An appeals court for the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has affirmed the use of warrantless wiretaps, a much-criticized measure that was introduced by the Bush administration.
The unclassified version of an August 2008 ruling was released on Thursday and responded to a challenge by an unnamed telecoms company to the Protect America Act of 2007.
This act gave the government the right to monitor phone calls and emails of suspected terrorists without first obtaining a court warrant.
Objections to the act suggested that it violated the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits "unreasonable search and seizure."
In its decision, the court said the requirement to obtain a warrant could slow down the government’s ability to collect time-sensitive information and potentially put Americans’ security at risk.
Although the Protect America Act expired in February, Congress has since passed a new law that permits surveillance and protects communications companies who participated in warrantless wiretapping from lawsuits.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was established in 1978 to review applications for warrants related to national security investigations.
More than six in 10 Americans do not want any more of their tax dollars to be devoted to bailing out financial institutions, according to a new poll.
A CNN/Opinion Research survey found that the majority of people feel the first bailout was not successful and do not want to spend more in this way.
"One reason for the opposition to more money being spent may be that more than eight in 10 said that the first $350 billion of taxpayer money for the bailout didn’t work," said CNN’s polling director Keating Holland.
In fact, a similar poll taken by CNN back in October, before the bailout had been approved found that 56 percent of the public opposed the measure.
However, the newest findings do reveal that some people are in support of the government’s proposed actions, with 38 percent agreeing more money should be given to struggling financial institutions.
On Thursday, the Senate voted to release the remaining $350 billion of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to the incoming administration.
A Maple Heights, Ohio law that requires landlords to collect personal information and photos of their tenants has attracted complaints about its privacy implications.
ACLU attorney Melvyn Durchslag said the measure was likely enacted to keep students from outside the school district from attending the suburb’s schools, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports.
The law at stake obligates landlords to provide the city with data on tenants, including names of adults, number of adults and children living in a residence, names and ages of children, which schools the children attend, residents’ signatures and photographs.
"In their zeal to search out a few people who may be improperly registered for school, city officials have jeopardized residents’ personal information and contributed to our ever-expanding surveillance society," Durchslag said, according to the news provider.
City officials told the Plain-Dealer they would seek to address the issue and that no one had ever complained about it before.
Durchslag said that the ACLU had battled Maple Heights previously over the use of personal data. In 2002, the organization won a lawsuit against the school district centering on the proof required for enrolling new students.
The U.S. does not have an adequate import control policy on genetically modified animals, a USDA internal audit report suggests.
Additionally, the document advises that the country’s existing policy on GMO crops is in danger of becoming obsolete in the future, Reuters reports.
This is because more countries are following the lead of the U.S. and devoting funds to biotechnology and the development of GMO crops and animals.
Previously, the country’s policy was sufficient to cover food that was developed within the U.S. or used similar technology, so "it was unlikely that anything unfamiliar would be imported," the audit stated.
Recommendations from the Office of Inspector General include the development of a control policy for GMO imports and a plan to keep tabs on the development of new GMO crops and livestock in other countries.
Findings from a CBS News/New York Times poll reveal that 87 percent of Americans believe GMO food should be labeled as such – however, the U.S. does not currently have mandatory labeling for these products.
Meanwhile, 53 percent of respondents said they do not want to consume GMO ingredients at all.
A consumer group has brought a lawsuit against Coca-Cola for the marketing of its VitaminWater products.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that the company is engaging in "deceptive" practices by selling the beverages as a healthier alternative to soda.
In fact, each bottle of VitaminWater contains 33 grams of sugar, the CSPI says, which "do more to promote obesity, diabetes and other health problems" than the advertised vitamins do good.
Among the "unsubstantiated" claims made by Coca-Cola mentioned in the suit are the products’ potential to reduce the risk of chronic disease, promote healthy joints and support optimal immune function.
"While it is true that vitamins do play various roles in the human body, the statements on VitaminWater labels go far beyond even the loose, so-called ‘structure/function claims’ allowed by the FDA and cross the line into outright fraud," the CSPI says.
The news comes after the FDA scolded Coca-Cola in December over the labeling of its fortified drink Diet Coke Plus, saying it did not contain enough health benefits to use the term "plus."
If President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus package goes ahead, the country will eventually be left with a "flat economy" and increased debt, according to the Libertarian Party.
The party’s national chairman, William Redpath, said that spending trillions of dollars will do little or nothing to pull the economy out of a recession and will, in fact, cause further problems down the road.
He pointed out that Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt and Ford had all attempted to stimulate the economy by spending on projects in the past, but these efforts were not successful, instead leaving the country with a burden of debt.
"This debt is later repaid with magic money borrowed from foreign countries, printed out of thin air or from tax increases," Redpath explained.
Fraud and pork spending also plague typical big government plans for funding projects around the country, he said.
"So, much of the money taken out of the economy, in order to jump-start the economy, is lost, leaving American taxpayers with a flat economy and even more debt to pay," he added.
The Libertarian Party, along with a number of economists, think tax cuts would be a better path to economic recovery.
Amid talk about the multi-billion dollar stimulus package proposed by President-elect Barack Obama, new Treasury figures reveal that the federal budget deficit has already reached a record $485.2 billion for the first three months of fiscal 2009.
This number sets a new high for a first-quarter deficit and is also greater than the figure for all of fiscal year 2008, which stood at $455 billion.
There are a number of factors at play that have contributed to the rise. Spending on bailouts, economy recovery programs and capital investments began during this period, while income tax revenues have gone down due to job cuts.
According to the Associated Press, Peter Orszag, who has been nominated to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget, predicted large deficits to continue for years.
He told the Senate Budget Committee that the U.S. was likely to face deficits equaling approximately 5 percent of the economy for up to a decade.
In December alone, the country’s deficit grew by $83.6 billion, the Treasury said. Since bailout spending began, it has been issuing bonds extremely quickly to pay for the spending, CNN Money reports.
As the economy has faltered, sales of herbal remedies and vitamins have been increasing, as people look for less expensive ways to treat health conditions.
That is according to an Associated Press investigation, which found many Americans looking to avoid filling costly prescriptions or making doctors’ visits.
According to an AP analysis of data, nationwide retail sales of vitamins and supplements rose by nearly 10 percent during the three months ending December 28th, compared with the same period in 2007.
That data includes New Jersey mom Kristen Kemp, who told the news provider she has been treating her kids’ illnesses with home remedies such as tea and honey, as well as with Chinese herbs.
"Just going to the doctor will cost me $20 per kid – and I have three kids," she explained. "Just in case something bad happens to our jobs, I want more money in the bank."
A government survey released late last year showed that more Americans have been turning to natural supplements to treat their health problems. Among that group, approximately one-quarter cited cost as a factor for avoiding conventional medicine.
Just days after scientists within the FDA accused managers in the administration of corrupt practices, a new report raises concerns about disclosure of financial conflicts.
According to the Health and Human Service Department’s inspector general, 42 percent of marketing applications approved by the FDA did not contain required information about any financial connections between companies and researchers.
Without this documentation, it would be impossible to determine if there was a financial conflict of interest in a clinical trial.
The FDA has required financial documentation of this type for nearly a decade, but the report reveals that compliance with this requirement has been lax.
In 31 percent of applications reviewed, the agency did not document that it had reviewed any financial data at all.
Meanwhile, in 20 percent of applications that contained disclosures that may have raised questions, the FDA did not act, according to the report.
The inspector general made a number of recommendations for improvement to the process. The FDA accepted all but one, which suggested it should investigate conflicts of interest before a trial even began.
The agency said this would add to its workload without producing meaningful results for the public.
Privacy advocacy groups have said they will file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission urging it to adopt rules and safeguards related to the mobile advertising industry.
In particular, the Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group have pointed to Google’s new Android platform as a "sleeping giant" that could threaten people’s privacy by surreptitiously collecting user data.
Android has the ability to collect cookies, which are identifiers of particular users and their browsing history. If installed on a phone with geolocation technology, the groups argue that Google could potentially track users’ locations, as well as internet habits.
Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy told Forbes he does not have a specific complaint about Google’s behavior, but he feels the company has not fully addressed privacy concerns before rolling out their new product.
"People don’t really understand what’s about to emerge: A new kind of data collection and advertising, with huge implications for privacy," he told the news provider.
It remains to be seen how the Obama administration will respond to privacy concerns in an age of rapidly developing technology.
Sodas and fancy coffee drinks may be adding hundreds of additional calories to people’s daily intake, new research suggests.
Findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveal that Americans consume around 300 calories a day from sweetened beverages, HealthDay News reports.
And the caloric intake has risen over the past two decades. According to the data, people are drinking approximately 50 extra calories per day, compared to the 1980s.
Study author Sara Bleich suggested that cutting down on mochas, sodas, smoothies, energy drinks and similar sweetened beverages could provide "an easy way" to shed unwanted pounds – at a rate of around 2.5 pounds a month for the average person.
She said that availability and sizing have contributed to the increase in calorie intake.
"Sugar-sweetened beverages are everywhere. And … the container size has increased, so that on any given consumption occasion, people are drinking more," Bleich explained.
Meanwhile, the latest data from the Bureau of Health Statistics indicates that 34 percent of Americans now qualify as obese.
By adopting universal healthcare, America risks turning into a "nanny state" that controls how its citizens behave and what they consume, a doctor cautions.
Paul Hsieh, cofounder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine, writes in the Christian Science Monitor about the dangers of government involvement in paying for people’s healthcare.
He offers up an example of the so-called "waistline police" in Japan, who are charged with monitoring obesity levels among those over 40. Because government funds pay for healthcare, the country reserves the right to fine and punish people who do not meet certain standards.
Hsieh also describes a British ban on certain egg commercials due to health concerns, as well as New Zealand immigration practices which may keep obese people from entering the country, on the grounds that they cost the system too much money.
"Of course healthy diet and exercise are good. But these are issues of personal – not government – responsibility," he writes.
According to Hsieh, the U.S. is also headed toward a nanny state society. Many cities have already enacted bans on trans fat use, limited the opening of fast food restaurants and imposed taxes on unhealthy foods.
With the introduction of universal healthcare, it could only be a matter of time before the government steps in further, he argues.
President-elect Barack Obama has made it clear that he believes government intervention is the best way to help the country overcome its current economic challenges.
In a speech given on Thursday in support of his economic stimulus package, Obama said that "only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe."
He is attempting to tie the measures in the stimulus to expanding other government-led programs, including those relating to infrastructure and green energy.
According to some experts, Obama’s vision represents a 180-degree reversal from that espoused by Ronald Reagan during the financial crisis of the early 80s.
Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University in Washington, told the Los Angeles Times that in the president-elect’s view, "it’s not just a matter of fixing the economy – it’s a matter of fundamentally moving the economy in a new direction."
"And government, not private enterprise, has to take the lead," he added.
Obama’s economic stimulus package could cost as much as $1 trillion, according to estimates. Some have questioned how this spending will be achieved without raising taxes significantly.
Americans are being placed at risk by the misconduct of managers within the Food and Drug Administration, according to a letter penned by a group of scientists that was sent to the Obama transition team.
The letter, written on a letterhead bearing the name of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, claims that the scientific review process for medical devices has been "corrupted and distorted," the Associated Press reports.
"Managers have ordered, intimidated and coerced FDA experts to modify scientific evaluations, conclusions and recommendations in violation of the laws … and to accept clinical and technical data that is not scientifically valid," the letter reads.
They used the example of computer-aided mammography as an example. FDA scientists recommended against approving the devices five times, because research revealed they produced false alarms that led to unnecessary biopsies.
However, the FDA managers ignored the objections and ordered the technology to be approved, the letter states. This behavior signifies "the most outrageous conduct," the scientists say.
In recent years, the FDA drug and device approval process has come under attack from a number of corners.
The current financial crisis was completely unforeseen by the Bush administration, according to vice president Dick Cheney.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Cheney claimed that people could not place blame for the economy’s collapse on President Bush because "nobody anywhere was smart enough to figure it out."
When asked whether Bush should apologize for not doing more to prevent the recession, the vice president said, "I don’t think he needs to apologize. I think what he needed to do is take bold, aggressive action and he has."
During the interview, Cheney also defended the methods of interrogation used on suspected terrorists, as well as counterterrorism surveillance programs.
He said that there was no reason for Bush to consider pardoning those who engaged in such measures, as they were legally authorized to do so.
"My view would be that the people who carried out that program … in fact were authorized to do what they did and we had the legal options that in effect said what was appropriate and what wasn’t," Cheney commented.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has introduced a bill that aims to protect people’s privacy and prevent ID theft by protecting Social Security numbers.
The Protecting the Privacy of Social Security Numbers Act, which is co-sponsored by Senators Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Olympia Snowe of Maine, would amend Title 18 of the U.S. Code to address the misuse of these numbers.
The bill would prohibit governments at all levels from displaying Social Security numbers on public records on the internet, as well as from printing them on government checks.
Secondly, businesses would face limits in regard to the situations in which they can ask customers for this data.
It would also bar prison inmates from taking up jobs which would provide them access to Social Security numbers.
Feinstein’s bill could result in stricter punishment for people who abuse Social Security numbers, similar to the way previous legislation made hacking a federal crime, InternetNews.com reports.
Introducing the bill, Feinstein said that "we must also ensure that government agencies and businesses do their utmost to protect Americans’ Social Security numbers."
The legislation was introduced alongside a separate bill dealing with notification of data breaches.
Pharmaceutical and medical device companies who want to protect themselves against litigation can now take a course offered by a former U.S. prosecutor.
According to a report on Reuters, Nancy Singer – founder of the Medical Technology Learning Institute and Compliance-Alliance – is offering a course on how to avoid "land mines in your FDA records and emails."
Central to the course’s ethos is the idea that external and internal communications should be closely controlled to avoid raising red flags with regulators or litigators.
Singer told the news provider that the class is not intended to promote the cover-up of illegal practices or concealment of negative data.
"To survive in our litigious society, organizations need to have the right communications culture," she explained.
For example, she advises never to use words such as "illegal" or "negligent" but instead phrase sentiments more like "it could be argued that that doesn’t comply with requirements."
Singer also recommends monitoring employee emails and discouraging people from putting their concerns in writing to protect themselves, as these memos will only be used against the company in a lawsuit.
Companies including Merck have found themselves in court confronting leaked internal documents that indicate they were aware their products could cause harm.
RFID technology is being implemented without proper oversight or control, according to Washington representative Jeff Morris.
Jeff Morris has pledged to fight the use of so-called "spy technology" that infringes on people’s privacy, Information Week reports.
Included in his proposals is a ban on scans of people identification documents without first obtaining their consent, except in specific cases.
Morris has also said that all consumer products containing RFID chips should be clearly marked so that people can be in charge of deciding if their personal information should be collected.
"The potential for marketing and convenience is great with this technology. But so is the threat to our privacy and freedom," he said, according to the news provider.
RFID is an automatic identification method in which data is stored and remotely retrieved using devices known as transponders.
It is currently used in the logistics sector for tracking and monitoring inventory, as well as increasingly in consumer products.
This is not the first time Morris has supported limits on the technology. According to Information Week, last year he supported making the intentional surreptitious scanning of a person’s RFID chip without their consent a Class C felony.
The move to increase the security standards on state-issued drivers’ licenses and identification cards is hitting numerous roadblocks, according to a report by Newsmax.
At least 12 states have approved legislation that prohibits implementation of the Real ID act of 2005, which would effectively introduce a national identity card.
As part of the compliance process, states would be required to change the documentation they accept to verify lawful presence in the U.S. before issuing a license or ID. Additionally, the information they gather would be made available nationwide in a database.
Opponents have raised both privacy and financial concerns about Real ID.
Incoming head of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has also stated her opposition to the program, saying that it does not provide adequate federal funding to support states’ implementation.
Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security has estimated that states could be forced to spend up to $17 billion to comply with Real ID.
According to Newsmax, later this month organizations across Virginia will stage a rally in support of legislation to block the act from becoming law, partly due to worries about privacy.
"No one can know who is getting into those databases and for what purpose," Donna Holt of the Campaign for Liberty told the news provider.
It may boggle the mind, but the adult entertainment industry has become the latest sector to ask the government for money to stay afloat.
Larry Flynt, known for publishing Hustler, and Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis have indicated they plan to petition Congress for a bailout.
According to Francis’ spokesperson, they are asking for a similar arrangement to that sought by the Big Three automakers last month.
"Congress seems willing to help shore up our nation’s most important businesses – we feel we deserve the same consideration," Francis commented.
The pair cited statistics showing that their sector has suffered in recent months. DVD sales and rentals fell by 22 percent over the past year, as more people turn to online options, they said.
Flynt suggested that by helping the adult entertainment industry, the government would be making an important investment.
"Americans can do without cars and such but they cannot do without sex," he said.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that GM has received its first installment of bailout money, in the form of $4 billion dollars.
New reports about a Beijing woman who died of avian influenza may raise fresh fears about a possible resurgence of the disease, which peaked in 2006.
And new research cautions the U.S. against relying on antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu to protect people against infection.
Scientists at Ohio State University say that evidence shows bird flu became resistant to antiviral agents known as adamantanes, which were used in Asia and Russia.
By 2006, these drugs were considered worthless because 90 percent of strains were resistant.
The researchers then analyzed 700 avian flu genomes isolated from a variety of hosts, discovering that one-third had mutations that allowed these strains to resist adamantane drugs.
"We can’t necessarily say what we’ve seen in adamantanes is predictive of what will happen with Tamiflu, but in the larger dynamic, perhaps it serves as a cautionary tale," commented senior author Daniel Janies.
In 2007, the World Health Organization warned that a strain of avian flu resistant to Tamiflu had been discovered in Egypt.
Worries about the safety of prescription drugs have played a part in reducing customer demand for medications, according to a new report.
Micah Hartman, lead author of the federal report, told USA Today that people may be backing away from purchasing prescription medications as the FDA issues more safety warnings.
In 2007, the FDA issued at least 68 warnings on drugs, including one high-profile warning that diabetes pill Avandia had been linked to a higher risk of heart attacks. This represents a large increase from the 21 warnings issued in 2003.
According to the report, the growth in overall healthcare spending showed the smallest rise in more than 40 years in 2007. Most of this slowdown could be attributed to people spending less on prescription drugs.
Another factor affecting healthcare costs is an increased use of generic drugs, which are generally less expensive.
The report found that 67 percent of all prescriptions filled in 2007 were generics, an increase from 63 percent in 2006.
Meanwhile, last month’s research from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that the use of natural supplements is increasing.
As Americans change their driving habits, the federal government has seen a shortfall in the revenue collected from fuel taxes.
This has spurred a discussion about how to make up the shortfall and continue to maintain sufficient funds to repair and build roads, the Associated Press reports.
According to the news provider, the National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing is mulling an increase in gas and diesel fuel taxes by around 50 percent.
This measure would raise the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon and the diesel tax by between 12 and 15 cents per gallon.
The American Trucking Associations, which supports the tax, suggested that the government change the label given to the tax to give it a more positive spin.
"Instead of calling it a gas tax, call it a carbon tax," ATA chairman Charles Whittington told the AP.
At the state level, similar steps are being considered to make up lost fuel tax revenue. In Oregon, the governor has suggested taxing people on the number of miles they drive instead of increasing the gas tax.