The Replacement For Fingerprinting? FBI Facial Recognition Program Set To Supplant Current ID Methods

Facial recognition technology and surveillance have been cohabiting for a long time, but today the FBI announced it’s officially wedding itself to a $1 billion program intended to help supplant older, traditional methods (think: fingerprinting) of identifying and tracking individuals.

The new facial recognition system is to be deployed alongside other features in the ongoing rollout of the FBI’s so-called “Next Generation Identification” program, a biometric detection infrastructure which relies on big data to more reliably (according to the FBI) identify and keep tabs on surveillance subjects.

“The vast majority of records contained in the NGI database will be of US citizens,” the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) writes:

The system will include facial recognition capabilities to analyze collected images. Millions of individuals who are neither criminals nor suspects will be included in the database. Many of these individuals will be unaware that their images and other biometric identifiers are being captured. Drivers license photos and other biometric records collected by civil service agencies could be added to the system. The NGI system could be integrated with other surveillance technology, such as Trapwire, that would enable real-time image-matching of live feeds from CCTV surveillance cameras. The Department of Homeland Security has expended hundreds of millions of dollars to establish state and local surveillance systems, including CCTV cameras that record the routine activities of millions of individuals. There are an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States. The NGI system will be integrated with CCTV cameras operated by public agencies and private entities.

Moreover, third parties are already attempting to develop crime prevention platforms that could make the FBI’s next-generation program seem antiquated. Check this out.

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As The Hill reported Monday, the FBI is denying that it will collect and store information on citizens not under suspicion of criminal activity. But that hasn’t assuaged the concerns of a burgeoning grass-roots anti-surveillance culture in the U.S., which is attempting to develop low-tech methods of its own to thwart unconstitutional mass surveillance — even if it entails making yourself look ridiculous in the process.

Nevada Scraps Do-Over For Failed State Healthcare Exchange

Nevada abandoned its contract with a company to run its failed state Obamacare exchange back in May, waving goodbye to $75 million in wasted contract money in the process. The plan was to shift everyone buying Obamacare coverage over to Healthcare.gov, take a breath and recommit to crafting a new state exchange that could deploy in time for next year’s open enrollment period.

Instead, Nevada’s Silver State Health Insurance Exchange board voted to stop looking for a new vendor to build a new state exchange, and just use the Healthcare.gov exchange permanently. Insurance customers in Nevada will still access the Healthcare.gov enrollment backbone by visiting the state’s Nevada Health Link site, but underpinning it will be the same software and database system employed by the federal Obamacare exchange.

That’s a calculated gamble, since Healthcare.gov isn’t secure. But for the state exchange board, it has become a case of refusing to throw good money after bad.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week:

Shawna DeRousse, chief operating officer of the exchange, said Nevada Health Link enrollments had dwindled to 34,000, down from 38,000 earlier this summer, and sign-ups may drop more as customers face re-enrollment in November. If member counts drop, the state may not be able to support a third switch. Moving onto the federal website will cost an additional $25 million for the state Division of Health and Human Services, which runs Nevada Medicaid. The state’s General Fund must match $3 million of that.

Said the exchange report: “If the next open enrollment is not successful, there is no guarantee that implementing a third system within three years would produce a successful result. Additionally, if the current federal infrastructure fails, it fails nationally, and federal resources will be utilized to fix the system. No additional state funding would be required to remain on the system, given current legislative status.”

There’s nothing like pinning your hopes on an inevitable loser, only to enjoy the benefit of having someone else take the blame for the mess.

Nevada residents filed a class action suit against Nevada Health Link in April, claiming they were paying for coverage they weren’t receiving, thanks to the site’s inability to correctly process and track enrollments.

As the nationwide 2015 enrollment period inches closer, expect a revival of the daily Obamacare horror stories that dominated the news late last year.

“It’s been pretty quiet lately on the Obamcare front… So quiet, that there has been a flurry of articles recently over how Obamacare has dropped to a second or even third tier issue and will hardly matter come election-time,” health policy researcher Bob Laszewski blogged last week. “The last couple of months have been very quiet for Obamacare… That is about to end.”

Missouri Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto Of Bill Permitting Armed Teachers

Both chambers of the Missouri legislature this week accomplished an override of Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill expanding both concealed and open carry rights at schools in the Show Me State.

Nixon had vetoed S.B. 656 in July, arguing that training educational staff to carry concealed firearms on campus “would not make our schools safer” and that only school resource officers should be allowed to possess weapons on school grounds.

The bill  provides for school boards to designate “one or more school teachers or administrators as a school protection officer” after holding a public hearing, requiring the employee to complete a MPOSTC-approved training program, and sharing all information about the resource officers with the state Department of Public Safety. It also provides criminal penalties if a school protection officer fails to secure his weapon while at work.

The Senate overturned Nixon on a partisan 23-8 vote. The House followed suit a day later, overriding the veto Thursday on a bipartisan 117-39 vote.

The bill also does a number of other things, as summarized by The Missouri Times’ Collin Reischman:

An omnibus bill dealing with firearms, Nixon vetoed this bill for it’s provisions allowing schools to designate and train a “school protection officer,” to legally carry a firearm on school property. The bill also lowers the minimum age for a CCW permit from 21 to 19. The bill also prohibits health care professionals from asking about requiring asking a patient about firearm ownership or recording and/or reporting such ownership to a government entity. The bill also addresses so-called “open carry” law. Under the bill, local governments will not be able to prohibit CCW holders from engaging in open carry practices. Democratic Senators Scott Sifton and Jolie Justus spent nearly two hours discussing the bill in a semi-filibuster. The bill ultimately passed by a vote of 23-8 along party lines.

All of those provisions are reinstated by the veto override. S.B. 656 will take effect in Missouri.

Obamacare Hits 250,000 Virginians With Canceled Policies, Extends Opportunity To Buy More Expensive Ones

Last year, U.S. wages and consumer spending fell, even as spending on healthcare costs increased. That’s got to be especially good news for the quarter million people in Virginia who are learning their existing health plans will be canceled this fall.

WVIR News in Charlottesville reported Wednesday that the cancellations fall in line with so many other policies nationwide that simply aren’t legal, because of their coverage options, under the one-size-fits-all Affordable Care Act.

“Nearly a quarter million Virginians will have their current insurance plans cut this fall,” said the local anchor. “That is because many of them did not…are not following, I should say, new Affordable Care Act rules, so a chunk of the companies that offer those individuals their policies [will] make the individuals choose new policies.

“…This goes back to that now heavily-criticized line we heard before Obamacare was put in place: ‘If you like your plan, you can keep it,’” says a spot reporter. “Ultimately, that turned out not to be true for thousands of Virginians and companies in the commonwealth. …[A] staggering number of Virginians will need new plans this fall.”

Those plans will cost more — something insurers have known since at least May. Aside from increased premiums that will likely hit 15 percent on the high end, Obamacare’s metal-graded coverage tier system (platinum, gold, silver and bronze) relies heavily on out-of-pocket contributions that exceed what most canceled policyholders have had to pay prior to the healthcare law.

Here’s an interesting rundown of how out-of-pocket costs are changing, using 2015 rate filings from several states (including Virginia) to illustrate the difference. Hint: the structure is regressive. The costliest tier is also the most expensive out-of-pocket. And it also shares the greatest similarity, in terms of how thorough its coverage options are, to many of the canceled plans it’s supposed to be replacing.

Harry Reid Loses Both The Vote And The PR Campaign As Constitutional Amendment Bill Goes Down In Flames

Remember that supposed Constitutional amendment to restrict political spending by the Koch brothers and repudiate the Citizens United decision? The one that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was hell-bent on bringing up for repeated floor votes? The one that was supposed to be the “salvation of our country,” as Reid declared in May?

Well, consider the country unsaved. The amendment bill died today. And thanks to some procedural Russian roulette from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), it appears to have died for good.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), aimed to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution handing Congress the regulatory power to limit and oversee campaign spending for federal elections. It would also have granted the same power to states to similarly regulate state-level campaign spending. Reid had drawn a line in the sand earlier this year, saying such an amendment is do-or-die for an American elections system hijacked by Koch money.

“It’s been tried before, we should continue to push this and it should become our issue. That really puts the Koch brothers up against it. We believe and I believe that there should be spending limits,” he had said. “… We’re going to arrange a vote on it. We’re going to do it until we pass it because that’s the salvation of our country.”

The bill was never anything more than political theater, a scripted token of Reid’s Koch-ranting midterm elections strategy designed to lay blame at Republicans’ feet for obstructing campaign finance reform. “This bill has no chance of amending the Constitution, or Harry Reid wouldn’t be ready to stage a floor show themed around a phony battle against evil Republicans intent on frustrating its chances,” we wrote in May. “This is the kind of bill that makes for great Sunday news show fodder once it’s failed.”

One big problem: The bill didn’t fail the way Reid had planned. It failed honestly, so to speak, rather than dishonestly. From Washington Examiner today:

Democrats never really thought the measure would go anywhere, as they drafted it on the assumption Republicans would immediately block it. Democrats had hoped then to hold up the vote as an example of GOP obstructionism, a ploy they expected to exploit ahead of the November congressional elections.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Reid’s bluff Monday when he allowed the measure to advance on an initial procedural vote, turning what was supposed to be a Democratic messaging bill against them. McConnell allowed a second procedural vote to pass Wednesday on a voice vote.

The Kentucky Republican then blasted Reid for wasting Senate time on a measure he knew had a slim chance of passing.

So the measure died in today’s partisan 54-42 vote. (It needed 60 to continue.) As majority leader, Reid typically votes against ill-fated bills he supports, since he can reconsider a measure after having voted against it. But since the thing made it all the way to a full Senate vote, he was compelled to vote his… conscience… on a motion to proceed.

Here’s a link to the Examiner’s Tuesday story on how McConnell and the Senate GOP got set to win this one. It has a funny headline.

One-Third Of Voters Don’t Even Know Which Party Controls House, Senate

In two months, U.S. voters will determine whether Congress continues into President Obama’s last two years with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House. But a chunk of those likely voters don’t even know which party currently holds the majority in each chamber.

Rasmussen Reports said Thursday that only 63 percent of likely voters have a clue about which party is in charge of the House and the Senate. As for the remainder, many of them aren’t simply ignorant — they’re (somehow) misinformed.

Twenty percent (20%) mistakenly believe Democrats control the House, while 17% are not sure. Similarly, 18% think the GOP is in charge in the Senate, but 19% are not sure.

This is even less awareness than voters expressed in March of last year. Remember, too, that these are respondents who are the likeliest to vote this November and so presumably are more politically aware than most other Americans.

Broken down by demographics, Rasmussen reveals that “women and those under 40” know less about the present arrangement of party control over the bicameral legislature. As for likely voters who claim a party affiliation, “Republicans are more aware than Democrats and unaffiliated voters, but a sizable number of GOP voters don’t know which party controls which house of Congress.”

And while the general public perceives Republicans to be anti-Obamacare, the party-line votes against the original law — as well as all the repeated GOP-led repeal efforts — haven’t exactly earned each and every Representative a commensurate level of notoriety for their efforts.

“Even though not a single Republican member of either the House or Senate voted for the new national health care law, 31% of likely voters say they are not sure how their representative in Congress voted on Obamacare, an issue at the forefront of this election cycle,” Rasmussen states.

At least we’re all self-aware in our ignorance. Only nine percent of those surveyed indicated they believe that Americans make for well-informed voters.

House Votes To Block EPA Power Grab That Would Regulate Small Waterways On Private Property

In a somewhat bipartisan vote, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved H.R. 5078, a “statement” piece of legislation that aims to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s unprecedented reach for regulatory power over small streams, ponds and similar catchments on private lands.

The measure passed on a 262-152 vote, with 227 Republicans and 35 Democrats supporting it. One Republican and 151 Democrats voted against the bill; 17 congressmen did not cast a vote. It now heads to the Senate, where vulnerable Democrats are feeling pressure from lobbies on both sides to kill the bill or save it. The Obama administration indicated on Monday that the President is likely to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk, saying the law is “not an act of good government.”

That’s to be expected, because the EPA’s vision for redefining language in the Clean Water Act to include small catchments and seasonal creeks is in lockstep with the Obama administration’s overarching program of expanding the government’s role in environmental stewardship.

Land-use industries such as oil, farming and the construction trades hailed the House approval of the bill and focused their attention to its passage in the Senate.

“Allowing these agencies to radically increase their jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act would impede the fledgling housing recovery by greatly increasing the number of construction sites required to obtain permits, which would also delay and raise the cost of home building projects,” the National Association of Homebuilders’ Kevin Kelly said Tuesday. “… Today’s House vote sends a strong message to the EPA to go back to the drawing board to find a common-sense middle ground plan that will maintain environmental safeguards and protect landowners from unnecessary regulation.”

“Passage of H.R. 5078 isn’t just a clear rejection of the overreach that lies in the EPA’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule,” the American Farm Bureau Federation said in a statement after the bill passed. “Today’s action is an unmistakable signal that the tide is turning against those who ignore the constitutional separation of powers in the United States. We will ditch this rule.”

Separation of powers and federal encroachment were clearly on the mind of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), who titled his legislation the “Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act.”

“For more than 40 years, America’s waters have been made cleaner and safer by a balanced regulatory partnership between the states and the federal government. The basis for this partnership was a commonsense understanding that not all waters are subject to federal jurisdiction, and that the states must have the primary responsibility for regulating waters within their own boundaries,” Southerland said from the House floor Tuesday.

“But now, decades of success have been put at risk under the guise of ‘clarifying’ the scope of the federal jurisdiction. Under its proposed rules, federal agencies like the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers would see their regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act drastically expanded to the point of covering almost any body of water throughout America — from ditches to culverts to pipes to watersheds to farmland ponds.”

Those environmentalists who view the government as a just arbiter of land use issues weren’t happy with the vote.

Salon’s Lindsay Abrams characterized the bill’s robust GOP support as “hysterical rhetoric” and accused Republicans of “twisting” a benign, much-needed clarification of policy language into an election-year issue to politically isolate rural-state Democrats.

For more on what the bill actually says, just check it out.

Commissioner Koskinen Says IRS Tries To Follow The Law ‘Whenever We Can’

Take comfort in knowing that, just as you only try to follow federal tax law “whenever you can,” the agency that collects and enforces those same laws is right there with you.

What? You always follow federal tax law because you don’t have much of a choice? Never mind then — the IRS hasn’t got anything in common with you.

At a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing today, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the panel the IRS sometimes does what the law prescribes. “Whenever we can, we follow the law,” said Koskinen, prompting a quick retort from Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), according to The Hill: ““I encourage you to follow the law in all instances.”

Koskinen’s remarks came amid a barrage of questions about how the IRS will manage to ensure that everyone who’s required to report their healthcare coverage information to the agency this tax season will provide accurate information. It’s a crucial point: The Obama administration has missed the mark repeatedly in assurances about deadlines, premium costs, the security of patient information and the expediency of incorporating insurance verification into the annual tax-filing gauntlet.

Healthcare.gov’s Andy Slavitt faced questions about such concerns, with House members pointing out the website was recently reported to have been hacked — just one of several serious rollout failings that have engendered, in Slavitt’s own words, a “trust gap” between congressional overseers and the public on one hand, and the Obama administration on the other.

Wednesday’s hearing came only a few days after another potential IRS scandal-within-a-scandal emerged, when a Department of Justice spokesman reportedly called Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) office by mistake in an attempt to drum up some help on how to continue shaping the IRS narrative in its ongoing political discrimination scandal involving conservative nonprofits. Issa is chair of the House Oversight Committee, which has an ongoing investigation into the scandal.

“Apparently thinking he had reached the office of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) [Cummings is on the House Oversight Committee], [DOJ spokesman Brian] Fallon said the department wanted congressional staffers to get documents to selected reporters so that officials could comment on them ‘before the majority’ did,” The Hill reported Tuesday.

“After Issa spokesman Frederick Hill replied that Oversight Committee staffers would have to examine those documents first, the line went silent, and Fallon placed the call on hold for three minutes.

“When he returned to the line, Fallon was ‘audibly shaken,’ according to an account of the conversation that Issa recounts in a letter sent to [Attorney General Eric] Holder.”

You can read the letter Issa sent to Holder following that incident here.

Every Day They’re Unemployed, More Jobless People Go Shopping Than Look For Work

Looking for a job — especially when jobs are hard to find — is a drag. But shopping’s fun. And because so many people in the U.S. can live funded and jobless at the same time, more of them are spending their days buying stuff — not even necessary stuff — than looking for work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey (ATUS), unemployed people from 2009 through 2013 spent more time shopping for nonessential goods on a daily basis than hunting for a job or following up on invitations to job interviews.

From CNS News, which recently crunched the BLS’ survey numbers:

Only 18.9 percent of Americans who were unemployed (in surveys conducted from 2009 through 2013) spent time in job search and interviewing activities on an average day, according to BLS. Yet 40.8 percent of the unemployed did some kind of shopping on the average day — either in a store, by telephone, or on the Internet. 22.5 percent of the unemployed, according to BLS, were shopping for items other than groceries, food and gas.

The upshot, then, is that 22.5 percent of unemployed Americans shopped for stuff other than gas and groceries, while only 18.9 percent looked for work. Unemployed Americans also spent 9.24 hours per day, on average, sleeping and 5.93 hours per day on leisure and social activities.

Statistics released by the Census Bureau last month revealed that 110 million Americans — more than 35 percent of the population of the United States — are now receiving some form of means-tested welfare from the government. Add in Medicare and Social Security, and that number jumps above 150 million, or just under half the U.S. population.

As Cato Institute fellow Michael Tanner recently observed, the present surge in welfare benefits is a legacy of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “[T]he growing welfare caseload cannot be blamed solely on President Obama,” Tanner wrote in National Review.

“True, the number of people on welfare has increased by 12.5 million since he took office. But welfare also increased during the Bush administration: The proportion of households receiving SNAP (food stamps), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), or SSI (Supplemental Security Income for the disabled) increased 36 percent during his presidency.”

VA Officials Allowed To Influence Inspector General Report To Downplay Alleged Role In Patient Deaths

A draft of an Inspector General’s report on a Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital was modified to include softer language absolving VA officials of any alleged role in causing delays that may have contributed to patient deaths — but only after the draft, without that benign language, had been submitted to VA administrators and then released to the public.

The Washington Examiner reported on the “crucial” omission Monday, noting that agency officials succeeded in effecting revisions to the version of the IG report that went public — evidently in an attempt to avoid the criticism that might have followed if the public had reviewed the harsher, final version.

“The single most compelling sentence in the inspector general’s 143-page final report on fraudulent scheduling practices at the Phoenix veterans’ hospital did not appear in the draft version, according to a staff analysis by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,” wrote the Examiner.

“It was inserted into the final version, the only one that was released to the public, after agency officials had a chance to comment and recommend revisions.”

That meaning of that sentence revolves on the omission of a passage that proclaimed the IG could not “conclusively” prove that Phoenix VA officials’ delays had led to anyone dying:

While the case reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.

“No such language appears in the draft version that was sent by the IG to agency officials for comment,” the Examiner reported.

That means the higher-ups in the VA thought the draft of the report was too damning, and they persuaded the IG to dress it up for their benefit. The IG had already concluded that the Phoenix VA had falsified appointment logs to conceal the delays in patient care.