civil liberties

CISPA making a comeback…again

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) could soon be coming back up in Congress thanks to efforts by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).

After quite speculation at the end of last monthMother Jones reported on Monday that Feinstein confirmed that she and Chambliss were working to revive the measure, which is sure to get under the craw of Internet activists and civil liberties groups.

“I am working with Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) on bipartisan legislation to facilitate the sharing of cyber related information among companies and with the government and to provide protection from liability,” Feinstein told Mother Jones. “The legislation will…still maintain necessary privacy protections.”

This is the second attempt this year to move CISPA through Congress. The House of Representatives passed CISPA back in April, over a veto threat from the White House due to a lack of privacy protections. The Senate, however, shelved the measure shortly thereafter.

Heritage Foundation may be shifting on government surveillance

Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation, considered to be one of Washington’s most influential think tanks, appears to have had a change of heart on government surveillance programs that it once supported.

Once a place where ignoring constitutionally protected civil liberties seemed to be a virtue, the conservative think tank, under the leadership of former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), recently declined to publish two papers that supported the National Security Agency’s snooping, according to Foreign Policy:

Heritage refused to publish two papers about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs written by a prominent conservative attorney. Why? Because he concluded that the programs were legal and constitutional, according to sources familiar with the matter. It was a surprising move for a think tank that has supported extension of the Patriot Act — which authorizes some of NSA’s activities — and has long been associated with right-of-center positions on national security and foreign policy.

Learn Liberty: The Human Cost of the Drug War

 Cost of the War on Drugs

The heavy emphasis on the war on drugs is leading police officers to neglect other areas of public safety, according to the latest video from Learn Liberty, a project of the Institute for Human Studies.

In the video, Alex Kreit, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, explains that in New York City, for example, police officers have spent 1 million man-hours to make 440,000 arrests for marijuana possession since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002. He notes that these hours could have been better spent tracking down violent criminals, such as murderers and rapists.

“Nationwide, we would save $41.3 billion every year by ending the war on drugs,” says Kreit. “That’s tens of millions of man-hours in investigation, office work, and court appearances for drug cases. We’re choosing to direct these resources to crimes other than rapes and murders, only to arresting and incarcerating large numbers of non-violent offenders.”

“Worse yet,” he continues, “the war on drugs doesn’t even work.”

Senators roll out NSA surveillance reform measure

NSA reform press conference

Congress may be dealing with other legislative priorities at the moment, such as passing a stop-gap funding measure to keep the government open, but the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance apparatus remains a hot topic.

Seeking to roll back the intelligence agency’s ability to spy on Americans, a bipartisan group of senators have proposed a package of measures to reform the PATRIOT Act — the legislation through which the NSA has claimed such broad power — and restore the Fourth Amendment.

The Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), would end the NSA’s bulk collection of phone and Internet metadata and prevent warrantless collection of communications, according to a statement provided by his office. It would also provide for a “constitutional advocate” on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), an idea backed by President Barack Obama.

“The overbroad surveillance activities that have come to light over the last few months have shown how wide the gap between upholding the constitutional liberties of American citizens and protecting national security has become,” said Wyden in the statement.

Obama’s NSA review panel lacks transparency, independence

The supposedly “independent” panel tasked with reviewing the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs is, unsurprisingly, less than transparent and filled with insiders, according to the Associated Press (AP).

The AP reports that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who wittingly lied to Congress about the existence of the programs, has waived rules transparency rules. The final report produced by the panel will also have go through the White House before it is released to the public.

“The panel’s advisers work in offices on loan from the DNI. Interview requests and press statements from the review panel are carefully coordinated through the DNI’s press office,” noted the AP over the weekend. “James Clapper, the intelligence director, exempted the panel from U.S. rules that require federal committees to conduct their business and their meetings in ways the public can observe.”

“Its final report, when it’s issued, will be submitted for White House approval before the public can read it,” the AP added. “Its meetings in recent weeks with technology industry and privacy groups have been closed to the public even though no classified information was discussed, according to participants.”

Justin Amash passes on Michigan Senate race

Justin Amash

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), an young and outspoken liberty-minded Republican, has decided to pass on the open Senate seat in Michigan, according to a report from the National Journal:

Amash was tempted by the allure of a campaign for higher office, sources say, but the second-term lawmaker ultimately was unwilling to risk surrendering the clout he enjoys among conservatives in the GOP-controlled House. (His advisers also didn’t like the uncertain internal polling against his expected general-election contender, but sources say that didn’t affect Amash’s decision.)
“Justin feels that he’s hitting his stride in the House, and that it’s the best place for him right now,” said one source close to Amash.

The National Journal explained some of the logistical background that ultimately led to the decision, including the fact that Michigan is generally considered to be a blue state. They also note that Amash’s internal polling in the primary “showed him running comfortably ahead of a weak GOP primary field.”

Terri Lynn Land, who served for eight years as Michigan’s Secretary of State, is thought to be the frontrunner for the nomination. Polling shows Land running close to Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI), the likely Democratic nominee. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) believes the race is competitive.

John McCain may finally retire

John McCain

After 27 long years on Capitol Hill and two failed presidential bids, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) may finally be ready to retire. The Hill picked up on comments that the Arizona senator made during a recent interview:

The 77-year-old’s current term is up in 2016. When asked if this would really be his last term, McCain backtracked a bit.

“Nah, I don’t know,” McCain said. “I was trying to make a point. I have to decide in about two years so I don’t have to make a decision. I don’t want to be one of these old guys that should’ve shoved off.”

McCain made the initial remark about retirement off-the-cuff to a group of Obama supporters who interrupted the interview as he was arguing that television providers should unbundle their channels.

Yes, please?

McCain has long been a thorn in the side of conservatives and libertarians, voting for bloated budgets and pushing unpopular positions on a number of policies. Just this year alone, he opposed Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on drones, backed more onerous gun control measures, and tried to help Senate Democrats push their big spending budget into a conference with the House without a guarantee against a stealth debt limit increase.

#StandWithRand: Kentucky Senator may filibuster military strikes against Syria

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is floating the possibility of a filibuster against the resolution that the White House is working hard to push through Congress that would authorize the use of military force against Syria:

“I can’t imagine that we won’t require 60 votes on this,” Paul told reporters on an afternoon conference call. “Whether there’s an actual standing filibuster — I’ve got to check my shoes and check my ability to hold my water. And we will see. I haven’t made a decision on that.”
When it comes to Syria, Paul said he believes the best hope for defeating a resolution to authorize military action will come in the House. He reiterated his view that an attack on Syria would create more turbulence and danger in the region, and may not even disable the Syrian government’s ability to launch chemical attacks.

Back in March, Paul led a 13-hour talking filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan, during which he and other senators — including Ted Cruz and Mike Lee — offered a substantive critique of the Obama Administration drones policy. The filibuster propelled Paul to the national stage, making him a formidable figure in the Republican Party and a rare conservative voice for civil liberties. He was able to change the narrative of the debate on drones and sway public opinion in a single stand.

Defense Department training docs: Individual liberty is an “extremist” view

Do you believe in individual liberty or federalism? If so, the Department of Defense (DOD) says you’re an “extremist,” according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Judicial Watch.

The documents were part of training guides used by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute in 2011 and 2013 to educate Air Force employees and/or recruits on extremism in the United States. It uses the far-left group the Southern Poverty Law Center, which frequently smears conservatives and libertarians, as a source for determining extremist groups.

There are valid as aspects to the report, such as raising awareness toward groups that are supremacist in nature or advocate violence as a means to a desired political end. But Judicial Watch notes that there is no mention Islamic extremism in the report, though it does passively discuss radical religious ideologies and cults. It also briefly mentions eco-terrorism, which comes from the far-left.

But other parts are incredibly concerning, such as how it broadly paints limited government advocates as racists and supremacists.

“The standard hate message has not changed, but it has been packaged differently. Modern extremist groups run the gamut from the politically astute and subtle to the openly violent,” says the report on page 45. “Nowadays, instead of dressing in sheets or publicly espousing hate messages, many extremists will talk of individual liberties, states’ rights, and how to make the world a better place.”

NSA spying hurting Obama with young voters

Young people and Obama

Young Americans like their privacy, and they would be grateful if President Barack Obama would stop spying on them, thank you very much.

That’s what the The Hill noted yesterday as they looked at a couple of different polls released since the NSA surveillance controversy became news, one of which showed a drop in President Obama’s approval rating and the other showing support for Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower:

Some polls show a double-digit drop in Obama’s approval rating since Edward Snowden revealed NSA secrets, weakening the president ahead of fall fights with congressional Republicans over the budget and immigration.

Polling taken by The Economist and YouGov finds a 14-point swing in Obama’s approval and disapproval rating among voters aged 18-29 in surveys taken immediately before the NSA revelations and last week. Overall, the swing in Obama’s approval rating moves just four points.

A USA Today/Pew Research poll released in June found that young voters were significantly more likely to support Snowden’s decision to leak classified material. While 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said exposing the surveillance programs served the public good, just 36 percent of those over 65 said the same.

Americans under 29 said by a 50-44 percent margin the U.S. should not pursue a criminal case against him, while every other age bracket said the government should. Younger Americans were also more likely than any other age group to disapprove of the NSA’s surveillance programs overall.

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