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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.”

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Muslim group plans Sacramento lobbying blitz

A Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group will focus its California lobbying blitz next month on bills dealing with police surveillance, equal pay for women, and a freeze on tuition at state colleges and universities.

CAIRCalifornialogoThe California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is planning its 4th annual California Muslim Day at the State Capitol for Monday, April 27. They’ll be reaching out to legislators about issues that impact the Muslim community broadly, and to push for three bills in particular.

SB 178, the California Electronic Communication Privacy Act by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would provide protection against warrantless government access private electronic communications such as emails, text messages and GPS data that are held on smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital devices. Police would have to go to a judge and get a warrant before accessing such information.

SB 358, the California Fair Pay Act by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would will help to ensure that women are paid equally when they do the same work as men, and protect workers from retaliation when they inquire or speak out about wage differences at work. CAIR notes that in 2013, a California woman working full-time earned 84 cents to every dollar earned by a man doing the same job; the gap is considerably wider for women of color.

AB 42 by Assemblywoman Young Kim, D-Fullerton, would require the California Community Colleges and California State University – and ask the University of California – to freeze tuition and fees at their 2014-15 levels while the tax hikes enacted by voters as Proposition 30 of 2012 remain in effect.

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New bill would bar drones over private property

Drone aircraft would be prohibited from trespassing over private property in California, under a bill introduced this week.

SB 142 by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would clarify the state’s existing language on trespassing – which forbids people from entering someone’s private property, and from taking photos or recordings there – to specify that it also applies to remotely operated aerial vehicles.

Hannah-Beth Jackson“Drones have a lot of potentially useful and extremely innovative uses. But invading our privacy and property without permission shouldn’t be among them. When we’re in our backyards, with our families, we have an expectation that we have a right to privacy,” Jackson said in a news release. “This bill would extend these long-established definitions of trespassing and privacy, and bring them into the 21st century, by applying them also to drones.”

The bill wouldn’t affect drone use in public areas or in airspace above about 400 feet, which is under federal regulation. Jackson introduced her bill Monday, hours after a drone crashed on the White House lawn.

Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, introduced a bill in December 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. 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 marijuana grows in wilderness areas. Gov. Jerry Brown in September vetoed another bill on this subject.

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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.”

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USA Freedom Act vote splits Bay Area reps

The Bay Area’s House delegation was somewhat split – and along surprising lines – as the House voted 303-121 on Thursday to pass a bill supporters say would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The USA Freedom Act, HR 3361, was amended after it arrived on the House floor, and some former supporters believed it had been watered down too much; for example, a requirement for an independent public advocate on the secret intelligence court that oversees the NSA was dropped from the bill.

Voting for the bill were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and representatives Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton.

From Thompson:

“Our government has a responsibility to protect people’s civil liberties and our national security, and this legislation does both. It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability of our intelligence community, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”

Voting against the bill were representatives Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

From Lofgren:

“Across the country, many people were surprised to learn that the privacy rights they believed were protected under the 4th Amendment did not apply to NSA surveillance of their communications.

“I originally cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act when it was introduced last yearbecause it was a small step toward reform and transparency. Unfortunately the bill was changed in key ways after committee action and will no longer provide the protections I sought.

“I voted against it today because it falls short of the Fourth Amendment protections Americans deserve.

“There is strong bipartisan concern that this bill makes it legal for the NSA to continue mass surveillance of U.S. citizens. Many civil liberties groups and leading tech companies share these concerns and felt compelled to withdraw their support.

“Without much needed improvements to the USA FREEDOM Act, Congress risks a continuation of mass surveillance in this extension of the Patriot Act.”

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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.