A PROVISION SNUCK INTO the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.
If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs — most commonly, information about the name, address, and call data associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.
Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transaction records,” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.
Senate Fails to Extend PATRIOT Act – NSA Begins Shutdown of Bulk Spying Program
The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whowrote in a statement that one of the bill’s provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”
Wyden did not disclose exactly what the provision would allow, but his spokesperson suggested it might go beyond email records to things like web-surfing histories and other information about online behavior. “Senator Wyden is concerned it could be read that way,” Keith Chu said.
It’s unclear how or when the provision was added, although Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., — the committee’s chairman — and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have both offered bills in the past that would address what the FBI calls a gap and privacy advocates consider a serious threat to civil liberties.
“At this point, it should go without saying that the information the FBI wants to include in the statue is extremely revealing — URLs, for example, may reveal the content of a website that users have visited, their location, and so on,” Andrew Crocker, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in an email to The Intercept.
“And it’s particularly sneaky because this bill is debated behind closed doors,” Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute, said in an interview.
In February, FBI Director James Comey testifiedduring a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats that the FBI’s inability to get email records with NSLs was a “typo” — and that fixing it was one of the FBI’s top legislative priorities.
Greene warned at the time: “Unless we push back against Comey now, before you know it, the long slow push for an [electronic communication transactional records] fix may just be unstoppable.”
Ever since, the FBI has tried to get that power and has been rejected, including during negotiations over the USA Freedom Act.
The FBI’s power to issue NSLs is actually derived from the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — a 1986 law that Congress is currently working to update to incorporate more protections for electronic communications — not fewer. The House unanimously passed the Email Privacy Act in late April, while the Senate is due to vote on its version this week.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is expected to offer an amendment that would mirror the provision in the intelligence bill.
Privacy advocates warn that adding it to the broadly supported reform effort would backfire.
“If [the provision] is added to ECPA, it’ll kill the bill,” Gabe Rottman, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s freedom, security, and technology project, wrote in an email to The Intercept. “If it passes independently, it’ll create a gaping loophole. Either way, it’s a big problem and a massive expansion of government surveillance authority.”
NSLs have a particularly controversial history. In 2008, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine blasted the FBI for using NSLs supported by weak evidence and documentation to collect information on Americans, some of which “implicated the target’s First Amendment rights.”
“NSLs have a sordid history. They’ve been abused in a number of ways, including … targeting of journalists and … use to collect an essentially unbounded amount of information,” Crocker wrote.
One thing that makes them particularly easy to abuse is that recipients of NSLs are subject to a gag order that forbids them from revealing the letters’ existence to anyone, much less the public.
Update: May 26, 2016 This story has been updated to provide a comment from Wyden’s office.
FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill in February 2016.
In Wyoming, Reporting Environmental Damage Could Land You in Prison
A law passed by Wyoming Republicans officially makes it illegal for citizens to collect evidence of pollution on public land that could lead to a government investigation of environmental destruction.
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed Senate Bill 12 into law in March making it a criminal offense to “collect resource data,” such as photographs of polluted waterways and land that is private, public, or federal outside of city limits. Violators of the law could face a $5,000 fine and/or prison time. According to ThinkProgress,
Under the law “collect” means to “take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted, or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state, or federal government.” The laws says that only citizens who are given express permission to collect such evidence can actually do so, which quite frankly makes it easier for public and private employees to cover up environmental wrongdoing. For example, if a cattle rancher allows his herd to graze too close to public waterways on public land and the cattle cause an E. coli outbreak in the water that could poison people, citizens who collect evidence of this to report to government agencies would be subject to prosecution. In short, the law is an effort to silence and censor whiste-blowers and environmental activists from proving that landowners are illegally polluting public lands.
The Wyoming Sierra Club condemned the law in a statement to ThinkProgress as a broad effort to prevent scientific research and other efforts to help protect the environment.
“We are deeply concerned that this poorly written and overly vague bill will prevent concerned citizens and students from undertaking valuable research projects on public lands, out of fear of accidentally running afoul of the new law (the scope of which no one clearly understands) and being criminally and civilly prosecuted. There is no need for this new bill, and we can only conclude that it is an attempt by private landowners to scare people away from valid research efforts on public land.”
This effort by Wyoming Republicans happened at the same time that Republicans in the United States Senate voted unanimously to sell public lands, including national forests and waterways, to states whose conservative governments will likely turn around and sell those lands to private industry for mining, logging, and drilling.
Why conceal this information instead of using it to clean up the environment?
According to a recent Slate article, a local environmental group found that many Wyoming streams are contaminated by E. coli bacteria. That contamination comes from cow waste that has seeped into waterways. Ranchers don’t want to change their operations, cutting off the source of the pollution. Instead, they chose to cut off the source of complaints.
We’ve seen this strategy from big animal ag interests before.
More than 20 state legislatures have introduced bills limiting public access to information about animal farming since 2011; four have passed. So-called ag-gag laws are aimed at whistleblower workers and concerned neighbors who share photos or videos from factory farms. This “gags” people from coming forward to report food safety threats, workers’ abuses, environmental problems, and animal welfare issues. Many of these laws are based on a “model law” drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2002. ALEC is a conservative group for state legislators funded by corporations. The group promotes an anti-regulatory, pro-industry agenda.
Of all the industries that would benefit from citizen oversight, the beef industry, which has seen drastic cuts in government inspectors, may rank the highest.
Here are just a few reasons why:
Working on a factory farm or in a slaughterhouse is a dangerous job. Workers labor for long hours, are paid little, and experience high injury rates.
Animal waste can contain high concentrations of Salmonella, E. coli, and Cryptosporidium. These pathogens, along with antibiotics, ammonia, heavy metals, and hormones can end up in waterways humans use for drinking and swimming.
Time and time again, whistleblowers have come forward with horrific accounts of animal abuses. In a recent investigation in Wisconsin, video shows workers cutting off cows’ tails with pruning shears, spraying them in the face with high-pressure water hoses, and dragging them by their necks with ropes attached to tractors.
The meat industry has argued for self-regulation to avoid government inspectors. And they have threatened workers who come forward with complaints of illegal and unethical behavior.
We live in a democracy; it’s time we start behaving like one. State legislatures should not be able to suppress information or muzzle citizen activism intended to improve our health and safety.
The world’s most powerful people have come together to meet and discuss world affairs in secret yet again, this time in Sitges, Spain.
The Bilderberg Group is an unofficial conference of around 150 invitation-only guests who are insiders in politics, banking, business, the military and the media. The group’s meetings are held in secret and are closed to the public; the group supposedly meets to strategize global politics and economics for the coming year. The current conference is being held at a luxury hotel in Sitges, Spain under heavy security.
Many are still unaware of the group’s existence, but those who are aware are more concerned about the organizations secrecy than their mere existence.
“All the bad things are always done in darkness,”said Luke Rudkowski of We Are Change.
Rudkowski argues that the group meets and plans out the coming year’s worth of global economic and political events. Using the examples of the rise in oil prices in the past to the downfall of the US economy, Rudkowski said these were procedural steps in the process to meet their end game, which is a single world economic and governance system controlled by the world bank and IMF, eventually leading to a one world currency implemented by the G8 and G20.
“They want to destroy the American dollar in order to have a one world government currency,” said Rudkowski.
The current meeting is an effort to strategize a recovery for the Euro to ensure its success as a currency to weaken the dollar and push the US into a regional block known as the North American Union.
“You could say the American economy is doing fine right now, let’s see what is going to happen within the years because we gave $24 trillion according to Bloomberg news to the wall street banksters. Timothy Geithner was in charge of that, he goes to these meetings as well,” said Rudkowski.
According to Rudkowski, the individuals behind the Bilderberg Group want to “destroy American sovereignty and freedom” to further their goal of a global consolidation of power.
“We cannot allow these psychotic elites to rule our lives and we have to stand up for what’s really right and expose them for what they are,” said Rudkowski.
Rudkowski argues that the Greek debt crisis occurred because of faulty loans by Goldman Sachs that were essentially the efforts of the Bilderberg Group to rush their plans to consolidate power and integration in Europe.
In the United States, Rudkowski argues that Americans are breaking the law by attending these secret meetings, specifically citing the Logan Act. The Logan Act is a US law that prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.
“Do you feel comfortable with your decisions of our life being made by undemocratic illegal plutocratic psychotic elites?” asked Rudkowski.
A former rising star at the CIA accused of drugging, raping and taping Muslim women while stationed in the Middle East appeared before a federal judge in Virginia today after skipping a pre-trial hearing more than a week ago and going on what sources called an apparent drug binge. Andrew Warren was arrested after an intensive search by federal officials concerned he might be a danger to himself.
A U.S. government employee in Algeria allegedly drugged victims.
According to two federal law enforcement sources, drug paraphernalia and a handgun were found in the Virginia motel room where Warren, former CIA chief of station in Algeria, was arrested. Warren sat in a wheelchair during his Monday afternoon court appearance.
A person close to Warren told ABC News that State Department officials began searching for Warren 11 days ago after he missed a routine pre-trial appearance and could not be found. “His phones were shut off, and none of his family or friends had heard from him,” the person told ABC News.
Warren, 42, was located after federal law enforcement officers reached out to his friends and family, warning them that they were concerned for Warren’s safety and believed he was armed and consuming crack cocaine. He was arrested by local police, U.S. Marshals and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service at a Norfolk, Virginia Ramada Limited hotel late Monday. He was taken by law enforcement officials to a local hospital.
The former station chief’s fall from grace has been dramatic. According to two former CIA officials, Warren was a rising star at the CIA. He was a fluent Arabic speaker who had converted to Islam, making him an ideal officer in the Middle East for the intelligence agency. Officially, however, CIA has refused to acknowledge Warren was their spy.
Before being posted to Algeria, Warren had served in Egypt, Afghanistan, and a stint in that CIA domestic station in New York. It was in New York, a few years after 9/11, that supervisors spotted him as a potential star, ready to be deployed around the world as a spy. Within a very short time – four years – Warren had been posted as station chief in Algeria.
Warren worked for the agency in the Middle East until October 2008, until he was recalled from the region and then fired after two women came forward and accused him of rape, accusations which were first reported by ABC News’ Brian Ross in January 2009. He was charged with one federal count of sexual abuse in June.
Stephen Ohlemacher, On Thursday April 22, 2010, 8:06 pm EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 4 million Americans — the vast majority of them middle class — will have to pay a penalty if they don’t get insurance when President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law kicks in, according to congressional estimates released Thursday.
The penalties will average a little more than $1,000 apiece in 2016, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report.
Most of the people paying the fine will be middle class as Obama’s comprehensive law is phased in over the next few years. In his 2008 campaign for the White House, Obama pledged not to raise taxes on individuals making less than $200,000 a year and couples making less than $250,000.
Republicans have criticized the requirement that Americans get coverage, even though the idea was originally proposed by the GOP in the 1990s and is part of the Massachusetts health care plan signed into law in 2006 by then Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican. Attorneys general in more than a dozen states are working to challenge it in federal court as unconstitutional.
“The individual mandate tax will fall hardest on Americans who can least afford to pay it, many of whom were promised subsidies by the Democrats and who the president has promised would not pay higher taxes,” saidRep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said while Obama and congressional Democrats celebrate the benefits of the law, they have an obligation to acknowledge the flip side. “There’s a price for not participating, and people will pay it,” Grassley said.
Democrats argue that the requirement and the penalties are a necessary part of a massive overhaul designed to expand coverage to millions who now lack it. They point out that getting more Americans, especially young and healthy people, in the insurance pool will reduce costs for others and could lower premiums.
“The new law will make health insurance affordable for everyone and CBO’s analysis confirms that the vast majority of uninsured Americans will find health care affordable and choose to participate,” said White House spokesman Nick Papas.
Americans who don’t get qualified health insurance will be required to pay penalties starting in 2014, unless they are exempt because of low income, religious beliefs, or because they are members of American Indian tribes. The penalties will be fully phased in by 2016.
About 21 million nonelderly residents will be uninsured in 2016, according to projections by the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation. Most of those people will be exempt from the penalties.
Under the new law, the penalties will be phased in starting in 2014. By 2016, those who must get insurance but don’t will be fined $695 or 2.5 percent of their household income, whichever is greater.
After 2016, the penalties will be increased by annual cost-of-living adjustments. People will not be required to get coverage if the cheapest plan available costs more than 8 percent of their income.
The penalties will be collected by the Internal Revenue Service through tax returns. However, the IRS will not have the authority to bring criminal charges or file liens against those who don’t pay.
About 3 million of those required to pay fines in 2016 will have incomes below $59,000 for individuals and $120,000 for families of four, according to the CBO projections. The other 900,000 people who must pay the fine will have higher incomes.
The government will collect about $4 billion a year in fines from 2017 through 2019, according to the report