Posts Tagged ‘Department of Justice’

The House should slow down on a flawed intelligence authorization bill

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 12:33 pm by

This post was originally published by Daniel Schuman from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on June 23, 2014 and is shared with permission.

On Friday, House leaders placed the Senate’s Intelligence Authorization bill on a fast track that would avoid substantive consideration by the full House, including the ability of representatives to offer amendments. The bill, introduced by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair and surveillance-enthusiast Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was passed by the Senate on June 11 and does not reflect the deep concerns many have regarding the behavior of the intelligence community. A floor vote should be deferred until the House has a full opportunity to work its will, including a rigorous debate on the legislation and the opportunity to consider amendments on the House floor.

Friday afternoon’s Whip Notice contained a notice by the Office of the Majority Leader that the Intelligence Authorization bill would be considered for “suspension” as early as Tuesday. Generally speaking, only non-controversial bills are put on suspension. For suspension bills, just 40 minutes of debate is allowed, with no opportunity for amendment unless an amendment is included in the motion to suspend. Because of these limits on debate, motions to suspend require a two-thirds affirmative vote to pass. The Intelligence Authorization bill should not be considered under suspension; the usual process likely was bypassed after House leaders grew alarmed by successful votes to put limits on the NSA through floor amendments to the Defense Appropriations Act.

What is there to hide?

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Court forces disclosure of police camera footage in Seattle

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 10:17 am by

On June 12, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled against the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and in favor of public access to dashboard cameras installed in Seattle police officer’s squad cars. The ruling represents a significant victory for transparency and the police accountability movement.

A local news syndicate, KOMO, had requested access to the footage from police dashcams, but they were continually denied even though the Public Records Act (PRA) mandated that, if requested, the police would release the footage recorded. SPD maintained their stance of not releasing video until three years after the recording, and also failed to mention that video older than three years old was deleted. According to Dominic Holden, writing in the Stranger:

KOMO sought the records as part of a series about SPD using excessive force and biased policing, which were the subject of a federal investigation and subsequent settlement to reform the police department. SPD refused to cough them up, making a series of bizarre, implausible claims about being unable to locate the records and having “no documents.” The SPD eventually claimed they had a three-year window in which to withhold the video footage (but then, the SPD automatically erased dash-cam footage after three years). In the meantime, the SPD released the videos to a citizen, belying claims the records were nonexistent or impossible to find.

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Judge orders DOJ to disclose secret legal opinions for court review

Monday, June 16, 2014 at 11:57 am by

This post was originally published by Dave Mass at EFF’s Deeplinks blog on May 18, 2014 and is shared with permission.

A federal judge [on June 13] ordered the Department of Justice to hand over key opinions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the “FISA court”) so the judge can directly review whether information about mass surveillance was improperly withheld from the public.

The order is another victory in EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the DOJ, which sought to reveal how the government uses Section 215 of the Patriot Act to secretly gather communications records from millions of American citizens. The suit has already forced the government to release thousands of pages of FISA court opinions, internal executive branch reports, congressional briefings, and other documents concerning Section 215. Documents released as part of the suit have shown the NSA repeatedly misled the FISA court concerning the operation of the bulk call records program, nearly leading the court to terminate the program altogether.

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Glaring omissions and unasked questions in “The Unknown Known”

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 1:05 pm by

Original commentary by Sharon Adams

rumsmileErrol Morris’ documentary on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, based on 33 hours of interviews with Donald Rumsfeld, is set to open in theaters on April 2. Morris has been on the interview circuit talking up the new flick, writing op-eds in the New York Times, and perpetuating the invisible wall of immunity around Rumsfeld and the others who violated human rights as part of the “war on terror” started by the Bush Administration.

Morris states that he wanted to know why the U.S. went to war in Iraq. He describes his motivation:

 “I had a desire to make a very specific kind of film. I call it history from the inside out. This was also true of McNamara, Fog of War. How do they see the world? The memos, the oral history is a way in. I didn’t interview 15, 20 people. I interviewed one person.”
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GOP Reps call for criminal investigation for DNI’s lies to Congress

Friday, December 20, 2013 at 9:06 pm by

CLAPPER-perjurerOn Thursday, seven members of Congress wrote a scathing letter to the Attorney General requesting a criminal investigation into potential perjury by the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. The letter — signed by Republican representatives Reps. Darrell Issa (CA), James Sensenbrenner (WI), Trent Franks (AZ), Blake Farenthold (TX), Trey Gowdy (SC), Raúl Labrador (ID) and Ted Poe (TX) — reads in part:

One of the hallmarks of American democracy is that no one is above the law….

Director Clapper…was asked a question and he was obligated to answer truthfully. He could have declined to answer. He could have offered to answer in a classified setting. He could have corrected himself immediately following the hearing. He did none of those things despite advance warning that the question was coming….

Director Clapper’s willful lie under oath fuels the unhealthy cynicism and distrust that citizens feel towards their government and undermines Congress’s ability to perform its Constitutional function.

Earlier this year, in March, Clapper testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about domestic data collection conducted by the NSA. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) posed a tough question, asking whether “the NSA collected any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper responded “No, sir,” but revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed Clapper’s denial as a lie, for which he later apologized in writing. If anything, Wyden’s question was an understatement; in fact, the NSA collects telephony metadata for every call placed within the US.

Clapper has responded inconsistently to accusations that he lied to Congress under oath, stating alternately that he answered in “the least untruthful manner possible,” that he misunderstood the question, and finally that he just “didn’t think” of the specific section of the Patriot Act that the NSA claims authorizes bulk data collection. To some lawmakers in Washington, however, “Oops” is not good enough.

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Protestors face down urban shield war games in Oakland CA

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 1:10 pm by

Between October 25 and the 28, an intimidating list of over 150 police departments, federal law enforcement agencies and private corporations participated in a series of militarized war games using the city of Oakland California as if it was their personal playground.

The exercises unfolded as various “real world” scenarios where local law enforcement agencies competed against one another from a central “Red Command.”

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“In past years, Urban Shield has featured hostage-taking scenarios involving animal rights activists, and the bombing of an oil platform by Anarchists. In an interview, Sheriff Ahern said the scenarios are sourced from threats made to law enforcement and government agencies over the past five to ten years that have been documented by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. “Many of those threats have used the formats of anarchy, in the form of white supremacy, of Muslim extremism,” Ahern said. “We simply use threats we’ve received over the last five to ten years that have been documented through our regional intelligence center.” (Eastbay Express)

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The drone tide continues to rise

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 9:48 am by

In the last couple of weeks, drones have been doing what they do best: surreptitiously showing up everywhere, from local law enforcement to the FBI.

As the NSA scandal continues to grow, compounded by the release of ever more documents that demonstrate the pervasive reach of surveillance on US soil, the significance of this should not be overlooked. Drones are part and parcel of the cancerous domestic surveillance state.

On June 19, on the tails of the first revelations of the NSA spying scandal, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller came before the Senate Judiciary committee for an oversight hearing.

In his introduction to the hearing, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reminded the committee that the FBI needed to strike the balance between safety and civil liberties. The purpose of the hearing was to “review the broad intelligence authority Congress has granted the FBI” and to “ensure…that they do not violate the privacy rights and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans.”

It seems clear that the FBI is misusing that broad intelligence authority. During the hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) questioned Director Mueller on whether the agency was using drones for domestic surveillance, based on his understanding from the Department of Justice that the DEA and ATF have drones.

The answer was yes, although the Director was quick to qualify that by saying “In a very, very minimal way, and very seldom.”

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BORDC in the news: June 3-June 19, 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 7:34 am by

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Recent news cycles have provided numerous opportunities for BORDC to inform the public about issues including revelations about Department of Justice (DOJ) attacks on the press, and secret dragnet surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA). Over the past several weeks, BORDC spokespeople have informed communities and broadcast audiences all across the country about these abuses and their profound impact on all Americans.

On June 3, BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar appeared on Counterpoint (broadcast from Bridgeport, CT on WPKN) to discuss the disturbing implications for a supposedly democratic republic of seizing press phone records in secret. Shahid explained that:

Freedom of the press is one of the defining elements of a free society…The Justice Department’s…outright seizure of records from the Associated Press…strikes a blow at the heart of the First Amendment…[T]he press can’t be free if its sources are available to the state…When anonymity is gone, when the press can’t report on…state abuses, that is definitionally part of authoritarianism…[W]e are tinkering…with the underpinnings of our society.

Shahid goes on to suggest that degrading the liberties of the American people advances the objectives of terrorists, and even parallels government practices in areas where violent radicalism thrives. He also emphasizes local activism as most viable means of countering rights violations at the federal level.

On June 10, WBAI New York City featured Shahid’s explanation of NSA surveillance programs twice, in the morning with Esther Armah’s Morning Wake Up Call, and again on Robert Knight’s Five O’Clock Shadow.

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Comey FBI nomination will put spying in spotlight

Friday, June 7, 2013 at 8:25 am by

Last week, the Obama administration anonymously leaked that James B. Comey would be its nominee to direct the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Comey formerly served as an Assistant United States Attorney, the Deputy Attorney General, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Lockheed Martin, and General Counsel of the largest hedge fund in the world.

Mr. Comey’s time as Deputy Attorney General has gained the most attention due to a dramatic 2004 incident where, as Acting Attorney General, he rushed to the bedside of a sedated John Ashcroft to refuse the renewal of the Bush Administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.

When Bush began to go ahead with the program anyway, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Comey and Ashcroft all threatened to resign. However, after unknown changes were made in the spying program, the men withdrew their threats of resignation.

Put another way, Comey affirmatively approved warrantless wiretapping of Americans. At his confirmation hearing, Comey should explain exactly what changes were made to the program, and why he believed they were sufficient to allow warrantless spying on people in the United States.

Putting the issue into sharp focus, Comey’s nomination will come on the heels of a recent leak of a court order that provides a window into the dragnet surveillance of Americans’ telephone communications initiated by the FBI. As reported by the Guardian, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order gives the National Security Agency (NSA) daily records of every phone call made by Verizon Business Customers. The revelation is just one piece of evidence pointing a much broader spying program conducted by the National Security Agency.

In recent years, the FBI has not only been conducting widespread wiretaps but also targeting, surveilling and entrapping innocent Americans. Such odious tactics are ripe for review during the confirmation of a new FBI director. The current operating guidelines for the FBI allow the FBI to investigate people without any indication of wrongdoing, including the use of informants and physical surveillance. Congress should seize this opportunity to demand that law enforcement respect constitutional protections for speech and privacy.

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5 Overlooked lessons from the AP subpoena controversy and other leak investigations

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 9:28 am by

The following post by Cindy Cohn & Trevor Timm was originally published on Electronic Frontier Foundation’s  blog Deeplinks, on May 20, 2013.

The journalism world has been rightly outraged by the Justice Department dragging the Associated Press (and now a Fox News reporter) into one of its sprawling leak investigations. As we wrote last week, by obtaining the call records of twenty AP phone lines, “the Justice Department has struck a terrible blow against the freedom of the press and the ability of reporters to investigate and report the news.”

But there are several other important lessons that this scandal can teach us besides how important free and uninhibited newsgathering is to the public’s right to know.

1.  Weak Privacy Laws That Doomed AP Affect Everyone

The AP detailed in its letter to the Justice Department how its privacy was grossly invaded even though the government accessed only the call records of its reporters and not the content of their conversations. We completely agree. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a problem in the AP investigation. Law enforcement agencies routinely demand and receive this information about ordinary Americans over long periods of time without any court involvement whatsoever, much less a full warrant.

For example, according to information released by the phone companies to Rep. Ed Markey, Sprint alone received a staggering 500,000 subpoenas for call records data last year.

The DOJ’s decision to dive into these call records shows the growing need to update our privacy laws to eliminate the outmoded Third Party Doctrine—which holds that anything you give to a service provider, or that a service provider collects as part of providing you a service—can retain no reasonable expectation of privacy. In an era where email is stored by our providers, cellphone companies keep records that track our location and cloud services hold our documents, it’s long past time to bring our interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and statutory electronic privacy laws in compliance with the 21st Century.

In response to the AP scandal, a bipartisan coalition in Congress just introduced a bill to partially fix this problem called The Telephone Records Protection Act. The bill would require the Justice Department to get a judge’s approval before seeking these records. At EFF, we think the government should have to go even further than a court order: a judicial warrant showing the kind of probable cause required by the Fourth Amendment should be the standard. But this bill is certainly an improvement over administrative subpoenas, which don’t need a sign-off from a judge at all and allow the Executive branch to seek information without any external check.

2.  Phone Companies May Give Up Your Information Without Telling You

As the New York Times reported, the AP is still examining if and when any telephone companies tried to push back on the overbroad requests for its call records. “But at least two of the journalists’ personal cellphone records were provided to the government by Verizon Wireless without any attempt to obtain permission to tell them so the reporters could ask a court to quash the subpoena,” the Times said. And it also seems clear that the AP itself wasn’t given notice before their phone company turned over the records.

In EFF’s 2013 “Who Has Your Back” report, which tracks several ways in which communications companies can help protect user privacy, we give a star for promising to notify users about government demands for data whenever whenever the company is not legally prevented from doing so. Notably, Verizon does not have such a notification policy and did not receive a star. In fact, Verizon was the only company to receive zero stars.

This isn’t a small problem or just a problem for journalists. Verizon received 260,000 similar subpoenas for call records last year. The government requests this information with regularity, and given the phone companies control the data, communications company policies are all that stand between you and governmental overreach.

Users should demand that their communications companies notify them when the government comes seeking information, unless they are legally barred by a court order.

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