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Lofgren co-authors bill to update online privacy

A decades-old communications privacy law would be updated to better shield Internet users and wireless subscribers from overly broad government surveillance programs, under a bipartisan bill introduced Monday and coauthored by a Silicon Valley congresswoman.

The Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Ted Poe, R- Texas; and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., would modernize the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act by requiring government agencies to get a search warrant based on probable cause prior to intercepting or forcing disclosure of electronic communications or geolocation data.

The 1986 law – meant to set legal standards that law enforcement agencies must meet to access electronic communications – hasn’t kept up with technology, leaving modern user data with only weak, convoluted protection.

“Fourth Amendment protections don’t stop at the Internet, and Americans rightly expect Constitutional protections to extend to their online communications and location data,” Lofgren said in a news release. “Establishing a warrant standard for government access to cloud and geolocation provides Americans with the privacy protections they expect, and would enable service providers to build greater trust with their users and global trading partners.”

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act does not clearly require law enforcement to get a warrant to access Americans’ online communications – all it takes is a subpoena if the content is more than 180 days old.

ECPA also lacks any clear standards for law enforcement access to location information, such as tracking an individual’s cell phone location, leading to confusion in courts, compliance burdens for businesses, a competitive disadvantage with international businesses in countries with stronger laws against government access, and inadequate privacy for Americans.

This bill would:

  • Require the government to get a warrant to access wire or electronic communications content, or to intercept or force service providers to disclose geolocation data;
  • Preserve exceptions for emergency situations, foreign intelligence surveillance, individual consent, public information, and emergency assistance;
  • Prohibit service providers from disclosing a user’s geolocation information to the government in the absence of a warrant or exception;
  • Bar the use of unlawfully obtained geolocation information as evidence; and
  • Provide for administrative discipline and civil liability if geolocation information is unlawfully intercepted or disclosed.
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    How Bay Area House members voted on CRomnibus

    The House voted 219-206 Thursday night to pass the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” spending bill to avert a government shutdown and fund the federal government through next October.

    Conservative Republicans opposed the measure because it doesn’t explicitly bar President Obama from implementing his executive actions on immigration; many Democrats opposed it because of non-budgetary policy riders attached to the bill, including one that to roll back a key provision of the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform act and another to raise the maximum amount contributors can give to political parties.

    This made for some pretty weird bedfellows. President Barack Obama; Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, all urged its passage, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and conservatives like Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., opposed it.

    In the end, 57 Democrats crossed the aisle to join 162 Republicans in supporting it, while 67 Republicans crossed the aisle to join 139 Democrats in opposing it. Ten members did not vote.

    Here’s how the Bay Area delegation split:

    YEA: George Miller, D-Martinez; Sam Farr, D-Carmel

    NAY: Pelosi; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton

    See what some had to say about it, after the jump…
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    House members urge AG to nix hospital sale

    Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Zoe Lofgren led 16 other California House members Thursday in urging California Attorney General Kamala Harris to reject the sale of six Daughters of Charity Health System hospitals to a for-profit company they say has a history of unfair business practices.

    Honda and Lofgren, both D-San Jose, cited concerns that under Prime Healthcare Services, “patient care and healthcare worker rights will suffer at these hospitals.”

    Los Altos Hills-based Daughters of Charity, a Catholic system, wants to sell Daly City’s Seton Medical Center and Seton Coastside satellite campus, O’Conner Hospital in San Jose, Gilroy’s Saint Louise Regional Hospital and two Los Angeles-area medical centers to Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare, a $2.5 billion system with 29 hospitals and 4,700 beds in nine states.

    Harris may reject the sale based on any factors found relevant, including: whether the sale is in the public interest; whether it would create significant effects on the availability of health care services in the community; or whether the proposed use of the proceeds from the transaction is consistent with the charitable trust under which the hospitals have operated.

    “Our biggest concern is Prime’s history of unfair business practices that have resulted in civil and criminal investigations by government agencies for allegedly overbilling Medicare as well as violations of patient confidentiality,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Harris. “The National Labor Relations Board has issued charges against Prime for such illegal practices as unilaterally cutting employee health insurance plans, interrogating and intimidating employees who are supportive of their union, bad faith bargaining and bribing employees to vote to decertify the union. Class action and wage and hour violation lawsuits have been filed against Prime at 11 of their 15 California hospitals.”

    That, combined with the mission of these hospitals to serve the most-needy residents raises substantial doubts as to the sensibility of this sale, they say.

    Others House members signing the letter included Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; and George Miller, D-Martinez.

    UPDATE @ 10:07 FRIDAY: It seems these House members have taken a side in a battle between two unions. SEIU-United Healthcare Workers opposes letting Daughters of Charity sell to Prime Healthcare, while the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United supports the deal.

    CNA/NNU in October reached an agreement with Prime Healthcare including a pledge to keep open for at least five years O’Connor in San Jose, Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, Seton Medical Center in Daly City, and St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles. Prime also promised it has no intention of reducing patient services or taking actions that would put the services at risk, as well as respecting collective bargaining rights, jobs, pension rights and existing labor standards at the hospitals covered by the pact.

    Another potential buyer, private equity firm Blue Wolf Capital, refused to commit to keeping the hospitals open, protecting patient services, or honoring employee contracts or existing labor standards, CNA/NNU says.

    And so CNA/NNU nurses, joined by nuns associated with Daughters of Charity, will hold a vigil Friday afternoon outside O’Connor Hospital “to urge state officials to take the steps needed to preserve the hospitals for public safety. CNA co-president Zenei Cortez said those opposing the sale “without offering an alternative that would protect our patients and our communities are putting everyone at risk. Nurses will not be silent in the face of this emergency.”

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    Lofgren defends Obama at immigration hearing

    Rep. Zoe Lofgren rose to President Obama’s defense Tuesday during the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on his “executive overreach on immigration.”

    In his opening statement, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the president “has just announced one of the biggest constitutional power grabs ever by a president.”

    “The Obama Administration has crossed the line from any justifiable use of its authority to a clear violation of his constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws,” Goodlatte said, adding there’s a difference between setting prosecutorial priorities and “setting enforcement-free zones for millions of unlawful aliens.”

    “By boldly proclaiming that there will be no possibility of removal for millions of unlawful aliens, President Obama eliminates entirely any deterrent effect our immigration laws have,” he said. “He states plainly that those laws can be ignored with impunity. Such actions will entice others around the world to come here illegally, just like his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program encouraged tens of thousands of unaccompanied alien minors and families from Central America to make the dangerous trek to the United States.”

    “By acting lawlessly and assuming legislative power, the Obama Administration is driving full speed ahead to a constitutional crisis, tilting the scales of our three-branch government in his favor and threatening to unravel our system of checks and balances,” Goodlatte concluded. “Rather than working constructively with the new men and women Americans elected to represent them in Congress, the President is making his relationship with Congress increasingly toxic by unconstitutionally acting on his own. Tragically, President Obama’s shortsighted actions have further set back congressional efforts to enact legislation to reform our broken immigration system.”

    But Lofgren, D-San Jose, who is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, said while the president can’t change the law, he can take action within it – as has every president since Eisenhower.

    “The President’s actions are lawful. They are also smart, because they will allow DHS to focus limited resources on serious criminals, recent arrivals, and gang members. Finally, they are consistent with basic American values, like accountability, family unity, and compassion, Lofgren said.

    “The legal question isn’t even a close one,” she later added. “The President has clear legal authority to defer removals when it’s in the national interest. Chief Justice Roberts reaffirmed that principle just two years ago – our immigration laws recognize this authority – past Presidents have used this authority regularly. Our President is doing so now and I, for one, am grateful that he is.”

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    Boxer urges Justice Dept. probe of Ferguson PD

    The Justice Department must thoroughly review the Ferguson Police Department to determine whether there’s a pattern of excessive use of force, mistreatment of prisoners, or racial profiling in its searches and arrests, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter Tuesday.

    Barbara Boxer“I am writing to express my strong support for the Department of Justice investigation into whether the Ferguson Police Department has engaged in discriminatory policing practices,” wrote Boxer, D-Calif. “It is imperative that we find out if there is a pattern and practice of civil rights violations in Ferguson.”

    Boxer noted a lack of diversity on the St. Louis suburb’s police force. “As part of this probe, I would urge you to determine whether the lack of diversity in the Ferguson Police Department contributed to the culture of distrust between local residents and police.”

    Meanwhile, here’s how some Bay Area House members reacted on Twitter to the Ferguson situation:

    Pelosi and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, were among more than 200 who retweeted Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.:

    And Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, was among more than 2,200 who retweeted civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.:

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    Is the Bay Area’s House policy clout fading?

    For the first time in a long, long time, the Bay Area is without any committee chairs or ranking members in the House.

    Of course, the region still is home to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. But with the retirement of Rep. George Miller, the Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat and former chairman, the region’s policy influence seems blunted. It’s a far cry from 2007, when Miller chaired his committee, the late Rep. Tom Lantos chaired Foreign Affairs, and Pelosi was Speaker.

    As I wrote yesterday, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, lost her bid – despite Pelosi’s strong support – to leapfrog a more senior member and become the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking member. And though Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, announced earlier this month that he would seek to become Transportation and Infrastructure’s ranking member, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., won that vote Wednesday.

    “Peter has been my friend throughout my time here and that will continue,” Garamendi said after the vote. “Peter and I share a strong commitment to a ‘Make It In America’ agenda and trade policies that protect the environment, workers’ rights, and middle-class families. Working together, we can lead our party in addressing a range of transportation and infrastructure challenges, including water infrastructure, surface transportation, FAA, and Amtrak authorizations.”

    That’s not to say the Bay Area will be without a voice. Several Bay Area members are likely to remain the ranking members on key subcommittees (like Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security).

    And Pelosi appointed two local congressmen – Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, and Mike Thompson, D-Napa – to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which helps set the caucus’ policy agenda and nominates Democratic members for committee assignments. (They replace Pelosi’s local appointments from the 113th Congress, Miller and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.)

    “As a member of the next generation of our caucus, I look forward to working in a collaborative way to promote the policies that will lift up all Americans,” Swalwell said.

    Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will continue serving on that Democratic committee, having won re-election as a regional representative.