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is dead – this was the right time to reassess the nation’s balance of security measures and civil liberties.

But the fix was in a week ago, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck a deal for an amendment-free extension until June 1, 2015.

In February, all Bay Area House members except Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, had voted against extending these provisions; McNerney had supported extending them until December, but ultimately they were extended for only 90 days and are set to expire at the end of the month. McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh in February had said the congressman “has serious concerns with this legislation and believes that we must make substantial changes to the law in order to better preserve our country’s most fundamental civil liberties. However, in the meantime, allowing the policy to expire without warning and a comprehensive debate on our security policies would not be advisable.”

Earlier this month, Hersh said McNerney “continues to have major concerns about the Patriot Act. He believes there must be substantial changes made to the law in order to better preserve our civil liberties. A bill hasn’t been released yet, so Congressman McNerney wants to see the legislation before reaching a decision.”

On Thursday, McNerney joined the rest of the Bay Area delegation in opposing the extension. He issued a statement afterward reiterating his concern about freedoms and noting this extension continues the policies without reform. “That is simply not in our country’s best interest. Instead, we should pursue balanced policies that keep our country safe and protect our civil liberties.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement saying the law doesn’t properly balance national security with protection of civil liberties.

“I opposed the extension of the PATRIOT Act because we cannot sacrifice fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy, in our effort to manage the threat of terrorism. Our basic civil liberties, which include access to our library records, medical records, and personal information about private residences and businesses, are not safe from the PATRIOT Act,” she said. “I will continue to push for an end to invasive intelligence gathering tactics that come at the expense of vital civil liberties, many of which have been justified by the overly broad executive branch authorization I opposed in the wake of 9/11.”

American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said the extension means “Congress has missed yet another opportunity to make necessary changes to protect our privacy. It means we’re likely to see more abuse of Patriot Act powers by law enforcement. Next time it’s given the opportunity, Congress should consider prioritizing Americans’ civil liberties by passing actual Patriot Act reform.”

U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had authored legislation to extend the provisions through the end of 2013. Her office earlier this month referred me to a February floor speech in which she said these provisions are used often and believes “that being able to have good intelligence is what prevents an attack against a New York subway or air cargo plane. It is what keeps this homeland safe, and it is what allows us to get ahead of a terrorist attack. Without them “… we put our nation in jeopardy.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and its reauthorizations in 2006 and in February, saying it gives law enforcement the tools it needs to keep Americans safe. She had expressed concern, however, over provisions such as seizure of library records, and wanted those areas tightened up.

Boxer had supported an amendment authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., which she said would’ve added some checks and balances. She was disappointed that it didn’t get a vote, but voted for the extension anyway because “any delays in providing law enforcement officials the tools they need to disrupt terrorist plots and to find those who would harm our country would be unacceptable.”

Posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Civil liberties, Dianne Feinstein, Harry Reid, Jerry McNerney, Mitch McConnell, national security, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, War on Terror | 2 Comments »

Leland Yee’s ‘Reader Privacy Act’ advances

Even as Congress prepares to re-consider some controversial sections of the Patriot Act, the California State Senate unanimously approved a bill today that would preclude state law enforcement from using one of the investigative tools now at issue.

Many Patriot Act provisions have been made permanent after being passed in October 2001 to extend law enforcement’s reach following the 9/11 attacks. At issue now are provisions that authorize roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; provisions that let the government access “any tangible items,” such as library and bookstore records, as a part of surveillance; and a “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of those in the United States without citizenship, a green card or political asylum who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

But SB 602, by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would require government agencies to seek a warrant in order to access consumers’ reading records from bookstores and online retailers, bringing those protections in line with those already afforded by state law to library records. Today’s Senate vote sends the bill to the Assembly for consideration.

“I am very pleased that both Democrats and Republicans agree that current law is completely inadequate when it comes to protecting one’s privacy for book purchases, especially for online shopping and electronic books,” Yee – who also is a San Francisco mayoral candidate – said in a news release today. “Individuals should be free to buy books without fear of government intrusion and witch hunts. If law enforcement has reason to suspect wrongdoing, they can obtain a warrant for such information.”

Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin acknowledged that the bill “states all government agencies, but obviously federal law could supersede and allow federal agencies access if so approved.” Among those supporting the bill are the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, Consumer Federation of California, and Californians Aware.

Many bookstores already collect information about readers and their purchases, and digital book services can collect even more detailed information including which books are browsed, how long each page is viewed, and even digital notes made in the margins. Supporters say it’s vital that state law be adapted to the digital age, considering that electronic or digital books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon.com and more than 18 million e-readers are expected to be sold in 2012.

“California should be a leader in ensuring that upgraded technology does not mean downgraded privacy,” said Valerie Small Navarro, a legislative advocate with the ACLU’s California affiliates. “We should be able to read about anything from politics, to religion to health without worrying that the government might be looking over our shoulder.”

Posted on Monday, May 9th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Civil liberties, Leland Yee, War on Terror | 9 Comments »

ACLU, Tea Partiers beat back anti-leaflet policy

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California got a temporary restraining order from a Shasta County Superior Court judge today to keep Redding from enforcing a restrictive anti-leafleting policy also challenged by the North State Tea Party Alliance.

Strange bedfellows? Not really, if you hold both organizations to their stated, basic mission: protecting fundamental constitutional rights.

ACLU-NC attorney Linda Lye said her organization is “thrilled to be working with the Tea Party to protect free speech rights and defend the robust exchange of ideas in both principle and practice.”

City officials had adopted the restrictions last month regarding a plaza outside the Redding Municipal Library. The policy requires people wishing to leaflet to obtain a permit, prohibits more than one organization from leafleting at one time, bans the distribution of materials requesting charitable contributions, restricts leafleteers to a designated “free speech” bubble, contains what the ACLU described as “vague and overbroad prohibitions against offensive utterances, gestures and displays,” and prohibits leafleting in the library parking lot. Those violating these restrictions could be charged with a crime.

“The library is a cultural and intellectual cornerstone of the Redding community, and civic leaders should welcome and celebrate the library’s role as a public place for the free exchange of ideas,” plaintiffs’ co-counsel Thomas Burke, of the firm Davis Wright Tremaine, said in the ACLU’s news rlease.

John Oertel, a leader of the ACLU’s Shasta-Tehama-Trinity Chapter, said the policy “interferes with the fundamental right to speak freely and peacefully, and is totally unnecessary. There has been no history of aggressive or otherwise problematic incidents in the library plaza.”

In fact, shortly before the policy was adopted, ACLU members leafleted in the library plaza at the same time that Tea Party members were present; while the groups often take different positions on political issues, the ACLU acknowledged, their simultaneous presence caused no disruptions.

“These exchanges are a direct form of democracy – we need more of them, not fewer. People across the political spectrum have a stake in preserving our right to express our ideas and perspectives,” said local ACLU chapter chairman Don Yost, and a plaintiff in the case.

But, lest you think everyone up there was of a mind, the Redding Tea Party – apparently larger than the North State Tea Party Alliance involved in this case – didn’t think this to be such a big deal.

Redding Tea Party organizer Erin Ryan said today the alliance is basically an offshoot that “pretty regularly find themselves some windmills to tilt at” and didn’t act when city officials solicited public input during a lengthy comment period before the policy was adopted. “Those guys basically refused to participate in the creation of the ordinance, and then when it came out, they went crazy about it.”

Ryan said Oertel and Yost came to a meeting of her group in January…

…but the Redding Tea Party didn’t feel a need to get involved, given that local people simply didn’t want to be harangued as they entered and left the library and have its parking lot cluttered with discarded paper. She said she doesn’t want to throw anyone under the bus, but “I hate to see them making a mountain out of a molehill.”

Posted on Wednesday, May 4th, 2011
Under: Civil liberties, tea party | No Comments »

Rights groups say local cops should shun FBI

Civil rights watchdog groups say police in Oakland, San Francisco and other cities should stop working with the FBI on terrorism investigations so long as doing so means they can violate local privacy policies.

“Under the state constitution and local policies, Californians are protected against government intelligence gathering unless there is a factual basis to suspect them of wrongdoing,” Alan Schlosser, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s legal director, said in a news release today. “It is now clear that the FBI has been authorized to conduct thousands of investigations that are just fishing expeditions and run contrary to California law. It is an outrage that San Francisco and Oakland police officials are not being forthcoming about whether their JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) officers are complying with state and local law.”

The ACLU’s complaint comes as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., holds a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing today on civil rights violations against American Muslims, coming soon after a New York Times report that the FBI is using intelligence gathering powers expanded significantly during the Bush Administration to investigate thousands of people and groups without any factual evidence that they have done anything wrong. The FBI admits having compiled 70,000 such files on Americans without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.

Local police departments including those in Oakland and San Francisco assign officers to a Joint Terrorism Task Force, in which they cooperate with FBI investigations. They do so under “memorandums of understanding” with the FBI, which in the past included assurances that officers must follow state law and department guidelines.

But when civil rights groups used the Freedom of Information Act to get a look at the standard MOU used in the Bay Area, they found it lets police assigned to the JTTF violate local privacy policies like those in place for years in Oakland and San Francisco, reflecting state constitutional standards.

Neither San Francisco nor Oakland police department has yet to make available its current, specific MOU with the FBI, the ACLU said; in Oakland, police officials say they didn’t keep a copy and the FBI has refused to provide a copy to the department.

So today the ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on these police agencies to sever those ties with the FBI at least until they make their MOUs public and reassure the public that officers are adhering to the standards of state and local law.

“Unless and until those agreements are made public and assurances are given that local police cannot investigate people without criminal suspicion, San Francisco and Oakland police departments must withdraw from the JTTF,” Asian Law Caucus staff attorney Veena Dubal said.

“Community trust is the most important tool of law enforcement,” said CAIR-SFBA Executive Director Zahra Billoo. “By infiltrating organizations and interviewing people who they do not suspect of any wrongdoing, the FBI is obfuscating their ability to counter domestic crime. We do not want our local law enforcement in the same predicament.”

Posted on Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
Under: Civil liberties, War on Terror | 3 Comments »

And these are just the ones we know about

The Administrative Office of the U.S Courts reported today that 2,376 federal and state applications for orders authorizing the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications – what you and I would call wiretaps – were filed in 2009.

Federal authorities sought 663 orders, states sought 1,713 – and none were denied.

Breaking it down further, wiretap applications in California, New York and New Jersey accounted for 71 percent of all applications approved by state judges; 24 states had wiretap requests in 2009, up from 22 in 2008, but requests were also made in the District Columbia and Virgin Islands.

The state wiretap with the most intercepts was conducted in New York County, New York, where a 543-day wiretap in a corruption investigation resulted in the interception of 11,000 incriminating messages. The average length of an original authorization was 29 days.

The most frequently noted location in wiretap locations was “portable device,” a category that includes cellular telephones and digital pagers, and 86 percent of all applications for intercepts cited illegal drugs as the most serious offense under investigation.

As of Dec. 31, a total of 4,537 persons had been arrested and 678 persons had been convicted as a result of interceptions reported as terminated.

Posted on Friday, April 30th, 2010
Under: Civil liberties, Public safety | No Comments »

Former minuteman blasts AZ immigration law

David LaTour, 23, of Hayward, is an activist in the “open carry” movement; one of the Ron Paul followers who got elected to, was then sued on, and then resigned from the Alameda County Republican Central Committee; and a former president of the Castro Valley Minutemen.

The Castro Valley Minutemen’s current home page says members “don’t want our country, our culture, or our language – the very foundation that was handed down to us by our forefathers who toiled and died for our freedom, to be diluted by gate crashing illegal aliens aided by bleeding heart liberals, cheap and greedy business owners, and worse yet, self-serving elected government officials!”

Yet LaTour today sent me an invitation to join a Facebook group called “Against SB 1070,” in opposition to Arizona’s new anti-illegal-immigration law which many people say institutionalizes racial profiling. That page’s administrator’s latest post says:

Although SB 1070 has passed, we must continue to stand against this new and despicable law, the fight is still not over Arizonans! “The true test of the American ideal is whether we’re able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them.” – Barack Obama

Now, I know LaTour is no fan of President Obama, but I found it interesting that a former Minuteman leader would be inviting Facebookers to stand up in opposition to Arizona’s new law. I e-mailed him, and here’s what he said:

“I am opposed to SB 1070, Real ID, and any other “show me your papers” law that violates natural rights. Specifically, SB 1070 allows law enforcement officers to stop any individual that is ‘suspicious’ and arrest if they fail to provide proof of citizenship. This is clearly unreasonable search and seizure. Rather than resorting to police state tactics, we could address the issue by removing the incentives that encourage workers to ignore the legal immigration process and come here illegally. Laws like SB 1070 are a direct attack on the American tradition of liberty and represent reactionary politics at its worst. Unfortunately, it seems the immigration issue is being used much like the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, as an excuse to erode civil liberties and turn America into a police state.”

He also recommended that I watch this video:

So it seems there’s a bloc of conservatives out there who are much more afraid of expanded police powers than of illegal immigrants. Yet despite what the guy in the video said, it appears U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the Obama Administration are not on board with Arizona’s law. From Reuters this morning:

A new Arizona law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants could divert resources from pursuing those in the country illegally who have committed more serious crimes, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Tuesday.

The new law, set to take effect later this year in the state bordering Mexico, requires police there to determine if people are in the country illegally, but critics have said it enables racial profiling and may be unconstitutional.

The Obama administration is reviewing its options for possible challenges to the new state law and Napolitano told U.S. senators that its resources for pursuing more dangerous criminals committing felonies could be sapped.

“We have some deep concerns with the law from the law enforcement perspective because we believe it will detract from and siphon resources that we need to focus on those in the country illegally who are those committing the most serious crimes,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Arizona law requires police officers to arrest those unable to provide documentation proving they are in the country legally. It also makes it a crime to transport someone who is an illegal immigrant, and to hire day laborers off the street.

“We have concerns that at some point we’ll be responsible to enforce or use our immigration resources against anyone that would get picked up in Arizona,” Napolitano said.

Posted on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
Under: Civil liberties, Immigration, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

John Yoo to tout book at SF appearance

John YooIf those activists who’ve dogged Cal law professor John Yoo – who as a Justice Department lawyer helped build a legal framework for the “enhanced interrogation” techniques many now consider to be torture and for other perceived Bush Administration transgressions – still can’t find where he’s teaching his current class, at least they’ll know where he is for a few hours next week.

Yoo will speak to the Commonwealth Club of California about his new book, “Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush,” at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, Jan. 27 at the club’s offices on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco. Tickets are available online and cost $12 for club members, $18 for nonmembers and $7 for students with valid ID; I predict the tickets will sell out and – no, really, I’m a little bit psychic – that the club’s security will be expecting protestors to try to disrupt the event.

Posted on Wednesday, January 20th, 2010
Under: Civil liberties, War on Terror | 3 Comments »

Protestors can’t find Yoo, but Jon Stewart did

Protestors’ targeting of Cal law professor and former Bush administration lawyer and torture-memo author John Yoo has taken an almost comical turn into cat-and-mouse territory: They want to keep disrupting his classes, but they can’t find him.

Yoo is teaching a Tuesday-evening class this semester on “Constitutional Design and the California Constitution,” but Boalt Hall’s schedule lists the class’ location as “to be announced.” Activists from World Can’t Wait and FireJohnYoo.org say their calls to the Cal Registrar’s office and the law school seeking the class’ location have been rebuffed – gee, I wonder why?

“We continue to call for Yoo to be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes, along with his entire cohort from the Bush-Cheney Torture Team,” World Can’t Wait organizer Stephanie Tang said in a news release. “Torture is a war crime. Thousands have been tortured thanks to John Yoo’s work for the White House, long after Yoo himself returned to teaching. The faculty and students right here at UC – and all people of conscience everywhere — need to denounce these crimes, not turn away in silent complicity.”

They’ll hold a news conference outside the office of Boalt Hall Dean Christopher Edley Jr. at 3 p.m. today to demand information about Yoo’s class. If I were them, I wouldn’t hold my breath for an answer. They certainly have a right to protest Yoo, but expecting the university to provide them the information they need to disrupt his classes seems foolhardy.

Meanwhile, Yoo was on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” last night. See the complete, unedited interview in three parts, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
Under: Berkeley, Civil liberties, War on Terror | 2 Comments »

Activists again urge disbarment for Yoo, Haynes

Two Bay Area lawyers who played roles in the Bush Administration’s legal justifications for torture should be disbarred, according to papers filed Friday in Washington, D.C.

John YooDisbar Torture Lawyers, a group of non-governmental organizations with more than a million members, filed complaints with the District of Columbia Bar’s Board on Professional Responsibility against John Yoo, now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School, and William Haynes, now chief corporate counsel at San Ramon-based Chevron Corp. The group also filed a complaint against former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The group filed the complaints in Washington because that’s where the targets were practicing at the time of their alleged violations. Yoo served in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; Haynes served as the Defense Department’s general counsel. Both helped provide a legal framework for fear- and pain-inducing techniques for interrogating suspected terrorist detainees.

“The evidence is overwhelming that Yoo, Haynes, and Gonzales violated their oath by advocating and allowing torture against U.S. detainees,” attorney and group spokesman Kevin Zeese said in a news release. “Just as a lawyer cannot ethically advise a police officer to torture a criminal defendant, a government lawyer cannot ethically advise a government employee to torture a detainee. In both cases, the lawyers would be in violation of the law, and would be subject to disbarment. We strongly urge the Department of Justice to release its own OPR investigation into the conduct of these and other attorneys who provided cover for the wholesale use of torture by our government. We are hopeful that the investigation supports our call for disbarment.”

William Haynes The group filed similar petitions against Yoo and Haynes with the state bars of Pennsylvania and California, respectively, earlier this year.

Also, the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild in March filed a complaint against Haynes with the State Bar of California; after the State Bar closed that case, the NLG said it would pursue the case to the state Supreme Court, but the court rejected the petition in October.

Meanwhile, protestors yet again will urge Cal to fire Yoo today, staging protests at noon on Sproul Plaza and at 3 p.m. – just before one of Yoo’s scheduled classes – at the law school.

UPDATE @ 1:30 P.M. TUESDAY: A Chevron spokesman has just fronted me a letter that William T. Coleman Jr., a prominent Washington, D.C. attorney, wrote to the National Lawyers Guild in March – an impassioned defense of Haynes. “I know first-hand that Jim Haynes is a superb lawyer of the highest integrity, and believe that he discharged his responsibilities while General Counsel of the Defense Department in accordance with his oath of his office and the highest ethical standards,” wrote Coleman, who served as Secretary of Transportation under President Gerald Ford. “We should all be grateful that we had such courageous, committed, knowledgeable and superior people including Jim Haynes, not only willing to serve in these times of peril, but having the love of just laws would always act within the law, even though their mission was to prevent many more attacking terrorist actions on American citizens in the United States and elsewhere in the world.”

Posted on Monday, November 30th, 2009
Under: Civil liberties, President Bush, War on Terror | 2 Comments »

Viewpoints on trying the 9/11 detainees

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced this morning that five alleged terrorists believed to have taken part in planning the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks will be brought from the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to New York City, where they’ll be tried in federal court.

From House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio:

“The Obama Administration’s irresponsible decision to prosecute the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in New York City puts the interests of liberal special interest groups before the safety and security of the American people. The possibility that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-conspirators could be found ‘not guilty’ due to some legal technicality just blocks from Ground Zero should give every American pause.

“These men are part of a global terrorist network dedicated to attacking America and civilization itself, and on that awful day nine years ago, they succeeded in killing nearly 3,000 men, women, and children. These terrorists were already being tried by military commissions, which were specifically designed to prosecute such heinous acts.

“This decision is further evidence that the White House is reverting to a dangerous pre-9/11 mentality – treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue and hoping for the best. We need a real strategy for fighting and winning the war on America’s terrorist enemies that includes an effective, credible, and consistent plan for all terrorist detainees.”

From Iraq War veteran and VoteVets.org chairman Jon Soltz:

“Finally, after years and years, those responsible for the worst terror attack on America will start to face American justice.

“Showing the world that we operate on a higher moral plane than fiefdoms, theocracies and dictatorships when it comes to justice will be a dagger in the heart of al Qaeda recruiting, as Guantanamo Bay has been one of the terror group’s most effective recruiting posters. That helps our troops, and protects America.

“Additionally, this will prove that Liz and Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and their cohorts have been engaging in pure politics. Contrary to what they’ve said, transferring detainees to the U.S. to face justice and punishment will be secure, safe, and strong, as it has been for nearly 200 other terrorists. Once that becomes evident, it will be clear that their only interest in opposing real justice was to take down President Obama — American security be damned.”

Read Holder’s remarks at this morning’s news conference in their entirety, after the jump…
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Posted on Friday, November 13th, 2009
Under: Civil liberties, General, War on Terror | 8 Comments »