The Obama Administration has ruled out using internal administrative policy to reform controversial federal surveillance programs, a top Justice Department official said.
Officials have not tried to persuade the country’s surveillance court to change its understanding of the law, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and do not plan to replace a National Security Agency (NSA) program with other ways to collect data about Americans.
“We think that our choices at this point really come down to what has been approved by the courts over a number of years, new legislation or else not having the tools at all,” he said.
Attorney General Cole’s statement came in response to a question from Sen Mark Udall (D-CO), a critic of the NSA's surveillance, who claimed that the administration “has the tools it needs” through other methods to protect national security while also not violating their privacy. Opponents of the NSA’s program to collect records about people’s phone calls say that the federal government could abandon the program and use other means, such as national security letters, to collect the data.
“The current law gives the government broad authority right now -- right now-- to obtain records quickly,” Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), another critic of the government surveillance, told Attorney General Cole. “The fact that this dragnet surveillance is taking place right now is unacceptable to me.”
Sen Tom Harkin (D-IA) wants US airlines to add closed captioning to movies that are shown during long flights in an effort to aid hearing impaired airline passengers.
Sen Harkin said he was considering adding an amendment requiring the airline industry to at least study the proposal to a $54 billion funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development during a markup of the measure.
"I have been trying for some time to get the airlines to provide closed captions on the movies on their airplanes. I can't understand why they don't do it. It doesn't cost anything," Harkin said after the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to send the measure to the full of the floor Senate.
The chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said that she would try to include the amendment addressing Sen Harkin's concerns in the final version of the transportation department funding measure when it reaches the Senate floor.
A coalition of privacy groups is pushing the Senate to pass a stronger surveillance reform bill than the USA Freedom House that recently sailed through the House.
“The result we seek is legislation that will protect constitutional and human rights and assure necessary oversight of the intelligence community’s collection of individuals’ personal information,” 30 groups said in a letter to leadership.
Signatories include the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Demand Progress and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is slated to take up the House bill, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has said he will turn his attention to NSA reform later this summer with an eye on strengthening privacy provisions in the House-passed bill.
In their letter to Senate leadership and the leadership of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees, the privacy groups pointed to eleventh-hour changes to the USA Freedom Act in the House before the final vote on the bill.
Ahead of the one-year anniversary of his first leaks about the National Security Agency, former contractor Edward Snowden is calling for Internet users and companies take up the reins on their own.
"One year ago, we learned that the Internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives -- no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be,” he said. “Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same.”
Snowden is throwing his support behind an online effort that Web companies and advocacy organizations are calling Reset the Net.
Google, Mozilla, reddit and other leading websites are teaming up with advocacy organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee for the push, which is aimed at increasing users’ privacy protections online. The campaign is looking for popular websites and online services to offer more online security in the absence of and in addition to any legislation from Congress.
Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other top technology companies are warning the Senate not to follow the House’s lead with a compromised plan to reform the National Security Agency.
A coalition of nine major companies is planning to publish an open letter calling for the Senate to limit the NSA’s powers, the one-year anniversary of Edward Snowden’s first revelations about the spy agency. The same day, a top trade group head will warn the Senate Intelligence Committee that the spy agency’s activities could lead to “seriously damaging long-term implications” for the global economy. Together, the efforts amount to a concerted push to pressure the Senate to rein in surveillance, after the House passed a bill that many reformers thought was too weak.
“Over the last year many of our companies have taken important steps, including further strengthening the security of our services and taking action to increase transparency,” the nine-member Reform Government Surveillance coalition wrote in the letter, which will be published in The Washington Post, New York Times and Politico. “But the government needs to do more.”
The tech coalition is made up of Google, Facebook, AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, Yahoo, Dropbox and LinkedIn.The trade group includes major companies like Dell, Sony, Intel and eBay, in addition to several of the companies in the Reform Government Surveillance group.
Labor activists are accusing T-Mobile of labor violations ahead of the company's annual shareholder meeting.
They say the telecommunications company is not treating US workers fairly by discouraging them from unionizing.
"Worldwide, and especially in Germany where T-Mobile’s parent company Deutsche Telekom is based, T-Mobile workers benefit from better protections than their American counterparts because of an employee union," the activists wrote in a petition to the company.
At the shareholder meeting, the Marco Consulting Group will call on T-Mobile's board of directors to conduct a human rights risk assessment. Nearly 28,000 protesters have signed the petition demanding that the company stop violating the rights of US workers.
[Commentary] The clock is rapidly expiring on the 113th Congress. While in the rest of the world, the beginning of June signals a nearing to the midpoint of the year, in Congress during an even-numbered election year, when the calendar flips to June, it signals a mere 10 workweeks until the end of the federal government's fiscal year.
Whether Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) runs the House, this calendar remains as the July Fourth and August recesses allow members to stay connected with their constituents back home.
Everyone who has been in Washington for any length of time knows this time table. It focuses the minds of lawmakers on what can be accomplished and what cannot as the Congress draws near a close. One prime example where the clock is in danger of running out on a law is the re-authorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA).
A clean bill, without controversial amendments, would very likely pass before Congress adjourns, but amendments being considered by retiring Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) could serve as poison pills to the whole process. At the urging of pay-television advocates, the Democratic majority on the committee would use the expiring law to create a new set of regulatory regimes that cripple the local broadcaster's ability to survive.
STELA is the law which, at least partially, governs the relationship between local broadcasters and pay-television providers. Unfortunately, Sen Rockefeller's committee is considering amendments to STELA which benefit pay-television providers to the detriment of those who produce local content.
Even on Capitol Hill, it should be clear that the federal government compelling a private business to provide its services to another private business without a contractually agreed-upon payment price is wrong and should be rejected. Yet that is exactly what the pay-television industry hopes to put into reauthorization language dooming the bill.
[Manning is is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government]
The government of the Bahamas has hired American lawyers to help with US surveillance, after a report alleged that the National Security Agency was monitoring all the island nation's calls.
A week after the report based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the Bahamas directed the law firm Hogan Lovells to advise and represent it on a range of government actions “that may affect or relate to [its] activities and interests... including but not limited to surveillance and privacy matters,” according to a federal disclosure document. The inclusion of surveillance matters was a new issue for the law firm.
Though it had represented the Bahamas since at least 2001, surveillance and privacy issues were not on its list of interests. In the past, the Bahamas had been more focused on trade and aviation issues with the US.
The Department of Justice has kicked off a process to review its decades-old consent decrees with the music industry’s largest licensing organizations. The move was applauded by the two organizations -- Broadcast Music (BMI) and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) -- who have protested the decrees, saying that the Justice Department’s rules to protect competition in the music licensing market have not kept up with changing technologies.
“The Department understands that ASCAP, BMI and some other firms in the music industry believe that the Consent Decrees need to be modified to account for changes in how music is delivered to and experienced by listeners,” the Justice Department wrote in its announcement of the review. The Department directed commenters to file via the agency’s website or mail by Aug 6.
The agency’s rules for BMI and ASCAP date back to the US government’s concerns in the 1940s that the music industry’s two largest licensing organizations -- which sell blanket copyright licenses to those looking to play the music publicly, such as television stations and restaurants -- were acting in anticompetitive ways.
But BMI and ASCAP -- whose consent decrees were last updated in 1994 and 2001, respectively -- say the rules haven’t kept pace with changing technology, including the proliferation of Internet radio services like Pandora, depriving songwriters and publishers of fair compensation.
A massive transformation of the nation’s medical system is underway as doctors and hospitals migrate to digital records.
The shift promises to fundamentally alter medical care in the United States by introducing standard information technology across the system.
A uniform electronic health record will give doctors a more complete picture of a patient’s medical history, including data from other clinical settings that might be missing in a paper record. But healthcare providers say they are struggling with the transition under the federal “Meaningful Use” incentive program that was designed to speed progress.
Four years after its rollout, hospitals and doctors say the electronic health records (EHRs) initiative is hampering their ability to deliver care.
“These software programs have deprived us of our efficiency, taken us away from interacting with patients and forced us to be secretaries and clerks,” said Dr Steven Stack, a past board chairman of the American Medical Association (AMA). “These are real frustrations for physicians, and they need to be addressed with a mid-course correction in the program,” he said.