civil liberties

Stop the NSA: There is a new push in Congress to end the NSA’s unconstitutional domestic surveillance programs

There may finally be a passable piece of legislation in Congress to end the National Service Agency’s bulk metadata collection program as well as add some much-needed oversight to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

After working with the White House on compromise language, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) rolled out legislation — a new USA FREEDOM Act — today that would protect Americans’ civil liberties from the NSA’s spying programs:

Leahy’s bill would prevent the possibility of that broad collection by requiring agents use specific terms in their searches.

It also requires the government to disclose the number of people caught up in its searches, declare how many of them were Americans and provides more ways for tech companies to report the number of government requests for information they receive, which firms have said is critical to restoring people’s trust in their products.

Finally, Leahy’s bill would also add a panel of special civil liberties advocates to the secretive court overseeing intelligence operations, which currently only hears arguments from the government.

In announcing the bill, Leahy trumpeted support from tech companies including Apple and Google, which have teamed up with other tech giants in the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, as well as privacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Sorry, Chuck Schumer, Ted Cruz is right about Democrats’ plans to repeal political speech protections in the First Amendment

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) touched a nerve when he blasted Senate Democrats for the constitutional amendment they want to pass that would ostensibly repeal the political speech protections of the First Amendment.

Politico Magazine ran a piece earlier this week by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) in which they claimed Cruz is wrong because of certain “balancing tests” on free speech.

Basically, the two Democrats compare their absurdly unreasonable constitutional amendment to completely reasonable limitations on free speech, including safety restrictions, laws against libel, and — drumroll, please — prohibitions on child pornography. Yeah, really, they went there (emphasis added):

Stop Congress from allowing Obama’s NSA to collect more of your personal data

Yes we scan

At a time when the National Security Agency can collect the phone records and communications of millions of innocent Americans without a warrant or cause, the Senate Intelligence Committee is pushing a measure that would allow the controversial agency to access more of our personal information.

Privacy and public interest organizations have come out strongly against the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a measure that will make it easier for businesses to share information with the federal government, including the NSA.

In a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and committee members, the organizations explained how CISA poses a risk to Americans’ privacy.

“Over the last year,” the letter states, “the public has learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies have significantly stretched the meaning of statutory provisions of law in order to gather sensitive information on hundreds of millions of Americans.”

The organizations behind the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, FreedomWorks, and the R Street Institute.

The organizations explain that the NSA simply isn’t an honest player when it comes to Americans’ civil liberties. The intelligence agency has searched Americans’ communications without a warrant using laws that authorize the surveillance of only people outside of the United States and has exploited vulnerabilities in tech firms’ software and programs.

“War Comes Home” study reveals shocking costs of police militarization

War Comes Home

UL questioned earlier this month the need for law enforcement agencies in small towns like Neenah, Wisconsin, to acquire military-style weapons and vehicles to combat crime. Increasingly, these local police departments are purchasing armored vehicles, aircraft, machine guns, and other weapons of war to police relatively peaceful streets.

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a report titled “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” By examining 800 SWAT deployments across 20 agencies — from local to state to federal — the ACLU noted a disturbing trend in unnecessary and dangerous militarization due, in part, by federal grants:

Across the country, heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are forcing their way into people’s homes in the middle of the night, often deploying explosive devices such as flashbang grenades to temporarily blind and deafen residents, simply to serve a search warrant on the suspicion that someone may be in possession of a small amount of drugs. Neighborhoods are not war zones, and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. However, the ACLU encountered this type of story over and over when studying the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies.

Mayberry’s sheriff doesn’t need a tank: Conservatives should be up in arms over the militarization of police

Police Tank

Neenah is a small town of just more than 25,000 residents situated on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. There were just three murders in the period from 2000 to 2012, and both the violent and property crime rates are well below the national average.

But according to the New York Times, Neenah’s police force has acquired a vehicle you might expect to see on the streets of Kabul:

Inside the municipal garage of this small lakefront city, parked next to the hefty orange snowplow, sits an even larger truck, this one painted in desert khaki. Weighing 30 tons and built to withstand land mines, the armored combat vehicle is one of hundreds showing up across the country, in police departments big and small.

The 9-foot-tall armored truck was intended for an overseas battlefield. But as President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.

With violent crime significantly lower than the national average in this small town, why does their police force need a vehicle designed to withstand heavy combat?

Unfortunately for most Americans, these types of law enforcement acquisitions are not uncommon in towns and cities across the country, especially as we wind down conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More from the New York Times story:

Coalition Urges White House to Reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Central to the NSA spying debate is the discussion revolving around the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Currently, the statute doesn’t give Americans the right to protection of any private communications or documents stored in the cloud. The ECPA passed as an amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act and it does not protect emails, photos or even text messages from government’s access through the requirement of a search warrant approved by a judge.

The amendment passed in 1986 when current technology was just taking its first steps.

Multiple organizations have come together to persuade the White House to reform the outdated legislation designed to prevent government outreach. The coalition — which includes the R Street Institute, American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and FreedomWorks — wrote a letter to highlight the Obama administration’s lack of dedication to this matter.

According to the group, the Securities and Exchange Commission is behind the administration’s unresponsiveness.

Many efforts have been put forward to ensure that the administration addresses this issue such as the Email Privacy Act, a bill that is co-sponsored by 205 members of the House and that was introduced by Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Jared Polis (D-CO).

The bill is currently under congressional review. If the proposed legislation passes, electronic communication information stored in the cloud by third-party service providers should be protected from government access without a warrant.

How Republicans could start a conversation with Millennials

Republicans have a long way to go to make in-roads with Millennials. These young people between the ages of 18 and 34 don’t necessarily agree with the message that the party has put forward over the years, particularly on social issues.

But there are avenues through which Republicans can start a much-needed conversation with Millennials, and it starts with the controversy over the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs.

April Glaser of the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted late last week that college students are taking action on their campuses in growing numbers to spread the message about what the NSA is doing to their civil liberties. This particular advocacy organization has been traveling around the country, visiting colleges and seeing overwhelming response to this controversy.

Of all the issues in the Barack Obama’s presidency, the NSA domestic surveillance controversy has been the one to stick in Millennials minds.

In May 2013, shortly after Edward Snowden’s disclosures dominated the news cycle, CNN found that President Obama, who has constantly defended the NSA programs, held a 63/34 approval rating among this age group. But the following month, his approval rating with young voters was underwater, at 48/50.

Justin Amash: Young people have lost trust in government

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) is not your ordinary Republican. While most of his colleagues are interested in preserving the status quo, he has focused his efforts on transparency in government and protecting individual liberty.

Amash, 33, posts an explanation of every single vote he casts on his Facebook page, a practice he started when he served as a state legislator in Michigan. He has been one of the most consistent fiscal conservatives in the House of Representatives and has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the National Security Agency.

The libertarian-leaning Michigan Republican’s principled stands have often rattled the political establishment, which he wears as a badge of honor. In fact, his constituents in Michigan’s Third Congressional District have responded positively to his independence and willingness to speak out against House Republican leaders when they’re not backing up their rhetoric with bold action.

But Amash’s principled stands have motivated the establishment to recruit a primary challenger to run against him. His popularity both inside and outside in the district, however, has served him well.

The “Rebel Alliance,” what Amash calls his supporters, has stood strong behind him. He hauled in impressive $518,776 in the fourth quarter of 2013, of which $497,968 came from individual contributors. He raised $42,412.99 in a one-day money bomb event last week.

Skeptical Millennials Are Not Embracing Either Party, Says Study

Young voters have never been so mistrustful of government.

A study sponsored by the moderate Democratic think tank Third Way that was carried out by political scientist Michelle Diggles, looked into our generation to develop a sociological profile of Millennials.

The goal was to develop this profile and project how current attitudinal trends might shape politics in the years ahead of us. According to the results, both the Democratic and Republican parties could be suffering soon because of the pragmatism of Millennials.

While then senator Barack Obama was awarded by Millennials in 2008, the study shows that his popularity with young voters withered in 2012, mostly because they are disillusioned after learning Obama failed to meet the promises that got him elected in the first place. This could be an indicator that this generation, more than any other generation in history, is skeptical of politics and power players in general.

While this shift may seem positive for the GOP at first glance, researchers warn that recent political disappointments could also translate into resentment toward the Republican Party. Millenials are often socially tolerant, which could put the GOP in disadvantage if it fails to pick up the beat and back candidates that take a strong stand when it comes to personal liberties.

According to the study:

The hypocrisy of Dianne Feinstein

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) spoke out yesterday morning about the accusations that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had accessed committee staffers’ computers. In a 40-plus minute speech, Feinstein accused the agency of removing documents related to its investigation into the agency’s Bush-era detention and interrogation programs and intimidation:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the situation amounted to an attempted intimidation of congressional investigators, adding: “I am not taking it lightly.”

She confirmed that an internal agency investigation of the action has been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. And she accused the CIA of violating the Fourth Amendment, various federal laws and a presidential executive order that bars the agency from conducting domestic searches and surveillance.

She has sought an apology and recognition that the CIA search of the committee’s computers was inappropriate, but said: “I have received neither.”

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