Category Archives: Law

Internet privacy rules removed by Congress

Internet providers will not be required to ask permission to sell customers’ browsing habits, including medical information, shopping habits and even pornography preferences after Congress voted to roll back Obama-era regulations.

The House of Representatives voted 215 to 205 in favor of eliminating restrictions of internet service providers (ISP) and their ability to sell their customer’s information on Tuesday. The protections were planned to be enacted by the end of 2017 and would have forced ISPs to get permission from their customers before selling their internet browsing and app habits to advertisers.

The vote was largely bipartisan, with those in favor being exclusively Republican. However, several Republican lawmakers crossed over to vote against eliminating the privacy measures. Last Thursday, a Senate vote set the stage for the House of Representatives to send the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk after they voted exclusively on party lines against the measures.

The planned protections were proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and would have prevented ISPs and broadband providers from selling information, including where customers bank, shop, browse, their political views and even sexual orientation.

Those in favor of eliminating the protection measures have claimed that preventing ISPs from requiring consumer consent for customer information will eliminate competition among providers.

In a press release, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) defended rolling back the protections, saying the FCC’s privacy policy “has the potential to limit consumer choice, stifle innovation, and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the internet ecosystem.

Supporters of the FCC regulations believe the repeal will only benefit broadband providers.

Instead of making the industry more competitive, what this bill wants to do is give these four or five ISPs even more power,” Representative Ro Khanna (D-California) told The Guardian.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting privacy on the internet, released a statement saying “should President Donald Trump sign S.J. Res. 34 into law, big Internet providers will be given new powers to harvest your personal information in extraordinarily creepy ways.

For internet users who want to protect their privacy from ISPs, the options are slim going forward. Some may choose to utilize a virtual private network (VPN), a frequently paid service that routes all internet traffic through one server not directly connected to the user. However, many sites like Netflix try to ban VPN users from utilizing their services.

Others may move over to using Tor, a more complex server that could leave users open to malicious servers.

Repealing the FCC’s regulations is not a done deal, yet. President Trump has yet to sign off on SJ Res 34, leaving opponents room for a Hail Mary. The EFF’s Jeremy Gillula told the Guardian, “I think we’d try to convince President Trump that signing a bill that helps big corporate interests by eliminating Americans’ privacy and weakening their cybersecurity isn’t exactly ‘draining the swamp.’

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

More Guns, Less Medicine: Trump’s Military Spending Binge Would Swamp Savings From Health Care Repeal

THE CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE (CBO) released its analysis of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on Monday, finding that the Trump-backed House Republican bill that seeks to repeal and replace Obamacare would save the federal government $337 billion over 10 years — at the cost of throwing 24 million people off of health insurance coverage by 2026.

But those theoretical savings would be more than wiped out by an also theoretical increase in military spending that President Trump wants Congress to pass.

Shortly after the release of the CBO report, House Speaker Paul Ryan put out a statement embracing its findings, claiming among other things that it found that the AHCA would “dramatically reduce the deficit.”

Yet Ryan has offered no objections to Trump’s request for an additional $54 billion in annual military spending in this coming year. The increase alone amounts to 80 percent of Russia’s current military spending; it would make the United States responsible for almost 40 percent of global military expenditures.

Assuming that the Trump administration set the new amount as a baseline going forward, over 10 years it would amount to $540 billion in additional spending. This eclipses the $337 billion that would ostensibly be saved were the AHCA to pass in its current form and remain in place.

And the CBO also finds that the vast majority of savings from the law will come after 2020, when the Medicaid expansion is rolled back. In fact, it wold add $56 billion to the deficit in its first three years:

CBO2-1489445969

Congressional Budget Office

The reason the AHCA doesn’t save more is because it also includes a $600 billion tax cut, most of it aimed at benefiting wealthier taxpayers, by paring back taxes used to support the Affordable Care Act.

AHCA’s impact on the federal budget deficit is hardly the whole picture, of course. The CBO estimates that 14 million people would lose health insurance coverage in its first year. The cost of health insurance premiums would go up for many. The CBO notes, for example, that someone 64 years old earning $26,500 a year would see their net premiums increase from $1,700 annually to $14,600:

CBO-1489441955

Congressional Budget Office

President Trump can offer any number of justifications for hiking military spending while embracing a health care bill that would throw tens of millions off of health insurance. But he just can’t claim to care about the deficit.

By Zaid Jilani/TheIntercept

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Police Use of Force against People with Mental Illness, Children in Schools

People with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians, according to a report covered by Democracy Now! in September 2016. The Treatment Advocacy Center published its report, titled “Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters,” in December 2015. The report’s authors wrote, “Given the prevalence of mental illness in police shootings, reducing encounters between on-duty law enforcement and individuals with the most severe psychiatric diseases may represent the single most immediate, practical strategy for reducing fatal police shootings in the United States.

Nermeen Shaikh and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed John Snook, one of the study’s co-authors and the director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, after the death of Alfred Olango in El Cajon, California, in September 2016. El Cajon Police responding to a call for emergency psychiatric aid shot Olango several times, and he died in hospital later the same day. The Democracy Now! report described Olango’s death as “just the most recent in a string of police shootings of primarily men of color with mental illness or disability,” linking it with an incident the week before, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in which police shot and killed Keith Scott, a 43-year-old father who reportedly had suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2015, and a July incident in North Miami in which a police officer contended that he mistakenly shot an African-American behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey, when he was aiming for Arnaldo Rios Soto, a 26-year-old autistic man.

Snook described the Olango incident as “a nightmare scenario for families with a loved one who has a mental illness, and for law enforcement themselves” before asking, “When someone is having a medical emergency, why are we requiring law enforcement to step in?” Making the point that law enforcement officers are not trained as mental health professionals, Snook added that we need to “get away from this situation where we wait until someone is in a crisis before we provide care.”

Meanwhile, additional news stories—including Rebecca Klein’s reporting for the Huffington Post and the Hechinger Report in August 2016—document the frequency with which school-based law enforcement officers have used Tasers on children. Klein reports that, since 2011, there are at least 84 documented instances of “school-based police officers using Tasers against K-12 students.” All the students were 12-19 years old when the incidents occurred. They were hit by Taser or stun guns used by school-based police officers, who are sometimes called school resource officers. According to Klein, the figure is “a gross underestimation because not every incident is reported, and no state or federal organization track how often children are zapped at schools.”

The numbers of police officers in schools have gone up since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. New “tough on crime” and zero tolerance policies were also implemented after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, when the Obama administration funded a program to hire one thousand school resource officers and counselors. Klein reports that “in 1997 only 10 percent of public schools had police officers; in 2014, 30 percent did.”

As Regis Duvignau of RT News reports, just over a month into the 2016-17 school year, four students have already been tasered by school-based officers, including two girls from a Florida high school who were fighting. In that case, RT News reports, a sheriff later explained that the Taser was “the safest way” to break up the fight.

From Project Censored

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Government failure to act means gender pay gap will remain, say MPs

The gender pay gap is likely to persist for more than a generation in the UK after the government rejected proposals to encourage flexible working and help women back into the workforce, MPs have said.

Without ministers putting their weight behind measures needed to end the “pay penalty” suffered by millions of women, the government will fail to meet its target of closing the gap within the next couple of decades, said the cross-party women and equalities committee.

The group made 17 recommendations last March, but most of them were rejected in the government’s response in January. The MPs had called for measures including three months’ paid paternity leave and devising industrial strategies for low-paid jobs carried out by women in industries such care, cleaning and retail.

Theresa May highlighted the need to close the gender pay gap in her Conservative party conference speech last year and has since told private and voluntary sector organisations employing more than 250 people they will need to report their gender pay and gender bonus gaps. The regulations, which come into effect in April, will affect about 11 million employees.

Conservative MP Maria Miller, who chairs the committee, said it was clear ministers had set their sights on reducing the pay gap between men and women, but would fail if they continued to ignore evidence to help achieve its goal.

She said the pay audit introduced by David Cameron was only the start and should be supplemented with concrete support in the workplace, adding: “The government says there is no place for a gender pay gap in modern Britain and has restated its pledge to end the pay gap within a generation.

“But without effectively tackling the key issues of flexible working, sharing unpaid caring responsibilities, and supporting women aged over 40 back into the workforce, the gender pay gap will not be eliminated.

“We made practical, evidence-based recommendations to address these issues. They were widely supported by a range of stakeholders including businesses, academics and unions. It is deeply disappointing that our recommendations have not been taken on board by government.”

Women earn 18% less than men on average, according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The gap is closest among 20- to 30-year-olds, but balloons after women have children as mothers miss out on pay rises and promotions.

Responding to the committee’s comments, Frances O’Grady – general secretary of trade union umbrella body the TUC, said: “The government needs to up its game and tackle the root causes of the gender pay gap – not ignore them.

“This means removing the barriers that stop women getting better-paid jobs, and helping parents to share out caring responsibilities more equally. Ministers need to stop dragging their heels and challenge workplace discrimination full on.”

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According to a study by consultancy PwC, published on Tuesday, Britain has a higher proportion of working women than most countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranking of rich nations.

But the UK has failed to close the pay gap at the same pace as the average for the OECD and has a only a small proportion in full-time work, leaving it in 13th place behind the Nordic countries, Poland and Canada. However, it is ahead of France, Germany, the US, Japan and Italy.

The report, based on data from 2015, concluded that Germany was acting more slowly than the UK to close the gender pay gap and may take more than a century at the current pace. Britain is on track to take 41 years to close its gap.

Moves to match Sweden’s female work participation rate would boost GDP by £170bn, the report said. Top of the list of gender pay offenders was the financial services industry, which has a 34% pay gap, followed by the energy, utilities and manufacturing industries – where few women rise to senior positions.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling the gender pay gap and our policies, which aim to balance the needs of employees and businesses while addressing this gap, are working.

“We now have the lowest gender pay gap on record, around 60,000 people a year are taking advantage of flexible working arrangements and the introduction of shared parental leave gives parents extra flexibility and we will continue to evaluate this as it beds in. We’re also supporting women over 40 in the workplace through the National Careers Service.

“But we know there’s more to do. That’s why we are requiring employers to publish their gender pay and gender bonus gap for the first time from April and we are giving working parents of three- and four-year-olds up to 30 hours of free childcare from September.”

By Phillip Inman/TheGuardian

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Even the ‘most transparent administration in history’ failed to pardon Snowden

In February 2013, President Barack Obama hailed his administration as “the most transparent administration in history.” It was an echo of a 2008 promise, made first on the campaign trail and then enshrined in Presidential memoranda, to share with the world the otherwise opaque dealings of an executive office, to restore trust in public servants. It was a bold promise, and one ultimately hamstrung by the very nature of the office. The Presidency, in charge of a permanent national security apparatus that manages multiple wars and perpetual intelligence operations, is a host of secrets. No well-intentioned transparency from the top-down would ever provide a clear picture of that world.
Transparency would come to the intelligence community from inside. In June 2013, revelations about an NSA mass surveillance program named PRISM appeared first in the Guardian and then in the Washington Post. These stories, which would prove to be the first of dozens, were sourced from secret documents, obtained by a system administrator, working as a contractor for the NSA, named Edward Snowden.
For months, Snowden worked inside the security apparatus, compiling an archive of secrets. This trove is, as it can only be, an incomplete look at the inner workings of America’s intelligence community. After communicating his findings to several journalists, Snowden took leave from his job at the NSA, and then fled from his Hawaii home. First to Hong Kong, and then to Moscow, where he has remained in a state of asylum. While Snowden was in Hong Kong, the United States government charged him under the espionage act, for taking and transmitting secrets to an unauthorized person.
Revelations from the Snowden Files continue regularly, with some coming as recently as December 2016. Almost as long-running as Snowden’s revelations is the debate about what the government should do with Snowden himself. For those who see Snowden’s revelations as spurring needed reforms within the intelligence community, a pardon is the logical next step. The costs of the revelation, from burned assets to compromised missions, are high enough that others see a pardon for Snowden as not only impossible, but dangerous. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers and in so doing revealed to the American public the full scale of the Vietnam war, hailed Snowden and Chelsea Manning as kindred leakers, courageous in their actions.
Chelsea Manning, it’s worth noting, also leaked a trove of government secrets for publication. Unlike Snowden, Manning was arrested and is currently serving time in Fort Leavenworth prison, where she stated her intent to transition and was regularly subjected to long durations of solitary confinement. On Tuesday, Obama commuted Manning’s sentence. Manning’s 35-year sentence was reduced to time served, plus a few months, with Manning’s ultimate release scheduled for May 17, 2017.
From The New York Times:
At the same time that Mr. Obama commuted the sentence of Ms. Manning, a low-ranking enlisted soldier at the time of her leaks, he also pardoned James E. Cartwright, the retired Marine general and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with reporters to F.B.I. agents investigating a leak of classified information about cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program.

The two acts of clemency were a remarkable final step for a president whose administration carried out an unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaks of government secrets. Depending on how they are counted, the Obama administration has prosecuted either nine or 10 such cases, more than were charged under all previous presidencies combined.
Despite the many pardons and commutations late in his presidency, it appears that President Obama has made no effort to pardon Edward Snowden, and time has run out for him to do so. Obama entered his office in the middle of two wars, with a national security apparatus fighting a global war on terror on multiple continents. Despite pledges toward transparency and progress on some fronts, the weight of the Obama administration tilts toward secrecy. What the government does in the shadows we may never be privileged to know, until the government itself chooses to declassify it decades later. If Snowden hoped to encourage others to reveal secrets they felt should be public, then Obama’s refusal to pardon Snowden before handing his fate over to a Trump administration could create a chilling effect, discouraging whistleblowers through official or unofficial channels.
It is too early to say how history will judge Edward Snowden. It is, perhaps, fair to say that without Snowden, our version of history would be incomplete.

By Kelsey D. Atherton/PopularScience

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Twitter cuts ties with firm believed to help police spy on activists

Twitter is doubling down on its commitment to opposing police use of its data for surveillance. The social network has severed its contract with Media Sonar, which produces surveillance software used by 19 local government agencies.
The social media giant cut Sonar off in October as part of its commitment to opposing the use of its data by companies that offer mass surveillance tools to law enforcement. Media Sonar was guilty of doing so, Twitter confirmed to the Daily Dot on Friday.

Media Sonar’s access to API, Twitter’s public platform for developers, was shut down, and Twitter told the Daily Dot that if they try to create more, “we will terminate those as well and take further action as appropriate.”

Media Sonar’s sales representatives pitched the cloud-based surveillance program as being “specifically designed for law enforcement” and their promotional material contains “an effective list of high frequency social media terms that can help identify illegal activity and threats to public safety.”

A copy of their material was obtained by the ACLU who discovered that much of the terminology contained on the list pertained to anti-police brutality movements, such as Black Lives Matter. A separate column for Mike Brown-related keywords was included in the 2015 material.

The list also contained keywords of questionable quality. For example, under the gangs column, Media Sonar included keywords like “CEO,” “beat,” and “RIP.” All of these are words apparently can establish a user as potentially being up to no good.

Other interesting choices include placing “dissent” as a potential keyword for police evasion and crimes against police and “brother” as a potential keyword for human trafficking. Phrases that attract children are, according to Media Sonar, “IWSN,” which Media Sonar believes means, “I want sex now,” much to the chagrin of the Injured Worker Support Network.

Misunderstanding of youth culture aside, Media Sonar’s products were purchased by 19 local law enforcement agencies for at least $10,000 each between 2014 and 2016. The promotional material that the ACLU found was actually sent to the Fresno Police Department.

Media Sonar worked by using an artificial intelligence program to “analyze context, phrases and emoticons” “as predictive features” and was pitched as a way to “avoid the warrant process” to learn more about an individual’s social media profiles. Media Sonar also showed trends with individuals that ranged from the products they like to locations they are often tagged in.

Many feel that this kind of software should not be in the hands of law enforcement, because it would offer them the ability to track down and target protest organizers and activists. Twitter has expressed its “commitment to social justice” and claims to be on the lookout for companies like this.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Judge blocks Obama rule extending overtime pay to 4.2 million U.S. workers

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an Obama administration rule to extend mandatory overtime pay to more than 4 million salaried workers from taking effect, imperiling one of the outgoing president’s signature achievements for boosting wages.

U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant, in Sherman, Texas, agreed with 21 states and a coalition of business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that the rule is unlawful and granted their motion for a nationwide injunction.

The rule, issued by the Labor Department, was to take effect Dec. 1 and would have doubled to $47,500 the maximum salary a worker can earn and still be eligible for mandatory overtime pay. The new threshold would have been the first significant change in four decades.

It was expected to touch nearly every sector of the U.S. economy and have the greatest impact on nonprofit groups, retail companies, hotels and restaurants, which have many management workers whose salaries are below the new threshold.

The states and business groups claimed in lawsuits filed in September, which were later consolidated, that the drastic increase in the salary threshold was arbitrary.

On Tuesday, Mazzant, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, ruled that the federal law governing overtime does not allow the Labor Department to decide which workers are eligible based on salary levels alone.

The Fair Labor Standards Act says that employees can be exempt from overtime if they perform executive, administrative or professional duties, but the rule “creates essentially a de facto salary-only test,” Mazzant wrote in the 20-page ruling.

The states and business groups that challenged the rule applauded the decision.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt said in a statement that the ruling “reinforces the importance of the rule of law and constitutional government.”

The Labor Department said it strongly disagrees with the decision. It remains confident that the entire rule is legal, and it is currently considering its options, department spokesman Jason Surbey said.

The Labor Department can appeal to the New Orleans, Louisiana-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but that court has stymied the Obama administration before, blocking Obama’s executive actions on immigration in 2015.

In any case, the Labor Department could drop the appeal after Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

In August, Trump told the website Circa that the overtime rule was an example of the type of burdensome business regulations he would seek to roll back as president, perhaps by exempting small businesses or delaying implementation.

Even if the rule survived the legal challenge, it could be upended by legislation passed by Congress or withdrawn by Trump’s Department of Labor.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce official Randy Johnson said in a statement that the rule would have been costly and disruptive to businesses.

But Ross Eisenbrey of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, which supported the rule, called the decision “extreme and unsupportable.”

“It is also a disappointment to millions of workers who are forced to work long hours with no extra compensation, and is a blow to those Americans who care deeply about raising wages and lessening inequality,” Eisenbrey said in a statement.

The case is Nevada v. U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, No. 16-cv-731.

By Daniel Wiessner and Robert Iafolla/Reuters

Posted by The NON-Conformist