Monday, February 10, 2014
A new digital publication, The Intercept, created by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill, launched today. It describes itself as devoted to reporting on the documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and in the longer term, to broaden its scope.
Included is the article "The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program" by Scahill and Greenwald, arguing that the NSA uses electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes, which is "an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people."
The article relies on a variety of sources, confidential and not, to paint a portrait of the "targeted killing" program. It ends by implicating President Obama:
Whether or not Obama is fully aware of the errors built into the program of targeted assassination, he and his top advisors have repeatedly made clear that the president himself directly oversees the drone operation and takes full responsibility for it.
And Obama may even think it's one a "strong suit" of his.
This will definitely be a publication to watch for anyone interested in Executive, military, and other government powers.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
It's being called the "no blankets for the homeless" ordinance and there's a petition directed to the Mayor of Pensacola, Florida to "stop" the ordinance as freezing temperatures come to the usually subtropical clime.
Passed in May 2013, the ordinance at issue is directed at prohibiting camping. Section 8-1-22 of the Code of the City of Pensacola, Florida, provides:
(1) For purposes of this section, "camping" is defined as:
(a) Cooking over an open flame or fire out-of-doors; or
(b) Bathing in public for purposes of personal hygiene; or
(c) Sleeping out-of-doors under one of the following circumstances:
(i) adjacent to or inside a tent or sleeping bag, or
(ii) atop and/or covered by materials such as a bedroll, cardboard, newspapers, or
(iii) inside some form of temporary shelter.
(2) Camping is prohibited on all public property, except as may be specifically authorized by the appropriate governmental authority.
(3) Camping is prohibited on all property in the City used for residential purposes; provided, however, that camping is permitted on such property with the permission and consent of the property owner.
(4) An individual in violation of this ordinance who has no private shelter, shall be advised of available shelter in the City of Pensacola or Escambia County, in addition to any penalties of law.
Like many ordinances directed at the homeless, the constitutional inquiries begin with Clark v. Community for Creative Nonviolence, decided by the Court in 1984, and upholding a federal Park Service regulation against sleeping or camping in non-designated areas, including the National Mall.
In Clark, the First Amendment was clearly applicable because the regulation was being applied to a demonstration, including tent cities, directed at the plight of the homeless. Nevertheless, even under a First Amendment analysis, the Court upheld the regulation. Clark was likewise invoked regarding the Occupy protests, applicable to those that were on public land.
But whether the First Amendment applies at all will depend upon whether courts would construe covering one's self with a blanket - - - or otherwise - - - is expression. Recall that the Sixth Circuit recently held "begging" to be protected speech under the First Amendment. But "wearing" a blanket may have a higher hurdle to overcome, an issue that permeates the clothing as expression cases.
But whether or not the anti-blanket ordinance might survive a First Amendment challenge is not necessarily the point of the petition calling for the ordinance's end. The petition is less about expression than about "humanity."
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Recall that in Klayman v. Obama, Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata, while in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, Judge William J. Pauley granted a motion to dismiss in favor of the government, finding the same program constitutional.
Cohn notes that the judges' differing opinions rest from their differing interpretations of Smith v. Maryland. But Cohn goes further, providing a swift description the Fourth Amendment terrain, especially the Court's 2012 decision in United States v. Jones in which a 5-4 majority found that attachment of a GPS device to track the movements of a vehicle for nearly a month violated a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Cohn concludes that Judge Leon's opinion is better reasoned than Judge Pauley's, noting that while "Leon's detailed analysis demonstrated how Jones leads to the result that the NSA program probably violates the Fourth Amendment, Pauley failed to meaningfully distinguish Jones from the NSA case, merely noting that the Jones Court did not overrule Smith."
But she, like many others, thinks the issue is ultimately headed to the United States Supreme Court.
Unless, of course, President Obama acts quickly to revise the program.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
In his satirical column for the New Yorker, humorist Andy Borowitz (pictured below) writes:
NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—President Obama is about to issue an executive order that would force all Americans to purchase a monthly supply of marijuana, the Fox News Channel reported today.
Borowitz's "reports" of fake news have been mistaken for true, perhaps because they often have a basis, albeit quite slanted, in reality. For example, this report springboards from President Obama's remarks quoted in a lengthy profile by David Remnick in The New Yorker. (This is not satirical and is definitely worth a read).
It also springboards from the discourse surrounding the ACA ("Obamacare") which the Court upheld as constitutional in NFIB v. Sebelius.
ConLawProfs looking for our own "springboards" for an interesting in-class discussion could definitely use the "marijuana mandate," especially when discussing Gonzales v.Raich, 545 U. S. 1 (2005).
And perhaps the springboarding could incorporate the First Amendment (and RFRA) challenges to the so-called "contraceptive mandate" now before the Court in Hobby Lobby, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties, Corporation. It might be an interesting to contemplate the relevance of Employment Division, Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith in this light.
This could make for a fun discussion.
Monday, January 20, 2014
The New York State Museum has released the only known audio recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1962 speech commemorating the centennial anniversary of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The audio was discovered on the "lost technology" of "reel to reel recording" during an ongoing project by the museum to "digitize the thousands of audio and video recordings" in "collections of more than 15 million objects and artifacts."
The audio and other materials area available at the Musuem's website here.
A preview and explanation is in the video below:
Saturday, January 18, 2014
In the provocatively titled "Is Obama Failing Constitutional Law?" and subtitled "Talking and tinkering may not be enough to make the old law professor’s surveillance program legal" Law Prof Jonathan Hafetz (pictured below) assesses President Obama's January 17 speech over at Politico.
Here's Hafetz on the "mixed bag" of Obama's proposed reforms to the FISA court:
The court currently operates in secret and hears only from the government, contrary to basic principles of due process. Obama said he would ask Congress to create a public advocate to argue for privacy concerns before the FISA court, as his advisory panel urged. But Obama did not clarify whether the advocate’s opportunity to argue would be left within the secret court’s discretion. Obama also rejected the panel’s recommendation to revise the method for selecting the court’s 11 members to create more balance. Presently, Chief Justice John Roberts alone decides the membership.
January 18, 2014 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, First Amendment, News, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, January 17, 2014
In a highly anticipated event today, President Obama delivered his remarks accompanied by a directive, Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-28, on "Signals Intelligence Activities," regarding NSA Surveillance. Recall that late last year a presidential advisory committee issued a report with specific recommendations, that one program has been subject to differing judicial interepretations - - - in Klayman v. Obama, Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata, while in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, Judge William J. Pauley granted a motion to dismiss in favor of the government, finding the same program constitutional - - - and that the national discussion on this issue is largely attributable to Edward Snowden.
While the judicial opinions did not specifically feature in Obama's remarks, Snowden did:
Given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or motivations. I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy. Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.
But the details, as usual, can be a bit more perplexing. For example, consider this qualification to "competitive advantage" :
Certain economic purposes, such as identifying trade or sanctions violations or government influence or direction, shall not constitute competitive advantage.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation released a "scorecard" before Obama's remarks and directive. Afterwards, it tweeted the results of its assessment of Obama's performance:
January 17, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, State Secrets, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
A new book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI by Betty Medsger tells the "never-before-told full story of the 1971 history-changing break-in of the FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania" that made clear the "shocking truth" that J. Edgar Hoover was spying on Americans and which led to the Ciontelpro scandal.
The NYT report compares the 1971 incident to contemporary events:
"Unlike Mr. Snowden, who downloaded hundreds of thousands of digital N.S.A. files onto computer hard drives, the Media burglars did their work the 20th-century way: they cased the F.B.I. office for months, wore gloves as they packed the papers into suitcases, and loaded the suitcases into getaway cars. When the operation was over, they dispersed. Some remained committed to antiwar causes, while others, like John and Bonnie Raines, decided that the risky burglary would be their final act of protest against the Vietnam War and other government actions before they moved on with their lives."
The NYT video, part of its "retro report" series is definitely worth a watch.
On NPR, one important aspect is how Betty Medsger obtained and accessed the information:
"I think most striking in the Media files at first was a statement that had to do with the philosophy, the policy of the FBI," Medsger says. "And it was a document that instructed agents to enhance paranoia, to make people feel there's an FBI agent behind every mailbox."
The NPR segment is definitely worth a listen:
Friday, December 27, 2013
Federal District Judges Dismisses ACLU Complaint Regarding Government Collection of Telephone Metadata
In a Memorandum and Order today, federal judge William J. Pauley for the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York, granted the government's motion to dismiss in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper.
The judge rejected both the statutory and constitutional claims by the ACLU that the NSA's bulk telephony metadata collection program as revealed by Edward Snowden is unlawful.
The tone of the opinion is set by Judge Pauley's opening:
The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is. While Americans depended on technology for the conveniences of modernity, al-Qaeda plotted in a seventh-century milieu to use that technology against us. It was a bold jujitsu. And it succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse ﬁlaments connecting al-Qaeda.
As to the constitutional claims, Judge Pauley specifically disagreed with Judge Leon's recent opinion in Klayman v. Obama regarding the expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. For Judge Pauley, the "pen register" case of Smith v. Maryland, decided in 1979, has not been overruled and is still controlling:
Some ponder the ubiquity of cellular telephones and how subscribers’ relationships with their telephones have evolved since Smith. While people may “have an entirely different relationship with telephones than they did thirty-four years ago,” [citing Klayman], this Court observes that their relationship with their telecommunications providers has not changed and is just as frustrating. Telephones have far more versatility now than when Smith was decided, but this case only concerns their use as telephones. The fact that there are more calls placed does not undermine the Supreme Court’s ﬁnding that a person has no subjective expectation of privacy in telephony metadata. . . . .Because Smith controls, the NSA’s bulk telephony metadata collection program does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
For Judge Pauley, the ownership of the metadata is crucial - - - it belongs to Verizon - - - and when a person conveys information to a third party such as Verizon, a person forfeits any right of privacy. The Fourth Amendment is no more implicated in this case as it would be if law enforcement accessed a DNA or fingerprint database.
The absence of any Fourth Amendment claim means that there is not a First Amendment claim. Any burden on First Amendment rights from surveillance constitutional under the Fourth Amendment is incidental at best.
Judge Pauley's opinion stands in stark contrast to Judge Leon's opinion. In addition to the Fourth Amendment claim, Judge Pauley deflects the responsibility of the judicial branch to resolve the issue. Certainly, the judiciary should decide the law, but "the question of whether that [NSA surveillance] program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of Government to decide." Moreover, Judge Pauley states that the "natural tension between protecting the nation and preserving civil liberty is squarely presented by the Government’s bulk telephony metadata collection program," a balancing rejected by Judge Leon. Given these substantial disagreements, the issue is certainly on its way to the Circuit Courts of Appeal, and possibly to the United States Supreme Court.
December 27, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US), Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
The anticipated report from a panel of presidential advisors - - - Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Peter Swire, and ConLawProfs Geoffrey Stone and Cass Sunstein - - - has just been released from The White House. It contains 46 recommendations, detailed in the Executive Summary and later discussed in the report.
Occuring amidst significant problems, such as the recent federal district judge's opinion casting doubt on the constitutionality of the collection of metadata from Verizon and the Edward Snowden revelations, the report concludes that the "current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty." But the report recognizes that government might need such metadata, and therefore recommends that it be held by "private providers or by a private third party." The report also recommends a series of changes at NSA, including having the Director be a "Senate-confirmed position" and suggesting that the Director be a civilian (at least next time).
There is some interesting constitutional analysis and rhetoric in the report. For example, under "Principles," the first one is "The United States Government must protect, at once, two different forms of security: national security and personal privacy." How should these interests be balanced? The report, quite interestingly, says this:
It is tempting to suggest that the underlying goal is to achieve the right “balance” between the two forms of security. The suggestion has an important element of truth. Some tradeoffs are inevitable; we shall explore the question of balance in some detail. But in critical respects, the suggestion is inadequate and misleading.
Some safeguards are not subject to balancing at all. In a free society, public officials should never engage in surveillance in order to punish their political enemies; to restrict freedom of speech or religion; to suppress legitimate criticism and dissent; to help their preferred companies or industries; to provide domestic companies with an unfair competitive advantage; or to benefit or burden members of groups defined in terms of religion, ethnicity, race, or gender. These prohibitions are foundational, and they apply both inside and outside our territorial borders.
The purposes of surveillance must be legitimate. If they are not, no amount of “balancing” can justify surveillance. For this reason, it is exceptionally important to create explicit prohibitions and safeguards, designed to reduce the risk that surveillance will ever be undertaken for illegitimate ends.
Certainly, there is much more to glean and analyze from the 300 plus page report, but some of the reasoning already seems noteworthy.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Janet Reitman's excellent article in Rolling Stone entitled "Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked the Secrets" and subtitled "How two alienated, angry geeks broke the story of the year" is worth a read, nevermind the tags meant to attract Rolling Stone's target demographic. With this past summer's New York Time magazine article "How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets" by Peter Maas, there is much in both of these pieces that merits consideration.
True, the articles are journalistic. Reitman tells us that for "a man living in the middle of a John le Carre' novel, Greenwald has a pretty good life." She then talks about his dogs (also mentioned in the article by Maas). It's the stuff of human interest stories. But Reitman also gives Greenwald's story of lawyering: first with a law firm and then in his own practice, "defending the First Amendment rights of neo-Nazis.":
It was one of Greenwald's prouder accomplishments as an attorney. "To me, it's a heroic attribute to be so committed to a principle that you apply it not when it's easy," he says, "not when it supports your position, not when it protects people you like, but when it defends and protects people that you hate."
Monday, November 4, 2013
Here's a terrific exploration in video form of the decision and its impact on Pasadena, Texas, by Kali Borkoski of SCOTUSBlog.
This short clip would be an excellent in-class introduction to the issues - - - and could be updated depending on the outcome of the local election.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Dave Eggers' new novel, The Circle, is a thought-provoking read for anyone working on surveillance, state secrets, corporate governance, privacy, or First Amendment issues as broadly defined. There are have been some questions raised, as in the review in Wired, whether the book is technologically sophisticated - - - I'd say it's not - - - or whether it works as literature - - - again, I'd lean towards not. I also think there are some gender and sexual politics that merit further analysis and mar the novel. But even with these faults, it is one of those books that gives expression to the way one sees daily life in our connected age.
Margaret Atwood has a terrific review of the book in New York Review of Books that gives a good overview of the themes, laced with literary references that the novel itself lacks. Discussing the book over at the New Yorker Blog, Betsy Morais contextualizes the novel, including some of the criticisms and analogues. There's a good rundown of reviews and the divisions about the book in The Atlantic "Wire."
The book lingers after it is read because it raises interesting questions about the relationships between corporate power and government, as well as our complicity in this internet and social age. And it's a quick read - - - especially electronically.
UPDATE: And here's the NYT Sunday Book Review by Ellen Ullman, who concludes the novel "adds little to the debate" : "Books and tweets and blogs are already debating the issues Eggers raises: the tyranny of transparency, personhood defined as perpetual presence in social networks, our strange drive to display ourselves, the voracious information appetites of Google and Facebook, our lives under the constant surveillance of our own government."
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Chelsea Manning, convicted as Private Bradley Manning in a controversial military trial for revealing information to WikiLeaks, issued the first statement since her conviction, prompted in part by receiving a peace award. She stated that although her actions may have had pacficist "implications," she does not consider herself a pacifist. Rather, she is a "transparency advocate." The statement also contains specific discussion of gender identity. Manning's two page statement is worth a read, as is the accompanying article in The Guardian (to whom the statement was released) by Ed Pilkington.
Meanwhile in New York City, the latest and most ambitious project of the British public artist Banksy in his self-proclaimed October artist's residency on the streets of New York, alludes to Manning. The street art's references might be somewhat illusive to a casual observer:
But Banksy's site featuring this image (as well as another), also includes an "audio guide." It derives from some of the materials that Manning disclosed. Gothamist has a good explanation (and more photos). The Village Voice has excellent (with continuing) coverage of Banksy's art here and a profile with quoted material here.
Friday, October 4, 2013
The United States Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of "legislative prayer" in Town of Greece v. Galloway this Term, with oral arguments scheduled for November 6, 2013. As we discussed previously, the Obama Administration has filed a brief supporting the Town of Greece. Recall also that the Second Circuit found that the town meetings practice of legislative prayer since 1999 "impermissibly affiliated the town with a single creed, Christianity" and thus violated the Establishment Clause.
This video from PBS provides a great overview (in 7 minutes) of the case, and a transcript is also available.
This could be a great video to show in class as a prelude to discussion of the arguments.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
In an unanimous opinion in Marceaux v. Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government, a panel of the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court judge’s protective order requiring that the Plaintiffs, current and former police officers in the City of Lafayette, Louisiana, “take down” their website - - - "http://www.realcopsvcraft.com" - - - used to communicate their cause. (Note: the website is presently not operable).
The underlying lawsuit by the Plaintiff police officers claims that the government Defendants sought to “prevent police officers from reporting certain civil rights abuses and corruption” within the police department and “retaliated against them for objecting to these practices.” The website had “an image of the Lafayette Police Chief, a party in this suit; excerpts of critical statements made in the media concerning the Lafayette PD Defendants; certain voice recordings of conversations between the Officers and members of the Lafayette Police Department; and other accounts of the Lafayette PD Defendants’ alleged failings.” The website seemed to have been once owned by the Plaintiffs’ attorneys, but they “eventually transferred ownership of the website” to one of the police officers.
The appellate court rightly viewed the district judge’s order to cease the website as a prior restraint, but sought to “balance the First Amendment rights of trial participants with our affirmative constitutional duty to minimize the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity,” citing the classic case of Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966).
In this civil case, theFifth Circuit, however held that there was not sufficient evidence to "establish a nexus between the comments and the potential for prejudice to the jury venire through the entirety of the Website." The panel found that ordering a removal of the website was not sufficiently “narrowly tailored” to "excising maters with a sufficient potential for prejudice to warrant prior restraint."
But the panel stated it did not intend to "tie the hands of the district court" in addressing some of the content of the website. As to the specific content of certain recordings made by the Plaintiffs and placed on the website, the panel did discuss the "ethics" of this, noting both the that ABA position is that a lawyer who records the conversation of another does not necessarily violate the Model Rules of Professional Conduct AND that the recordings were not made by an attorney. Thus, the district judge's conclusion that the recordings had to be omitted from the website because they were "unethically obtained" was disapproved.
This rather brief - - - 12 page - - - opinion is well reasoned and would make an interesting class exercise for First Amendment, especially should the website "go live" again.
[image circa 1900 via]
The memo from the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive is here.
The White House website places the blame on Congress:
Neither the United States House of Representatives nor United States Senate website addresses the issue. The USCourts.gov website is also silent on the issue.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
It's worth comparing two views of the National Security Administration (NSA) and its searches.
First, take a look at the views of Amy Zegart, the co-director of Stanford University's "Center for International Security and Cooperation." Zegart and other scholars participated in a "rare briefing" at NSA to consider "cybersecurity, the plummeting public trust in the agency, its relationship with Congress and how to rebuild the agency’s reputation and rethink its program operations." Zegart's interview is mostly sympathetic to NSA concerns, but she does say this:
They definitely wanted us to believe that what they are doing is lawful and effective. I believe the lawful part; I’m not so sure about the effective part. I think they haven’t looked hard enough about what effective means. Do they know it when they see it? And who’s to judge?
Nevertheless, it's a rather sharp contrast with a NYT article, co-authored by James Risen (recall his lititgation asserting a reporter's First Amendment right to protect sources) and Laura Poitras (recall her involvement in the Snowden revelations) that discusses wide ranging collection of data and metadata. They often rely on anonymous sources discussing classified information. Perhaps most startling is this passage in the article's last paragraph, quoting from a 2011 memo, that said even
after a court ruling narrowed the scope of the agency’s collection, the data in question was “being buffered for possible ingest” later.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
The image is from an architectural brochure linked in Glenn Greenwald's article this morning in The Guardian, "Inside the mind of NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander," subtitled "A lavish Star Trek room he had built as part of his 'Information Dominance Center' is endlessly revealing."
Worth a look - - - and read - - - for anyone working on national security, state secrets, or surveillance issues.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
As we think about surveillance of electronic communication in the United States, it's worth (re)considering China's surveillance and censorship of electronic interactions amongst its own citizens. Jason Ng's new book, Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on China’s Version of Twitter (and Why) promises to be an engaging exploration of the multi-layered relationships between the Chinese government and "netcitizens" and - - - importantly - - - corporations.
Here's Jason Ng in conversation with Sharon Hom, the Executive Director of Human Rights in China.
Of special interest is the screen shot showing the search for the phrase "constitutional democracy" (at about 1:36). The discussion by Ng and Hom of creative work-arounds and corporate "tolerance" is also worth a listen.