Posts Tagged ‘obama administration’

Corporate and national security interests align in battle over CISPA

Posted on: April 23rd, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 3 Comments

Photo: Flickr/University of Exeter

After privacy activists and internet companies joined forces to derail the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), they are now on opposing sides in a fight over another piece of legislation seeking to regulate the internet. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was introduced into the House of Representatives as HR 3523, and has 112 cosponsors. The legislation is scheduled to be voted on by the House on Wednesday. While lawmakers and corporate interests supporting the bill say it is necessary to help prevent cyber attacks, opponents claim that it is a federal overreach on par with SOPA.

Introduced by Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, CISPA was referred to the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was voted out of committee in December. The committee released a statement pointing to a number of reasons it believes the bill should be supported. The claims include that it helps businesses defend themselves from attacks, it keeps the federal government’s hands off the internet, protects Americans’ privacy, does not impose new federal regulations or mandates, and was written in the open in a bipartisan way.

If enacted it would allow the United States government and private companies to communicate about cyber security threats and share information. Opponents point to a clause in the bill stating that the information will be shared “notwithstanding any law,” which means that CISPA trumps any federal or state privacy law that currently prohibits disclosure of private information. In addition there are no limitations on what the information can be used for or how long it can be stored. The legislation also lacks transparency, as the sharing authorized by CISPA is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Unlike SOPA, internet and technology companies have been very supportive of the proposed law. Companies including AT&T, IBM and Verizon are supporting the legislation, and those and 25 other companies have written letters to Congress in support of CISPA. Tim McKone, AT&T executive vice president, wrote that AT&T supports CISPA “as an important and positive step in strengthening cybersecurity collaboration. The sharing of cyber threat and attack information is an essential component of an effective cyber-defense strategy, and the legislation helps to provide greater clarity for private sector entities.”

Some of the same companies that led the fight against SOPA and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are supporting CISPA. Joel Kaplan, the Vice President of U.S. public policy at Facebook, wrote that CISPA “removes burdensome rules that currently can inhibit protection of the cyber ecosystem, and helps provide a more established structure for sharing within the cyber community while still respecting privacy rights.” Behind the scenes, Google helped craft the legislation. Rep. Rogers told the Hill that Google has “been helpful and supportive of trying to find the right language in the bill.”

Digital Trends has compiled a list of more than 800 companies and organizations that have provided either direct or indirect support for CISPA. In addition to internet and telecom companies, supporters include technology giants such as Microsoft and powerful defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin. Hundreds of companies are represented by powerful trade groups that support CISPA including the the Business Roundtable, Information Technology Industry Council, and National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

The Business Roundtable, which includes Bank of America, ExxonMobil, and General Electric as members, spends millions lobbying congress every year. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2011 the group spent $12.2 million lobbying on a range of issues from taxes to immigration. Among the legislation that the Business Roundtable has lobbied on is CISPA. Only Cisco Systems (also a member of the Business Roundtable) and National Cable & Telecommunications Association have lobbied as much the Business Roundtable for CISPA.

It is not just corporate interests that have been lobbying for CISPA. The National Security Agency (NSA) has been pushing to expand its role in preventing cyber attacks to the private sector. NSA officials have argued for expanded legal authority for the agency, and the ability to monitor the internet traffic of companies involved in critical infrastructure systems designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While the NSA has issued reassurances that private information will not be monitored, the Obama Administration has blocked attempts by the agency to expand its role.

A grassroots coalition of civil liberties organizations and online activists have organized in opposition of CISPA, but without online giants such as Facebook and Wikipedia they have been unable to generate much public outcry. Organizations such as Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), the Sunlight Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have been mobilizing online activists through social media, and encouraging people to contact their representatives in congress to urge them to vote against the bill.

The co-sponsors of CISPA include seven lawmakers from the Texas congressional delegation. Rep. Michael Burgess, Rep. John Carter, Rep. Michael Conaway, Rep. Henry Cuellar, Rep. Ralph Hall, Rep. Michael McCaul, and Rep. Pete Olson are all co-sponsors. One notable congressman is not among the list of cosponsors. Rep. Lamar Smith who was the architect and primary supporter of SOPA, has not signed on to cosponsor CISPA. As the Texas Independent reported, because of SOPA, Smith was targeted by online grassroots activists for defeat in the Texas Republican primary.

According to information compiled by MapLight, campaign contributions from interest groups supporting CISPA are twelve times the amount of contributions from groups opposed. During the 2012 election cycle $31.5 million has been contributed by supporters compared to the $2.5 million from opponents. Burgess received $84,750 in campaign contributions from supporters of CISPA. Carter received $120,000, Conaway received $68,250, Cuellar received $51,400, Hall received $79,434, McCaul received $159,044, and Olson received $72,300 all from supporters of CISPA.

Top stories photo credit: Flickr/photosteve101

Obama administration takes ‘unprecedented’ action against bullying in Minn. district

Posted on: March 9th, 2012 by Andy Birkey 2 Comments

A settlement between a Minnesota school district and the federal government over anti-LGBT bullying is being hailed as “unprecedented” and a model for school districts nationwide. The move by the federal government to intervene in the Anoka-Hennepin School District is part of a more aggressive stance against bullying by the Obama administration, a stance that started late in the Clinton administration but languished under Bush.


Colorado county commissioners support scaled-back BLM oil shale plan

Posted on: November 29th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

The Garfield County commissioners reportedly back a scaled-back federal plan for oil shale development in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, as long as it leaves as much acreage as possible open for exploring and perhaps eventually extracting the still-unproven form of fuel.

“I’m hopeful that with some of the [research and development] things that are going on, there are going to be less environmental impacts and that we can provide oil to our nation that’s from our country,” Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, according to the Associated Press.

Shell in-situ oil shale research project in Colorado's Rio Blanco County (Photo: USGS).

Jankovsky, a Republican ski area operator who ousted Democrat Trési Houpt last year, said the commissioners got a preview of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plan for oil shale development because the county is a “cooperating agency.” The BLM hopes to release its so-called “fresh look” at a 2008 Bush administration leasing plan by the end of this year.

Jankovsky told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel that the BLM will trim at least 270,000 acres of federal land from the 2 million acres opened up for potential leasing during the waning days of the Bush administration. Environmental groups challenged the so-called “midnight regulations,” which also set royalty rates if oil shale ever becomes commercially viable.

Republican Colorado Reps. Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn want to scrap the Obama administration’s fresh look altogether, even though it was the product of a settlement with conservation groups worried about impacts to water and fragile Western Slope landscapes. Lamborn recently introduced legislation to compel the Interior Department to implement the Bush rules.

Jankovsky said the BLM proposal cuts 421 square miles from the proposed 3,125 square miles set aside in 2008, with the biggest cut coming in the form of the 182-square-mile Adobe Town area in Wyoming

There are an estimated 800 billion gallons of recoverable oil in the Green River Formation of northwestern Colorado, southwestern Wyoming and eastern Utah, but companies like ExxonMobil and Shell have been working for decades to figure out how to extract crude oil from the organic kerogen trapped in the rocks and sand. The kerogen must be super-hearted either in the ground (“in situ”) or after surface mining of the rocks.

Garfield County was the epicenter of an oil shale boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s that never resulted in commercial production and precipitated a catastrophic bust that destroyed the economies of Western Slope towns such as Rifle, Parachute and Battlement Mesa.

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin was a police officer in the 1980s who in 2008 told the Colorado Independent he has no desire the repeat the hard lessons learned from the “Black Sunday” bust of 1982.

“I crushed a lot of families in that I served them the papers they were dreading to get,” Martin said at the time. “I shut down businesses and boarded them up because they couldn’t pay their taxes or their mortgages, and I remember every one of their faces and I remember the heartache. You think I want that to happen with this energy boom? The answer is no, I definitely don’t.”

The natural gas boom Martin was referring to in 2008 did subside with the global recession and steep decline in gas prices. But gas drilling activity is picking up again across the state, although water remains a huge concern because of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Martin acknowledges water and conventional power consumption remain significant hurdles for the oil shale industry as well, which even proponents admit is perhaps “decades away” from full commercial production, but in the past he’s said every method must be explored to unlock the kerogen, including using nuclear power.

HHS decision to mandate contraception coverage renews action on ‘conscience-protection’ bills

Posted on: August 10th, 2011 by Sofia Resnick 1 Comment

The day after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services upheld the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation to include contraception in its list of preventive health services for women under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) introduced legislation intended to to allow health care providers and pharmacists to deny birth control to women if it conflicts with their religious or moral convictions. (more…)

AUDIO: Oral arguments from two cases trying to topple Affordable Care Act

Posted on: May 10th, 2011 by Sofia Resnick No Comments

On Tuesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., heard oral arguments for two lawsuits that represent the first major challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009.

On the day Obama signed the health care bill into law — March 23, 2010 — Liberty University, represented by its partner institution Liberty Counsel, filed a lawsuit (PDF) against Timothy Geithner, secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department; Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary; Hilda L. Solis; Labor Department secretary; and U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., for allegedly violating constitutional rights by implementing individual and employer mandates. After failing in district court, Liberty University has appealed (PDF) the case.

Listen to Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, argue before a three-judge panel.

Oral arguments for Liberty University, Inc. v. Timothy Geithner:

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Also on March 23, 2010, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli sued Sebelius, challenging the health care act’s individual mandate. On Tuesday, Cuccinelli also appealed to the panel. Both Cuccinelli and Liberty hope their cases will reach the U.S. Supreme Court by year’s end.

Listen to oral arguments for Commonwealth of Virginia, Ex Rel. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II v. Kathleen Sebelius:

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“Today we took Step Two in a three-step process,” said Cuccinelli in a news conference following the arguments. “As Judge Motz noted, the legal questions raised today are questions that will be answered in another court in another time.”

Cuccinelli offered an overview of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s case during the news conference:

Virginia has argued that the mandate that every person must buy government-approved health insurance violates the Constitution. Using the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to force people to buy a product goes beyond Congress’s power. This is why I have said all along that this is about liberty, not health care. The insurance mandate penalizes people for not engaging in commerce. In other words, you can get fined for doing nothing.

Virginia has also argued that the penalty the government wants to charge if you do not buy health insurance is not a tax. The government cannot start calling the penalty a tax to try to make it legal under Congress’s taxing authority. Congress and the president passed it as a penalty, not a tax; it works as a penalty, not as a tax.


If we cross this constitutional line with health care now – where the government can force us to buy a private product and say it is for our own good – then we will have given the government the power to force us to buy other private products, such as cars, gym memberships, or even asparagus. The government’s power to intrude on our lives for our own good will be virtually unlimited.


You heard about standing today. The federal government thinks it can tell the states to disregard their own laws – like it is doing with Arizona, but then also says the states do not have the same right to challenge federal laws in court. That is not how our system of government is set up. The founders set it up so the states were a check on potentially overreaching federal authority.

I have said all along that this lawsuit is not about health care. It is about liberty. At the same time, I understand that people want more affordable health care, and I sympathize with people who honestly cannot afford it. As a state senator, that was a problem I tried to address by trying to pass a law to allow our citizens to buy better or cheaper plans in other states. But as someone who has sworn to uphold the law, I cannot endorse taking away the rights of all so that government can provide health care to some.

When a ruling will be issued from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is unknown. All three judges were appointed by Presidents Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. The panels are chosen randomly.

Obama administration says police should be able to use GPS to track suspects without a warrant

Posted on: April 25th, 2011 by Kyle Daly No Comments

Last week, the discovery that iPhones and 3G iPads hold onto all locations logged by internal GPS systems sparked an outcry in the technology press and among some members of the public. Now, the Obama administration is pressuring the Supreme Court to overturn a U.S. Court of Appeals decision that ruled law enforcement must have a warrant preceding a surveillance-based investigation using a global positioning device attached to a suspect’s vehicle.

Passive GPS tracking is a known — and, as smart phones begin to dominate the cellular market, much more common — feature of mobile technology. The issue with the Apple devices is that they don’t just dump the data after a certain amount of time, like Android phones do, and that they restore the internal tracking database across backups and even migrate it over to new devices when, for example, a user upgrades to a new iPhone.

Privacy advocates who have voiced similar discomfort with Google and Facebook’s information collection practices say that the information could conceivably be sold to the highest bidder to bolster targeted corporate advertising. But last week’s developments could have larger resonance and far more immediate impact in the ongoing push to allow law enforcement to use GPS tracking information as evidence in federal court.

There is no uniform federal policy on whether search warrants are required for police and other law enforcement officers to track suspects using GPS devices. In August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over the entire West Coast, plus Hawaii, Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Nevada, ruled in agreement with a lower court that police can legally attach GPS monitoring devices to suspects’ cars without needing a warrant. The court claimed that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy when one travels on public roads and that just following someone’s actions as they do so is fair game.

The very same month, however, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit fell on precisely the opposite side of the issue. It ruled that the FBI and D.C. police couldn’t use information from a tracking device as evidence in a drug conviction for a nightclub owner and suspected cocaine kingpin.

The Obama administration has now stepped in to fill in the gap that has arisen within the federal courts over the issue. Solicitor General Neal Katyal has submitted a petition to the Supreme Court asking it to review the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision. And the administration is proving to be no friend to privacy advocates: Katyal wants the Supreme Court to overturn the D.C. ruling and bring it in line with what was decided in California.

The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes reports:

The decisions come as judges increasingly are asked to unravel the connection between modern technology and constitutional protections of privacy and against unreasonable searches. GPS devices in cell phones and cars contain a wealth of information about a person’s movements, and a smartphone can provide law enforcement with vast amounts of information.

“This case is really going to confront the court with the problem of adopting the Fourth Amendment to a new information age,” said Daniel Prywes, a Washington lawyer who wrote a brief in the Jones case for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“I think it’s the seminal privacy case of the 21st century.”

It’s unknown if the Supreme Court will follow up on the administration’s request and hear the case. There are dueling precedents at play that cloud any theorizing over how the court would rule if it elects to take up the issue. In 1983, the Burger court ruled in United States vs. Knotts that the installation of a beeper-enabled tracking device on a vat of chemicals didn’t constitute a privacy violation, while a year later, the same court ruled in United States vs. Karo that installing such a tracking device on a can of ether became a privacy violation as soon as the can left public roads and ended up on private property (the conviction in that case was upheld anyway).

Both rulings, however, asserted the legality of the use of tracking devices to monitor evidence that could otherwise be obtained by simply watching suspects go about their business. If the Supreme Court interprets precedent along the lines desired by the Obama administration, it could very well pave the way to unimpeded, warrantless use of smart phones’ tracking information by law enforcement. The future of the government’s take on privacy rights in the information age hinges on what the Supreme Court does next, if it decides to take the case.

Top Obama advisor Plouffe denounces Ryan budget plan

Posted on: April 11th, 2011 by Kyle Daly No Comments

The Obama administration has spoken out against the 2012 budget plan Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) presented last week. Over the weekend, Obama’s senior advisor David Plouffe appeared on several talk shows to dismiss Ryan’s plan and promise that President Obama will address it in a Wednesday speech — two days from the expiration of the stopgap 2011 spending bill that was hurriedly passed late Friday night to avert a government shutdown. (more…)

Gen. McChrystal heads back to the Obama administration

Posted on: April 11th, 2011 by Kyle Daly No Comments

Ten months after the release of the Rolling Stone story that cost Gen. Stanley McChrystal his job as commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, the four-star general has been restored to a post in the Obama administration.

His new position as head of Joining Forces was announced via email by Michelle Obama over the weekend and will be officially unveiled by the first lady and Jill Biden on Tuesday.

Joining Forces’ mission statement, according to the New York Times, is:

to encourage companies, schools, philanthropic and religious groups and local communities to recognize the unusual stress that is endured by families of active-duty personnel, reservists and veterans, and to strive to meet their needs.

It’s not yet clear exactly what form that encouragement will take or if the program will simply be a more symbolic attempt to honor soldiers and bridge the civilian-military gap.

Both Michelle Obama and Jill Biden have been active in seeking networks of support for military families during two American wars that have both lasted nearly a decade.

McChrystal will not be commanding any troops in his new capacity as co-chair of Joining Forces, and he remains retired from the U.S. Army. Joining Forces will partner with the nonpartisan think tank the Center for a New American Security, which has published studies in the past focusing on stress among military servicemembers.