Net neutrality activists will target Obama event

Activists from more than a dozen liberal grassroots groups are planning a “Don’t Kill the Internet” protest in favor of net neutrality outside President Obama’s Democratic fundraiser Wednesday in Los Altos Hills.

US-IT-INTERNET-FCCThe rally, organized by MoveOn.org Political Action and Free Press, will urge Obama to defend the open internet from a proposal by his Federal Communications Commission appointee that activists say would divide the Internet into fast lanes for wealthy businesses and slow lanes for most everyone else.

They note that Obama since his first campaign “has promised to preserve the open internet that helped him get elected and that every American relies on to access information, start a new business, and compete on a level playing field.”

Obama arrives in the Bay Area on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday will attend a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising luncheon at the Los Altos Hills home of real estate mogul George Marcus. Tickets cost $10,000 per person, or $32,000 per couple with a VIP photo opportunity.

Groups taking part in the net-neutrality rally – scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. at South San Antonio Road and West Edith Street in Los Altos – include MoveOn.org Political Action, Free Press, Common Cause, CREDO Action, Presente.org, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress, the Media Alliance, Code Pink, Daily Kos, SumOfUs, Progressives United, ACLU, and the Greenlining Institute. A similar rally is planned for another Democratic fundraiser Obama will attend later Wednesday in Los Angeles.

More than 1 million Americans have already submitted comments to the FCC on the need to preserve the open Internet, recently causing the FCC’s comment website to crash.


Court upholds voiding of handgun-ammo law

A 2009 law that would’ve required all “handgun ammunition” sales be done face-to-face, rather than online or by mail, is unconstitutionally vague and can’t be enforced, a California appeals court has ruled.

AB 962, authored by then-Assemblyman Kevin de Leon and signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also would’ve required buyers of such ammunition to show valid ID, which the seller would record and keep for at least five years. Plaintiffs led by former Tehama County Sheriff Clay Parker and represented by the National Rifle Association and California Rifle and Pistol Association sued, and a Fresno County Superior Court judge issued an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect in 2010.

The California Court of Appeal for the Fifth District agreed Wednesday, finding there’s no definition of “handgun ammunition” that’s clear enough for the law to be enforceable.

“In the absence of baseline standards, the classification of interchangeable calibers and cartridges as ‘handgun ammunition’ may be a fluid concept or a moving target, so to speak,” Associate Justice Gene Gomes wrote for himself and Associate Justice Stephen Kane.

“We find no basis from the text of the challenged statutes, their legislative history, the record on appeal, or elsewhere upon which to conclude there is a common understanding or objective meaning of the term ‘handgun ammunition.’ The level of certainty necessary to provide fair notice of the proscribed conduct and adequate standards for compliance with the law is missing. Therefore, the statutory scheme is unconstitutional.

“Because the challenged provisions fail to provide meaningful guidelines or discernable standards, there is a significant risk of arbitrary and discriminatory application by law enforcement officials. The lack of statutory guidance effectively confers discretion upon individual police officers to interpret the law themselves, thus allowing it to be enforced selectively or haphazardly. As such, the statutes do not satisfy the due process requirements under the second prong of the void-for-vagueness doctrine.”

Associate Justice Dennis Cornell dissented, writing that his colleagues’ opinion “does not accord due deference to the Legislature in its attempt to address a serious public safety concern.” He wrote that he would limit the law’s application “to those cartridges that generally are recognized as ‘principally for use’ in handguns. Under this commonsense construction, I would conclude the statutes convey a sufficiently definite warning of the regulated conduct and uphold their constitutionality.”

The Legislature since 2009 has moved toward regulating all ammunition sales, not just handgun ammunition. De Leon, now a state Senator, this year carried SB 53, which would require a background check for all ammunition purchases and licenses for all sellers; the bill will be taken up again in 2014.

And some cities are acting on their own. Sunnyvale voters on Tuesday approved Measure C, one part of which requires that ammunition sellers keep records of buyers’ IDs for two years.

The NRA will sue the city, said attorney Chuck Michel, who represented the plaintiffs against AB 962 and is pleased with Wednesday’s ruling.

“The court recognized the need for clarity in the law, particularly those that regulate constitutional rights,” Michel said in an email. “This is about more than firearm rights – it is about holding lawmakers accountable for enacting laws that people can understand and follow.”

Michel noted Wednesday’s opinion also confirmed which standard of review courts should apply in constitutional vagueness challenges, a larger legal issue unsettled by the courts for years. The ruling said that a law need not be vague in every conceivable application in order to be found unconstitutionally vague on its face, particularly if it regulates constitutionally protected activity.


Jerry Brown signs ‘revenge porn’ bill

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Tuesday that criminalizes “revenge porn” – the online sharing of what had been private photos.

SB 255 by state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Modesto, takes effect immediately, and those convicted of illegally distributing private images with the intent to harass or annoy will face six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

“I want to thank Governor Brown for recognizing that this bill was needed. Until now, there was no tool for law enforcement to protect victims,” Cannella said in a news release. “Too many have had their lives upended because of an action of another that they trusted.”

Cannella noted revenge porn often begins when relationships end, as vengeful or spiteful partners post without the victims’ knowledge what were once private photos taken with consent. Some websites even specialize in posting such materials, and charge subjects unreasonable fees to take down the illicit photos.


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.”


I’d hate to be the White House aide who…

President Barack Obama, preparing to discuss Obamacare and his administration’s controversial intelligence-gathering programs, strode to the podium at San Jose’s Fairmont Hotel this morning, greeted the crowd of reporters – and paused.

“I think there’s only one problem, and that is that my remarks are not sitting here,” he said, smiling and gesturing to the podium before calling offstage, “People!”

“By Friday afternoon, things get a little challenged,” he said, drawing laughter; a moment later, an aide handed him his notes. “Oh, somebody is tripping. Folks are sweating back there right now.”


Zoe Lofgren to present award to Aaron Swartz

Rep. Zoe Lofgren announced today that she’ll present the 2013 James Madison Award to the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz “in honor of his dedication to expanding access to public information in the digital age.”

Aaron SwartzSwartz’s family will accept the award, named in honor of President James Madison and administered by the American Library Association, which recognizes those who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know. Lofgren, D-San Jose, will present the award at a ceremony Friday night at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center in Washington, D.C.

Lofgren received this award last year for her congressional work in protecting and advancing the freedom of information, and is now drafting “Aaron’s Law” legislation to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the wire fraud statute to protect other Internet users from outsized liability for everyday activity.

Swartz – a longtime crusader against Internet censorship – was charged with two counts of wire fraud and 11 CFAA violations, carrying combined penalties of up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines plus restitution, for downloading millions of academic journal articles from a subscription-only service without authorization. He hanged himself in January in his Brooklyn apartment at age 26.

UPDATE @ 5:05 P.M. THURSDAY: Lofgren regrets she won’t be able to attend after all “because of a personal matter,” her office announced a short while ago.