FBI: Lose in court? Ignore the court

Yet another report by the Department of Justice has found that the FBI has abused the power of National Security Letters granted to it in the USA PATRIOT Act. There are all kinds of things to say about this, but what I found most appalling was this:

According to the findings by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, the FBI tried to work around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees clandestine spying in the United States, after it twice rejected an FBI request in 2006 to obtain certain records. The court had concluded “the ‘facts’ were too thin” and the “request implicated the target’s First Amendment rights,” the report said.

But the FBI went ahead and got the records anyway by using a national security letter. The FBI’s general counsel, Valerie E. Caproni, told investigators it was appropriate to issue the letters in such cases because she disagreed with the court’s conclusions.

The level of arrogance here is beyond stunning. The FBI’s counsel disagreed with the court, so she told the bureau to just ignore the court. Has this woman been disbarred yet?

Andy in Harrisburg

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Help! I need protection from my lesbian neighbor! Aaaaaaah!

Here we go again. Property taxes. Healthcare. Energy. Infrastructure. Voting rights. There are any number of important issues that the Pennsylvania General Assembly could be addressing this spring.

And yet someone got the hair-brained idea that the most important thing the Pennsylvania Senate could work on in the coming weeks is to protect Pennsylvania’s heterosexual married couples from all of the Pennsylvania lesbians and gays who are out to get them, like some kind of queer version of Night of the Living Dead. You know the tired talking points, same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, as evidenced by Massachusetts’ low divorce rate. Oh, wait…

Anywho, next Monday, March 17, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Senate Bill 1250, which is the proposed marriage amendment. As of now, the hearing is scheduled for 10:30am in Room 1 of the North Office Building. If you happen to be in Harrisburg, and who wouldn’t be, stop in to send a clear message to the Judiciary Committee that this assault on civil rights will not be tolerated. (Who knows, if you hang around town long enough, you might even see a presidential candidate or two.)

More importantly, contact your state senator to protest this nonsense. Our friends at Equality Advocates PA have all the tools you need.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Because if you can’t trust your government…

The Washington Post had a breathlessly worded account yesterday of the federal government’s way-cool neato computer-networked domestic intelligent system that will link it to the databases of several thousand law enforcement agencies.

From the article:

As federal authorities struggled to meet information-sharing mandates after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, police agencies from Alaska and California to the Washington region poured millions of criminal and investigative records into shared digital repositories called data warehouses, giving investigators and analysts new power to discern links among people, patterns of behavior and other hidden clues.

Those network efforts will begin expanding further this month, as some local and state agencies connect to a fledgling Justice Department system called the National Data Exchange, or N-DEx. Federal authorities hope N-DEx will become what one called a “one-stop shop” enabling federal law enforcement, counterterrorism and intelligence analysts to automatically examine the enormous caches of local and state records for the first time.

OK, the first obvious question: So just what have these people been doing for the past eight years? Under an administration whose No. 1 priority – supposedly – has been “the War on Terrorism,” you’d think they would have been able to cobble together a decent database by now. But then I guess they’ve been too busy randomly snooping through all our e-mails.

Secondly: Does this make anyone else a bit nervous? Me too. But it’s interesting that it didn’t seem to bother much the two reporters who wrote the story. They treat the potential for privacy abuses as a mere afterthought – something thrown in the story to appease those nit-picky pro-Bill of Rights people (and the government knows who you are).

Here’s how the article addresses the concern (way near the end of the story):

Authorities are aware that all of this is unsettling to people worried about privacy and civil liberties. Mark D. Rasch, a former federal prosecutor who is now a security consultant for FTI Consulting, said that the mining of police information by intelligence agencies could lead to improper targeting of U.S. citizens even when they’ve done nothing wrong.

The article then goes on to explain that there’s really nothing to worry about because everybody promises to be really really good about not abusing the system. Whew, that’s a relief.

But Washington Post investigative reporter Dana Priest, who didn’t pen the original story, explains the very real concerns in her weekly on-line chat.

Here is the exchange with a reader.

From Savannah, Ga.: Dana, what’s the flap about this new info sharing system? From what I read in the article, it only shares existing data. This presumably is collected legally, and I would hope that if something illegal were put into the system others would notice and highlight it. Anyway, this seems to be merely a case of reality catching up to Hollywood … after all, we’ve been watching “CSI” and “NCIS” for years where they make a few keystrokes and a suspect’s entire life comes pouring out. This was supposed to be one of the things put in after Sept. 11, correct?

Dana Priest: Ah ha? but was is “legal” information. Sure, if you get arrested that’s one thing; or even picked up as a suspect in a crime. Let’s use the example in the story: You have a flat tire near a nuclear power plant. The cop puts that into the data bases and discovers you’ve had three flat tires outside nuclear power plants in the last year. Now that’s interesting and worth looking into, right? But does that mean something as simple and innocent has a flat tire gets added into the data base. Would that be legal? Switch out “flat tire” for “defaulting on a loan” or “attending a political rally” or “gun purchases” all legal things. Does it bother you that the police could link up your political rally attendance if they had some other reason to query your information? You see where it’s going….lots of questions. Would have to have safeguards to make it acceptable, I’m certain.

Sadly, that point was never addressed in the original article.

Lauri in York

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Pennsylvania’s New EC Regulations Leave Advocates with Too Many Questions

On January 25th, the Pennsylvania Department of Health published their Sexual Assault Victim Emergency Services Regulations online in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. According to ye olde Secretary of Health, this means that the regulations are now in effect, but what will that mean for rape victims?

Here’s the rundown: Hospitals that refuse to supply emergency contraception to rape victims due to their “stated religious or moral beliefs” (but we haven’t quite figured out yet where these beliefs must be stated) must notify the Department of Health “within 30 days of the hospital’s decision not to provide emergency contraception.” The hospital must also notify local law enforcement agencies and ambulance and emergency medical care and transport services. It is also required that the hospital notify the victim via oral and written notice of this decision, but what happens when the victim requests EC?

If the victim requests it, the hospital must “arrange for immediate transportation for the victim, at no cost to the victim, to the closest hospital where a victim could obtain emergency contraception.” However, “if the victim’s medical condition does not require further inpatient hospital services, the hospital may arrange to transport the victim to a rural health clinic, Federally-qualified health center, pharmacy or other similar location where a victim could obtain emergency contraception.” And this is where things get especially hairy for the victim…

Although the transportation is to be provided free of charge to the victim, what about EC? Maybe it’s just me, but after being raped, it seems almost inhuman to transport a woman to a pharmacy where she might have to pay as much as $45 out-of-pocket for medication that she should be able to receive at a hospital. Also, what happens if she is a minor? Young women under that age of 18 still need a prescription for EC, and if the hospital refuses to provide EC, can they refuse to provide a prescription for the same drug? Are they then obligated to send her to another medical facility where a doctor can give her the prescription? And the list of concerns goes on and on and on…

While we are actively trying to get answers to these and many other questions, it appears as though rape victims will still have difficulty accessing compassionate, comprehensive healthcare when they are most vulnerable.

Stephanie, Duvall Project

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Obama denounces Farrakhan’s endorsement; McCain proudly touts religious bigot’s endorsement

Glenn Greenwald offers such a dead-on perfect analysis of the double standard that exists between the political endorsements of various religious leaders that I’m not even going to try to gild the lily (not that I could) with added comments.

For my money, nobody has been doing a better job than Greenwald at keeping track of the Bush Administration’s utter disdain for civil liberties and the mainstream media’s dismal performance at exposing it.

Greenwald makes it clear that when it comes to those who embrace the trampling of religious freedoms, some church leaders are more palatable to the media than others.

And for those interested in a little context to an important distinction, Jon Swift also offers some terrific insight into the need for Obama to not only denounce, but reject. I mean, it’s about time someone exposed Obama’s Newport Folk Festival connection…

Lauri in York

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