Obama, lawmakers quietly work to give government more snooping power

Renewed fears about cybersecurity on Capitol Hill and a new proposal on the matter from President Barack Obama could soon make life easier for government communications snoops who have found it increasingly difficult to scoop up private data without public backlash in recent years.

Obama on Tuesday said that the recent high profile cyberattack on Sony underscores the need for heightened U.S. cybersecurity regulations.

“With the Sony attack that took place, with the Twitter account that was hacked by Islamist jihadist sympathizers yesterday, it just goes to show how much more work we need to do — both public and private sector — to strengthen our cybersecurity,” the president told members of Congress.

Obama said that lawmakers should focus on crafting legislation to encourage more data sharing between private and government entities.

In other words, the Obama administration is teaming up with lawmakers to force through a renewed version of the much hated 2013 Cyber Intelligence Protection and Sharing Act, which many critics derided as a government/private sector information pipeline for data protected under the 4th Amendment.

Broad language in the original incarnation of CISPA granted private companies legal immunity for turning private communications data, including texts, emails and files, over to government snoops for “cybersecurity” purposes, effectively eliminating any private sector incentive to comply with U.S. privacy laws when faced with government information requests.

The White House publicly criticized the original CISPA legislation, a move some watchers now say stunk of political theater, based on how closely the administration’s new plan parallels the privacy damning original legislation.

“The status quo of overweening national security and law enforcement secrecy means that expanded information sharing poses a serious risk of transferring more personal information to intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement. “Given that the White House rightly criticized CISPA in 2013 for potentially facilitating the unnecessary transfer of personal information to the government or other private sector entities when sending cybersecurity threat data, we’re concerned that the Administration proposal will unintentionally legitimize the approach taken by these dangerous bills.”

Instead of hoping no one notices that it is walking back on promises to protect Americans’ private digital communications data by creating new ways for the government to access information, EFF argues that the administration should advocate strengthening existing information-sharing hubs and encouraging companies to use them more efficiently when a threat is detected.

The proposal given to lawmakers by the president also increase penalties in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for those charged with Internet crimes.

“[The plan] makes provisions for the prosecution of the sale of botnets, would criminalize the overseas sale of stolen US financial information like credit card and bank account numbers, would expand federal law enforcement authority to deter the sale of spyware used to stalk or commit ID theft, and would give courts the authority to shut down botnets engaged in distributed denial of service attacks and other criminal activity,” according to the White House.

EFF calls the expansion of those penalties troubling, citing “already excessive — and redundant — penalties for crimes performed with computers.”

In case you’re wondering how GOP congressional control will factor in to Obama’s attempts to push policies he once criticized, the original version of CISPA passed in the Republican-controlled House with overwhelming support from the right.

The GOP establishment hasn’t, after all, been shy about trumping privacy for the illusion on security in the past. And things are no different today.

In fact, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is already working feverishly to undo weak surveillance reforms that passed through the House last year. He’s also urging lawmakers to reauthorize the government collection of Americans’ telephone records without question before the authority expires this summer.

“We don’t want to further encumber intelligence and law enforcement communities who already have a difficult task in tracking those who wish to attack Americans at home and abroad,” he told Bloomberg.

Rand Paul: Judicial activism is good for liberty

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) broke from traditional conservative thinking Tuesday, saying that judicial activism isn’t a bad thing for proponents of liberty.

“My point is not to convert you from judicial restraint to judicial activism, but to think about it because I think it’s not as simple as we make it sound,” Paul said during a speech at Heritage for America’s Conservative Policy Summit. “We say, ‘We don’t want judges writing laws.’ Well, I don’t want judges writing laws either, but do I want judges to protect my freedom? Do I want judges to take an activist role in defense of liberty?”

Republicans have long rallied against judges who’ve used legal opinions to advance causes such as gay marriage and abortion. But Paul noted in his speech that judges have also been instrumental in defending the rights of individuals against dastardly government policies.

“If you have a Jim Crow majority in the South, does the court have a role in overturning something, where a person’s individual rights are at stake?” Paul said, referring to the Supreme Court’s role in overturning Brown v. Board of Education. “I think they do.”

Paul acknowledged that his was a hard case to make before an audience at Heritage, which defines judicial activism thusly on its website: “Judicial activism occurs when judges write subjective policy preferences into the law rather than apply the law impartially according to its original meaning. As such, activism does not mean the mere act of striking down a law.”

Still, the Kentucky Republican urged attendees to support judges’ rights to approach rulings with a “presumption of liberty.”

Representing the little man: On average, lawmakers 18 times wealthier than regular Americans

Your congressman will tell you he’s just like you. But if you’re still wondering how that’s true when he doesn’t understand how a modest tax could have a devastating impact on your bottom line, consider this: According to new study from the Center for Responsive Politics, the average net worth of a member of Congress is 18 times that of the average American family.

“At a time when income inequality is much debated, the representatives we choose are overwhelmingly affluent,” said CRP’s Executive Director Sheila Krumholz. “Whether voters elect them because they are successful or because people of modest means do not run, or for other reasons, is unclear, but struggling Americans should not assume that their elected officials understand their circumstances.“

The average net worth of households in America was just $56,355. That’s compared to an average net worth of $1,029,505 for the nation’s elected class.

Worse yet, as the average Americans’ net worth declined by a third between 2007 and 2013 lawmakers have seen their worth increase, from an average of $2.3 million to $2.8 million in the Senate and from $708,500 to $$843,507 in the House.

“It’s almost never a down year for Congress. Since OpenSecrets.org began publishing an annual report on lawmakers’ net worth in 2006, the numbers have increased every year but one — 2008,” the report says. “This year’s jump of over 2.5 percent is slightly less than the increase between 2011 and 2012 of 4.4 percent, but still greater than the rate of inflation.”

Many lawmakers made their fortunes before arriving on Capitol Hill but, according to the report, some have amassed considerable wealth during their legislative tenures.

One notable example appeared earlier this month with WND writer Jerome Corsi’s analysis House Speaker John Boehner’s financials:

Since the passage of Obamacare, House Speaker John Boehner has been dogged by critics pointing out his investment portfolio has benefited from owning insurance and medical company stocks that have profited from the legislation.

An analysis of Boehner’s current investment holdings includes a number of stocks benefiting from Obamacare in a total portfolio estimated at between $3.5 and $5 million in current market value.

Currently, America’s wealthiest member of Congress is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), with an average net worth of $448.4 million. The least wealthy lawmaker, Rep. David Valadao, also a Caliornia Republican, has a net worth of negative $11.5 million.

Read the full report here.

With GOP control, new Budget chairman Tom Price plans to get ambitious

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the new top dog on the House Budget Committee, says he wants to balance the federal budget in fewer than the 10 years prescribed by Rep. Paul Ryan, the previous GOP chair of the committee.

“We will lay out a budget this year that will come to balance within what’s called the window, within a 10-year period of time. I hope it’s shorter than that,” Price said during an address Monday to The Heritage Foundation’s Conservative Policy Summit.

Many conservatives have long criticized the Ryan plan which would have balanced the budget 10 years from 2014 for not being aggressive enough. Price contends that the new era of GOP congressional control gives lawmakers the power to pursue more aggressive options without the fear of Senate Democrats making a “muddled mess” of the financial process.

“The Budget Committee is where we begin to get our fiscal house in order,” Price said, adding that Republicans will be “laying out the vision for how we would grow our economy in a very positive way.”

The lawmaker indicated that a forthcoming GOP budget plan will explore a number of changes to improve the financial solvency of U.S. entitlement programs while simultaneously saving U.S. citizens and the government more money.

“We believe it’s important to save, strengthen and secure Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,” Price said.

Without providing many details about the GOP plan for entitlements Price noted that all options are on the table, including increasing the age of eligibility for certain programs and providing a more flexible set of enrollment options.

“The other side seems to be OK with them going broke,” he added, calling Democratic insistences that the programs are not as risk of future insolvency “irresponsible” and “deceitful.”

Aside from balancing the nation’s budget, Price said that he plans to use his new position to take on other challenges such as repealing Obamacare and some of the Obama administration’s other policies using the power of the purse.

“If we can get anything to the president’s desk, we win,” Price said, adding that he isn’t worried about the president’s promise to use the power of veto against GOP efforts.

“[T]he president’s going to be laid bare, and the emperor wears no clothes,” he said.

U.S. terror fears rise rapidly on heels of French attacks

Following a week of horrors carried out by Islamic extremists in France, U.S. lawmakers and other officials are warning that the nation should be on high alert for possible attacks on the homeland and abroad.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told ABC over the weekend that recent terror events are evidence of a growing “war on Western civilization” being waged by a number of groups.

“It really doesn’t matter what terrorist group we insert into the blank,” he said.

“They’re out to kill innocent people. We’ve got to collectively do our best to make sure we thwart those attacks.”

Burr said that he is particularly concerned about the ease with which terror groups can orchestrate attacks via social media. That ease, combined with a high number of terror sleeper cells in Europe with ties to terror hotbeds in the Middle East, could enable terrorists to launch an attack a week on the continent.

“I think certainly that’s a tempo we could reach given the number of folks who have gone in and out of Syria,” Burr said.

“The thing that worries me the most right now is the buzz on social media. Whether it comes from a specific group like ISIS or it’s just on the chat rooms, the target is just to go out and kill law enforcement and other officials.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Sunday that the U.S. is likely inadvertently welcoming terror sleeper cells on its soil through a visa waiver program that makes it easier for travelers from 38 countries to stay in the U.S. for 90 days with no visa.

“The visa waiver program is the Achilles’ heel of America,” Feinstein said on CNN.

Feinstein said that Congress should make a top priority of fixing the program, which she said provides a way for insurgents to travel freely between the U.S. and regions where they receive terror training.

“They can come back from training, they go through a visa waiver country, and they come into this country,” she said. “Now, there are no-fly lists. There are terrorist lists. But they’re in the tens of thousands and even millions, so it’s difficult to ferret someone out.”

Feinstein also warned that the program makes it easy for terrorists to steal and falsify documents to get into the U.S.

“… I believe it will happen, if it hasn’t already,” Feinstein said of the prospect of terrorists exploiting the program.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who traveled to Paris on the heels of last week’s attacks, joined CBS on Sunday to discuss what the Obama administration is doing to respond to the increased threat of world terror.

The Obama official said that the White House believes that small-scale attacks on the U.S. are a possibility.

“It’s something that frankly keeps me up at night. Worrying about the lone wolf or a group of people, a very small group of people, who decide to get arms on their own and do what we saw in France this week,” Holder said. “It’s the kind of thing that our government is focused on doing all that we can, in conjunction with our state and local counterparts, to try to make sure that it does not happen.”

The attorney general said that the U.S. is committed to monitoring potential terrorists without resulting to profiling.

“We’re not stereotyping anybody, but we are focused on those people who we have some reason to believe might engage in these kinds of activities.” Holder said. “… I think we do a good job in keeping abreast of what these people are talking about and potentially what it is that they are planning.”

The White House announced this week that it will hold an anti-terror summit on Feb. 18 to investigate “best practices and emerging efforts” to counteract global terrorism.

But not everyone is convinced that the Obama White House has a handle on the situation.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that the growing global terror threat has resulted directly from Obama’s “leading from behind.” Evidence, he contends, is the formation of the “largest extremist caliphate in history” in Syria, which Obama has “no strategy to degrade or defeat.”

“ISIS right now is winning,” McCain said. “We need to go after them. We need to have more boots on the ground. We need a no-fly zone. We need to arm the Free Syrian Army. And we need a coherent strategy that can be presented to the Congress.”

McCain also criticized Holder’s earlier remarks.

“I’m glad that Eric Holder is keeping an eye on people and all that, but this is because of the result of leading from behind,” he said.

Fellow Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas also skewered Obama’s terror policy, saying the current White House’s political correctness encourages global terrorism.

“We know that, for example, when Major Nidal Hasan made his attack at Fort Hood, they called that workplace violence,” he told CBS on Sunday. “And they are calling the war on terror ‘overseas contingency operations.’ We need to call it what it is. Because that’s the first step to actually dealing with it on a realistic basis.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also weighed in on the recent terror attacks in France, saying that Obama’s absence at a solidarity rally over the weekend sends the wrong message to U.S. allies.

“The absence is symbolic of the lack of American leadership on the world stage, and it is dangerous,” Cruz wrote.

Boehner attacks GOP conservatives

After 25 conservative Republicans attempted to unseat him as speaker of the House this week, Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) declared himself the most anti-establishment speaker in history. He then promptly proceeded to punish colleagues who’ve failed to toe the party line.

“During my years here when I voted, I had the eighth-most conservative voting record in the Congress, and it does pain me to be described as spineless or a squish,” Boehner told reporters Thursday. “But what pains me the most is when they describe me as the establishment.

“I’m the most anti-establishment speaker we’ve ever had.

“Who was the guy who got rid of earmarks? Me. Who’s the guy who believes in regular order? Me,” Boehner continued. “Who believes in allowing more members to participate in the process from both sides of the aisle? Me.”

If Boehner sounds a little bitter, it’s because he was re-elected to his position with more defections from his own party than any lawmaker in the position’s modern history.

Within hours of the Tuesday speaker vote, Boehner had set the wheels of retaliation in motion, booting two leaders of the rebellion against his speakership, Florida Republicans Rep. Daniel Webster and Rep. Richard Nugent, from prestigious slots on the House Rules Committee.

Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) criticized the move late Thursday.

“According to the Congressional Record, Congressmen Daniel Webster and Richard Nugent, Members who voted against John Boehner as Speaker of the House, have been kicked off the Rules Committee,” they said in a joint statement. “This retribution compromises the ability of Members of Congress to faithfully represent their constituents and subverts our representative democracy. The Speaker must immediately reinstate these Members. No Member should be punished for voting his or her conscience. We expect other Members of the House of Representatives to condemn this act of political retribution.”

The Hill predicts possible other victims of Boehner’s revenge:

It’s possible three Republicans — Reps. Scott Garrett (N.J.), Marlin Stutzman (Ind.) and Bill Posey (Fla.) — could lose their seats on the influential Financial Services Committee. And Garrett, who is serving his seventh term, heads the panel’s subcommittee on capital markets.

Boehner’s allies also could seek retribution against GOP Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), who was appointed to the coveted House Appropriations panel late last year.

Other Boehner dissidents, including freshman Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), will almost certainly lose any fundraising help from the Speaker and his friends. That could cost Blum tens of thousands of dollars in donations as he runs for reelection in his swing district.

In addition, Rep. Randy Weber of Texas said this week that he was blocked from sponsoring a bill this week for bucking Boehner.

“I’ve already lost the authorship of one bill. Look, it shouldn’t be that way. It was going to be a bill on regulation of clean nuclear energy,” he told Bloomberg.

Boehner is billing his retaliation tour as a “family conversation” that will be going on within the GOP in the weeks ahead. And some conservative Republicans warn the Boehner’s establishment retrenching won’t be pretty.

Massie said that those who voted against Boehner could be “deprived of fundraising opportunities, removed from their committees and they very well may end their political careers by voting against the speaker” before the dust settles.

Keystone gets congressional approval, White House shrugs

House lawmakers passed a bill Friday to approve construction of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline. But as the legislation heads for a Senate vote where it is expected to pass as well, the White House says that President Obama is preparing to ink up his veto pen.

In its 10th Keystone vote, House lawmakers voted largely along party lines, with 28 Democrats joining almost every Republican in the chamber to pass the legislation 266-153. The number of yeas is just shy of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

The Senate version of the legislation has a filibuster-proof 60 co-sponsors in addition to three Democratic backers, though the 63 lawmakers expected to pass the bill during a Monday cloture vote is also below the 67-vote threshold needed to tie Obama’s hands.

“Our posture and our position hasn’t (sic) changed,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Friday, indicating that Obama planned to ignore congressional approval of the project pending his State Department review of the “national interest” of the project.

“As you know, it is undergoing rigorous review and we’re going to wait for that review to be completed before the president makes any decisions,” Schultz said, reiterating that the president believes the State Department should have final authority on the project.

State Department officials have already conceded that the environmental consequences of the project would be negligible.

The Obama administration had previously used a pending Nebraska court case as a major reason for dragging out the decision making process related to the pipeline. But the court ruled in favor of the project hours before the Friday House vote.

“Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures… and if presented to the president, he will veto the bill,” Schultz said.

The administration’s attitude has bolstered GOP criticisms that the administration is making up reasons to block the pipeline to appease anti-Keystone activists.

“The administration has said that [pending case in Nebraska] was the major hurdle. It has fallen. So I hope the president is not going to establish another hurdle, that being himself,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said, according to The Hill.

Finding a balance between cybersecurity and liberty to take center stage in months ahead

Well-publicized cyberattacks on the U.S. in late 2014 have made it almost certain that government will focus heavily on the nation’s technological security in the year ahead. And as cybersecurity talks heat up in Washington, policymakers will be tasked with striking a balance between protecting the nation’s cyber infrastructure and enacting rules that threaten U.S. Internet liberties, such as 2012’s much maligned Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.

Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, in an op-ed Thursday for The Washington Times, said that the cyberattack on Sony late last year marks the beginning of “a new era of cyberterrorism where threats cause just as much damage and fear as a bomb threat.”

“While the economic damage of this hack is disconcerting, the real significance lies in the fact that, according to the FBI, this marks the first major destructive cyberattack waged against a company on U.S. soil,” wrote McCaul, who heads up the House Committee on Homeland Security.

The national security aspect of the Sony attack may be marginalized because the hackers’ intentions were limited to keeping “The Interview,” a comedy leader poking fun at North Korea, out of theaters. But McCaul warns of devastating consequences if the same tactics were employed against U.S. infrastructure.

“While the economic damage of this hack is disconcerting, the real significance lies in the fact that, according to the FBI, this marks the first major destructive cyberattack waged against a company on U.S. soil,” he wrote.

Making the situation more worrisome, McCaul said, is that the federal government is currently as ill prepared to respond to cyberattacks as private companies that have been targeted in the past.

“We have no effective strategy in place to stop it,” he wrote.

McCaul has moved cybersecurity legislation in the past which created a federal civilian interface at the Department of Homeland Security to address cybersecurity threats to the United States. In the months ahead, he says he plans to do more.

And while government action on cybersecurity almost always draws negative attention from Internet freedom advocates who fear a misplaced clampdown on information freedom, McCaul’s concerns about the nation’s cybersecurity have been echoed by at least one staunch champion of transparency.

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden warned in a recent interview that the U.S. has “more to lose than any other nation on Earth” when it comes to the growing threat of cyberwarfare.

On PBS’s “NOVA Next” program Snowden argued that the U.S. should reallocate resources dedicating to online spying to cyberdefense initiatives.

“Defending ourselves from Internet-based attacks, Internet-originated attacks, is much, much more important than our ability to launch attacks against similar targets in foreign countries because when it comes to the Internet, when it comes to our technical economy, we have more to lose than any other nation on Earth,” Snowden said.

The technical economy, Snowden argues, gives adversaries an endless number of vulnerable entry points for attacks that could cripple critical infrastructure.

“If an adversary didn’t target our power plants but they did target the core routers, the backbones that tie our internet connections together, entire parts of the United States could be cut off,” he said. “That would have a tremendous impact on us as a society and it would have a policy backlash.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) revived CISPA, a failed 2012 cybersecurity bill that encourages government and private sector sharing of cyber information, on Friday.

“The reason I’m putting the bill in now is I want to keep the momentum going on what’s happening out there in the world,” Ruppersberger told The Hill. “We have to move forward.”

The legislation will likely muddle the cybersecurity debate further, as privacy activists have repeatedly charged that it has little cybersecurity merit and serves as little more than a back door for the National Security Agency to more easily access communication data on private networks.

“We must do everything within our power to safeguard the privacy rights of individual Internet users and ensure that Congress does not sacrifice those rights in a rush to pass vaguely worded cybersecurity bills,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, when CISPA was defeated back in 2012.

Legislation would make it impossible for bureaucrats to abuse photographers in public places

In response to repeated stories of Americans being abused by police and government authorities for exercising their constitutional rights to take photographs in public places, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) introduced legislation to strengthen photographers’ rights. It was among his last acts as a congressman.

Stockman’s Ansel Adams Act, named for a famed American landscape photographer, would mostly serve to reassert rights that are already constitutionally protected, such as taking pictures in national parks and other public areas and of subjects including government buildings and public employees. In recent years, photographers have increasingly complained of a disturbing trend of regulations at all levels of government seeking to limit such photography.

From the bill:

In recent years, photographers on Federal lands and spaces have been threatened with seizure and forfeiture of photographic equipment and memory cards, and have been arrested or threatened with arrest for merely recording what the eye can see from public spaces.

Even in the absence of laws or regulations, Federal law enforcement officers, other government personnel, and private contractors have been instructed to prohibit photography from public spaces, and threatened photographers with arrest or seizure of photographic equipment.

Arresting photographers, seizing photographic equipment, and requirements to obtain permits, pay fees, or buy insurance policies are abridgments of freedom of speech and of the press.

In recent years, a number of liberty organizations have cropped up throughout the nation to bring attention to bureaucratic efforts to clamp down on photography, which many activists say keeps government agents accountable. Groups such as Photography is not a Crime (PINAC) encourage members to record and photograph police officers and other public employees on duty, use recording devices in public buildings and conduct periodical free speech assessments by blatantly videoing and taking photographs in public places.

Because of advocate efforts, encounters between furious government officials and photography advocates often make their way onto the Internet, highlighting the many unconstitutional claims that officials make for not wanting to be photographed.

Stockman’s legislation posits that government entities that want to prohibit photography should have to do so through a transparent legal process, which would eliminate officials’ ability to use half-truths and threats to intimidate photographers without creating legitimate national security concerns.

From the bill:

It is contrary to the public policy of the United States to prohibit or restrict photography in public spaces, whether for private, news media, or commercial use.

Should a Federal agency seek to restrict photography of its installations or personnel, it shall obtain a court order that outlines the national security or other reasons for the restriction. Such court order shall allow restrictions of photography when such photography may lead to the endangerment of public safety or national security. Nothing in this Act shall restrict Federal agencies from taking lawful steps to ascertain whether or not photography may consist of reconnaissance for the purpose of endangerment of public safety or national security or for other unlawful activity.

Many photography advocates have applauded Stockman’s efforts. But some, including PINAC, have been quick to note that it is unnecessary based on photography’s designation as constitutionally protected free speech.

“While well-intentioned, the bill was unnecessary as far as legalizing photography,” the group said. “Because, of course, Photography Is Not A Crime!”

Stockman introduced his legislation on Jan. 2, as the lawmaker’s congressional tenure came to an end. It is currently being held for consideration.

Rand Paul: Defend Israel by cutting foreign aid to Palestinians

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation this week aimed at cutting U.S. aid to Palestinians in response to efforts by leaders in the region to pursue war crimes charges against Israel by joining the International Criminal Court.

Paul’s Defend Israel by Defunding Palestinian Foreign Aid Act would immediately cut all U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority if it moves forward with the plan.

“It is up to the new Republican-led Congress to move on its own so that the President does not once again circumvent clear funding restrictions. We are currently sending roughly $400 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Palestinian Authority,” Paul said of the legislation. “Certainly groups that threaten Israel cannot be allies of the U.S. I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure this President and this Congress stop treating Israel’s enemies as American allies.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a series of international conventions on Dec. 31 in an effort to join the International Criminal Court to pursue actions against Israel. It remains unknown whether the Palestinians will use membership, which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says will take effect April 1, to pursue charges against Israel.

While membership on the International Criminal Court is not grounds for cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. is prohibited by law from assisting the Palestinians if they seek criminal claims against Israel.

So far, the Obama administration has remained mum on whether it will cut aid to the Palestinians if Abbas does attempt to levy charges, saying that it is review options for the aid package.

Paul, meanwhile, laments that President Obama appears “disinclined” to cut aid to the Palestinians even after the Authority formed a unity government with the terror organization Hamas, which has declared “there is no solution to the Palestinian question except by Jihad.”

Foreign aid has been a tricky subject for Paul as he has increasingly been mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential contender. The GOP lawmaker came under fire recently for past positions advocating for cutting all U.S. foreign aid, even to key allies such as Israel. The senator has since walked back on such remarks.

Christie proposals would complicate business for New Jersey gun sellers

If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has any 2016 presidential ambitions, it’s safe to assume that probably won’t be vying for votes from the GOP’s strong contingent of 2nd Amendment supporters. Christie’s administration is currently working to push through a massive package of minor gun laws in New Jersey that could make it more difficult for gun dealers to do business in the state.

Citing an increase in firearm thefts and lapses in gun sales oversight over the past decade, the Christie administration is championing a package of laws that would open gun shop records to inspection by local police, strengthen reporting requirements for missing firearms and require gun shop owners and employees to acquire new licenses for firearm sales.

The new rules would also require the state’s 337 licensed firearm sellers to comply with strict requirements mandating alarm systems at premises where firearms are sold and get state approval to move firearm stock from one business location to another.

“From 2012 to the present time, there have been six reported incidents of thefts and/or lost firearms from retail dealers,” reads the proposal. “It is critical and in the best interest of public safety, health, and welfare that retail and wholesale dealers and manufacturers of firearms be held to the highest standards of security to prohibit the possibility of a firearm being used in the commission of a violent crime.”

Beyond making things tougher for firearm sales in New Jersey, the new proposals will also bring changes for private gun owners in the state. The governor is calling for a changes that would classify shotguns with either a magazine capacity of over six rounds, a folding stock or a pistol grip as “assault firearms.” Currently, shotguns in the state are demonized as “assault” weapons only if they feature two of the aforementioned characteristics.

Education experts: Average college freshman reads on 7th grade level

At a time when the average U.S. college graduate is entering a saturated job market with an average of $30,000 in student loan debt, Americans might be tempted to believe that high schools and colleges are going above and beyond to produce well-rounded graduates prepared to take on every employment challenge. But here’s some depressing news: A new report indicates that the average college freshman reads on about the same level as a middle-school student.

According to an education assessment from Renaissance Learning, U.S. students are increasingly getting behind at the high school level due to inferior standards implemented through federal initiatives such as Common Core and are increasingly unprepared to make the best use of their time in college.

“We are spending billions of dollars trying to send students to college and maintain them there when, on average, they read at about the grade 6 or 7 level, according to Renaissance Learning’s latest report on what American students in grades 9-12 read, whether assigned or chosen,” education expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky said of the report.

In an interview with Breitbart, Stotsky explained that colleges, in turn, are assigning lower-level texts as required reading for incoming freshmen.

“The average reading level for five of the top seven books assigned as summer reading by 341 colleges using Renaissance Learning’s readability formula was rated 7.56,” she said.

In order to reverse the disturbing trend, Stotsky argues that government education standards must first cultivate a strong focus on reading in the nation’s elementary schools. In addition, she argues that colleges must do more to send “a signal to the nation’s high schools that high school level reading is needed for college readiness.”

“Indeed, they seem to be suggesting that a middle school level of reading is satisfactory, even though most college textbooks and adult literary works written before 1970 require mature reading skills,” she said.

Fed up: Record number of Americans identify as political independents

Americans are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the U.S. political establishment. New polling data indicate that a record number are eschewing partisan political affiliation and describing themselves as political independents.

According to data out from Gallup, an average of 43 percent of Americans identified as political independents in 2014, up from 35 percent in 2008. In each of the past four years, the number of U.S. political independents has been more than 40 percent, following previous highs of 35 percent and 39 percent of party non-affiliation in 1995 and 1999, respectively.

Gallup attributes much of the decline in American loyalty to the political establishment to U.S. dissatisfaction of government as a whole and dysfunction in Washington.

From the polling agency:

The decline in identification with both parties in recent years comes as dissatisfaction with government has emerged as one of the most important problems facing the country, according to Americans. This is likely due to the partisan gridlock that has come from divided party control of the federal government. Trust in the government to handle problems more generally is the lowest Gallup has measured to date, and Americans’ favorable ratings of both parties are at or near historical lows. Thus, the rise in U.S. political independence likely flows from the high level of frustration with the government and the political parties that control it.

Gallup also indicates that President Barack Obama may be at least partially responsible for the overall American trend toward political independence in recent years, with the number of Americans identifying as Democrats falling from 36 percent to 30 percent over the past six years. Republicans, meanwhile, suffered a more modest decrease in party loyalty in recent years, from 28 percent in 2008 to 26 percent last year.

Still, the number of Americans who identify as loyal GOP supporters is lower than it has been since 1983.

Looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election cycle, Gallup predicts that the number of American independents will increase over the course of the next year.

Washington wants more taxes on gas in response to price drops

Falling oil prices in recent months have provided a little paycheck padding for Americans. But as average folks celebrate less pain at the pump, some policymakers are preparing to jump at the chance to offset the savings with fuel tax hikes.

Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe (Okla.), who is entering his second term running the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, recently said that the recent price drops give lawmakers looking for new infrastructure funding new options for increasing revenue. According to the lawmaker, no option should be left off the table, including raising the gas tax above 18.4 cents per gallon, where it has been since 1993.

“John Thune made the statement that ‘nothing is off the table,’ and I agree with his statement,” Inhofe told reporters Wednesday.

Thune, a South Dakota Republican Senator, made the comment over the weekend, joining GOP colleague Sen. Bob Corker in calls for raising the tax by as much as 12 cents.

Inhofe also argued that the gas tax should be considered a “user fee” because it is paid only by people who use U.S. infrastructure.

Meanwhile, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers also called for increased fuel taxes and other possible carbon taxes this week in a column for The Washington Post.

“The case for carbon taxes has long been compelling,” Summers wrote. “With the recent steep fall in oil prices and associated declines in other energy prices, it has become overwhelming. There is room for debate about the size of the tax and about how the proceeds should be deployed. But there should be no doubt that, given the current zero tax rate on carbon, increased taxation would be desirable.”

Youth Misery Index: Obama is killing young America’s future

President Barack Obama was able to sail into the Oval Office twice thanks largely to his campaign efforts to woe young, idealistic voters into believing that “hope,” “change” and, of course, massive student loan forgiveness and basically free insurance were on the horizon. Now, young people are paying for having been fooled twice as Young America’s Foundation reports that its Youth Misery Index numbers for 2014 reached a record high.

The YMI is calculated by compiling information on youth unemployment, average graduating student debt (in thousands), and national debt per capita (in thousands). For 2014, the foundation reports that the YMI hit 106.5, up from 98.6 in 2013.

The increase is attributed to youth unemployment hovering around 18.1 percent last year as nearly 6 million young Americans between 16 and 24 were unable to find jobs. Making the problem worse, college graduates shouldered an average student loan debt burden of $30,000 for 2014, according to the index.

National debt per capita, meanwhile, was the highest ever for 2014 at $58,400.

Via YAF:

What does this number mean? Like Jimmy Carter’s Misery Index, the YMI uncovers some real threats to our nation’s prosperity. The government is largely responsible for all three problems, and we’ve found a statistically significant relationship between government expenditures and the Youth Misery Index. Each indicator can be tied to government actions.

Since 2008, the YMI has increased by about 53.7 percent.

“Millennials should take notice of this study and realize that this is not quite the hope and change they desired. President Obama has been the WORST president for youth economic opportunity,” YAF spokesperson Ashley Pratte told Townhall. “Spending is out of control and our generation will have to bear the brunt of that massive national debt.”

Reports illustrate failures of U.S. occupation in Middle East

Dual reports from Iraq and Afghanistan shed new light on just how much of a resounding failure the U.S.’s long-running occupation of the Middle East has been as the nation enters another year of efforts to combat new terror threats in the region.

Following rapid gains by the Islamic State terror group in Iraq last year, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren said this week that American troops at Al Asad air base in the country are coming under “regular” artillery fire from ISIS militants.

To date, none of the 320 U.S. troops stationed at the base have been injured by the attacks, which have been called “completely ineffective” by the Pentagon.

“It’s fair to say Al Asad air base is coming under regular … harassment fires,” Warren said.

“What’s most important is that the fire has been completely ineffective,” he continued. “Purely nuisance attacks … American forces there right now have sustained absolutely no injuries, wounds or even equipment damage.”

But the aggression toward U.S. forces is raising new questions about the “advise and assist” efforts U.S. personnel in Iraq have been tasked with in recent months.

Warren described the current U.S. mission in Iraq as one focused on “support planning, information and intelligence fusion, close air support coordination operations, and overall development of security strategies.”

Meanwhile, 13 years of U.S. occupation has done nothing to quell opium production in Afghanistan. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that 2014 was a banner year for Afghan farmers growing opium, a drug which has been noted as a key revenue stream for radical Islamic groups in the region.

“The total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated to be 224,000 hectares in 2014, a 7 percent increase from the previous year,” says UNODC’s “Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014.”

The report also notes that Afghanistan, which produces about 80 percent of the world’s opium supply, is also finding new markets.

CNS News reports that the increase in opium production should be particularly maddening to U.S. forces, noting: “Most of the U.S. casualties in Afghan War have occurred in the Hilmand and Kandahar provinces, which are also the two leading opium-growing provinces.”

Billions of hidden taxes in government Internet takeover, Groquist warns

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist lashed out Tuesday against what he warns is a coming “gusher of new taxes” if Washington bureaucrats enact regulations reclassifying broadband Internet as a public utility.

President Barack Obama joined net neutrality advocates last year in calling for the Federal Communications Commission to create rules that would allow the government to regulate the Internet in the same way that it does phone companies.

Norquist, who heads up Americans for Tax Reform, said that an FCC proposal to do so by placing broadband under government authority through Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 would ultimately raise taxes for about 90 percent of Americans and hurt the overall economy.

“This move would make broadband subject to New Deal-era regulation, and have significant consequences for U.S. taxpayers,” Norquist, along with Americans for Tax Reform state director Patrick Gleason, wrote for Reuters.

Citing numbers provided by the Progressive Policy Institute, Norquist warned that new state and local taxes that would result from the change, in addition to new fees, would total about $15 billion annually. For consumers, that means an average price hike of $67 per year for landline broadband and $72 for mobile broadband per year, according to the figures.

Proponents of the FCC plan say that the tax increased will be a non-issue, arguing that the recently extended Internet Tax Freedom Act would prohibit state and local taxation of Internet service. In addition, they claim that that the FCC can block attempts to tax the services on state and local levels by designating broadband as an interstate service.

Norquist and Gleason, however, point to a report from the Progressive Policy Institute that explains why advocates for the Internet as a utility are mistaken.

From the report:

When the Commission previously considered the jurisdiction of Internet traffic, it determined that such traffic was “largely interstate,” but “jurisdictionally mixed.” States routinely tax jurisdictionally mixed services that are classified as “interstate” for purposes of regulation. For example, wireless services may not be regulated by state public utility commissions, but they are subject to a host of state and local taxes and fees. In several states, interstate wireless revenues are subject to taxation.

Norquist and Gleason further contend that the issue extends beyond a potential tax increase because the proposal would discourage private investment in Internet infrastructure, which has proven effective in getting reliable, high-speed access to a majority of Americans.

“The telecommunications industry has invested more than $1.2 trillion on broadband infrastructure since 1996. As a result, roughly 87 percent of Americans have access to broadband,” he wrote. “It would be foolish for government to discourage the significant investment required to maintain, expand and improve this infrastructure by subjecting broadband to circa 1930s regulation. Subjecting Internet service providers to such onerous rules would depress innovation and penalize Web users.”

Norquist and Gleason have are joined by a number of tech companies in warning of the harmful possibilities of regulating the Internet as a utility. Last month, companies including Cisco, Ericsson, Panasonic and Sandvine wrote to Congress, warning that the FCC plan represents a “dramatic reversal in policy” that would “stifle growth across the entire economy.”

“This is not idle speculation or fear mongering,” they wrote. “As some have already warned, Title II is going to lead to a slowdown, if not a hold, in broadband build out, because if you don’t know that you can recover on your investment, you won’t make it.”

Obamacare subsidies will make for a confusing tax season for millions

For Obamacare subscribers, tax season could be a real headache this year. That’s according to a study from the tax experts at H&R Block estimating that as many as 3.4 million Americans will be forced to repay subsidies from the healthcare overhaul.

According to H&R Block, as many as half of the 6.8 million Americans who received Obamacare subsidies last year will be getting smaller refunds than they expect as they file taxes.

About the same number could be eligible for more subsidies than they were previously given

The Wall Street Journal reports that tax filers confused by the faulty Obamacare calculations will be a boon for tax preparers: http://www.wsj.com/articles/affordable-care-act-creates-a-trickier-tax-season-1420157063

“The ACA is going to result in more confusion for existing clients and many taxpayers may well be very disappointed by getting less money and possibly even owing money,” said Charles McCabe, president of Peoples Income Tax and the Income Tax School, a Richmond, Va., provider of tax preparation and education. “The whole implementation of Obamacare will be frustrating for tax preparers.”

But the season could be a lucrative one for tax firms. Liberty Tax Service, a tax-preparation franchise, began calling hundreds of thousands of customers in November to invite them to a store to get help applying for an exemption to the insurance-coverage requirement. About half of the company’s 4,000 stores opened weeks ahead of their usual start date to provide health-law tax advice.

In other words, the Affordable Care Act is going to make filing taxes more expensive for many Americans this year.

In 2014, Obama out legislated Congress 27-1

While the Congress that just came to an end only narrowly avoided being dubbed the least productive in modern U.S. history, don’t be fooled into believing that nothing is happening in Washington. It’s just that nothing is happening on account of the nation’s duly elected representatives. The Competitive Enterprise Institute recently reported that the Obama administration enacted 27 new rules and regulations for every law passed by Congress in 2014.

According to the CEI analysis, the Obama administration issued 3,541 rules and regulations and Congress passed 129 laws that Obama also signed.

The institute also warns that little will likely change under new Republican congressional leadership:

The president, via unilateral executive actions — the now famous “pen and phone” — is making law, too, no matter what the Constitution says.

The new 114th Congress kicks off this week, so let’s look at where we are. The new GOP majority is readying Keystone, jobs bills, regulatory liberalization and tax reform.

It’s becoming clear, though, that Obama’s emphasis will remain his own executive actions, not the presumed trade deal and tax reform that were acknowledged mutual interests.

Between now and the January 20 State of the Union Address, the president will be out on a nationwide PR swing touting other kinds of programs like housing and higher education assistance that involve unilateral executive actions—and taxing and spending.

As Obama readies his pen and phone for another round of executive fiat, it remains to be seen whether GOP lawmakers will make good on campaign promises to walk back Obama’s executive orders from last year.

Government snoops encourage self-censorship in free countries on par with that under totalitarian regimes

A new analysis of how government surveillance has affected writers throughout the world finds that those living in liberal democracies censor their own material at a rate on par with intellectuals in countries deemed “not free,” including Russia China and Sudan.

Pen America surveyed a pool of nearly writers in 50 countries throughout the world for its “Global Chilling” report, which examines the broad “damaging impact of surveillance by the United States and other governments on free expression and creative freedom around the world.”

The survey illustrates that writers in liberal democracies reported self-censoring work for fear of government surveillance about 75 percent of the time. By comparison, 80 percent of writers in countries such as Russia and China, where intellectuals assume that government snoops are on the lookout for subversive, reported self-censorship.

“Writers are reluctant to speak about, write about, or conduct research on topics that they think may draw government scrutiny,” the survey notes. “This has a devastating impact on freedom of information as well: If writers avoid exploring topics for fear of possible retribution, the material available to readers — particularly those seeking to understand the most controversial and challenging issues facing the world today — may be greatly impoverished.”

In the U.S., 27 percent of writers said that they avoided or considered avoiding speaking out or writing on certain topics because of government spying in the past year.

“Fear of government surveillance is prompting many writers living in democratic countries to engage in the kind of self-censorship associated with police states,” Pen Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said in a statement. “We’re all well aware of writers in places like China and Russia who must live life knowing they are always being watched — it’s disturbing to recognize that those in the U.S., Canada, and Australia are now coming to adopt similar behavior.”

Parting gift from Congressional budget hawk: A scathing report on DHS failures

Former Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma spared no criticism with the weekend release of his final oversight report, a harsh assessment of the Department of Homeland Security’s failures in meeting its five main missions.

Coburn report cited a waste of taxpayer money on homeland security initiative, corruption in DHS agencies, failures to enforce immigration laws and failure to meet cybersecurity threats among the biggest problems plaguing the nation’s homeland security apparatus.

“Ten years of oversight of the Department of Homeland Security finds that the Department still has a lot of work to do to strengthen our nation’s security,” Coburn said in a statement. “Congress needs to review the Department’s mission and programs and refocus DHS on national priorities where DHS has a lead responsibility.”

Coburn said that one of the biggest problems plaguing DHS is its proclivity for hiding important data from Congress and the public. Worse, he reports, the agency fails to follow its own policies.

With little oversight, the agency is allocating resources to ineffective programs that provide little security benefit to the American public while simultaneously threatening liberty.

“The Department of Homeland Security spent $50 billion over the past eleven years on counterterrorism programs, including homeland security grants and other anti-terror initiatives, but the department cannot demonstrate if the nation is more secure as a result,” Coburn noted.

Among the unjustified anti-terror expenditures are state and local information fusion centers designed to help law enforcement agencies more efficiently share information, of which the Coburn report notes: “Independent reviews — including audits and investigations by watchdogs — show that DHS’s intelligence and analysis programs, including its state and local fusion centers and other information sharing programs, are ineffective or providing little value.”

The report goes on to report that DHS has provided more than $38 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the purpose of improving government’s ability to respond to terror attacks but never followed up on how the money was used.

“Many of the Department’s programs to prevent chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks have been ineffective and are yielding little value, despite significant expenditures,” the report says.

In addition to spending taxpayer money on ineffective initiatives, Coburn’s report shows DHS failing in one of its most basic missions: keeping the nation’s borders secure.

“While DHS officials have claimed that the border is more secure than ever, evidence reviewed shows that vast spans of the Southern and Northern borders remain uncontrolled and are vulnerable to illegal entry,” the report points out. “In 2014, 700 hundreds of miles of the Southern border were not secure, since DHS and its component, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), had not deployed assets to control these areas.”

The report lists DHS’s failures to successfully use surveillance assets along the nation’s borders and a lack of a long-running comprehensive border strategy as key contributors to the U.S.’s border problems. It also notes that there is considerable Border Patrol workforce corruption.

Weak enforcement of immigration laws has also made the borders less safe under DHS’s watch, according to the report.

“The Department’s lax approach to immigration law enforcement, and broad applications of prosecutorial discretion with regard to enforcing immigration laws, also exacerbates DHS’s challenge securing the border,” Coburn’s assessment says. “Rather than deterring illegal immigration, lax immigration enforcement creates an expectation that people entering the nation illegally or violating the terms of their visa will be allowed to stay, facing no consequences.”

The report also notes that DHS programs designed to benefit immigrants have proven beneficial to terrorists looking to do harm to Americans, including the student visas used by the 9-11 hijackers as a key example.

On cybersecurity, the outgoing senator’s report shows that the government cannot even protect itself from attacks despite major taxpayer spending.

“DHS spends more than $700 million annually to lead the federal government’s efforts on cybersecurity, but struggles to protect itself and cannot protect federal and civilian networks from the most serious cyberattacks,” the report says.

One major problem, according to Coburn’s research, is that the massive government spending is offset by agency officials’ failures to comply with the federal government’s own cybersecurity protocol.

In addition to failing to meet its responsibility to keep Americans safe, the Coburn report charges that DHS is wasting a major share of its budget subsidizing private losses in small storms that are increasingly declared “major disasters” by government bureaucrats.

“Structural problems in FEMA’s programs result in federal funding being spent inefficiently, disaster assistance being provided to state and localities for many events that would not have been declared disasters twenty years ago, and a flood insurance program that encourages citizens to build and rebuild homes and businesses in flood plains, where they are more vulnerable to disaster,” the report says.

In total, the disaster spending accounted for $14 billion or approximately 23 percent of DHS’s total departmental enacted budget of $61 billion for fiscal year 2014.

Despite the failures listed in his parting report, Coburn said that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson can improve DHS efficiency by working with Congress in the years ahead.

“One of the biggest challenges that Sec. Johnson and DHS face is Congress and its dysfunctional approach to setting priorities for the Department. Congress needs to work with the Department to refocus its missions on national priorities and give Secretary Johnson the authority to lead and fix the Department,” the former senator said.

Coburn’s full report:

Former U.S. Senator to become pot peddler

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel served as a Democratic lawmaker between 1969 and 1981. He walked marbled halls during Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” and witnessed his congressional colleagues trying to see who could produce the most heinous draconian drug laws.

Today, Gravel is getting ready to sell some kush, or rather, serve as the CEO of an edible marijuana company called KUSH, a Cannabis Sativa, Inc. subsidiary.

“I’m anxious to assist in bringing this important resource to a broader market in a serious and credible way,” the former lawmaker said in a statement.

KUSH announced in a recent press release that it plans to focus on marijuana marketing and development in the medical and recreational realms. One of its flagship products is a marijuana-infused lozenge, dubbed “Kubby.”

While Gravel’s new gig may seem surprising, it’s worth noting that he was a vehement critic of the War on Drugs philosophy during his legislative tenure and opposed Nixon’s signing of a law classifying marijuana as a Schedule I substance back in 1970.

“Where we have cannabis legal today is where the people have spoken,” Gravel told The Huffington Post. “The people know better than their leaders, that’s what’s going on here.”

He’s also been involved with KUSH since the company was formed.

“Senator Gravel stood up to Nixon, stood up to the Pentagon, and now he is standing up to those in power who would keep the healthful benefits of cannabis from those who need them. He’s been a director of KUSH since its inception and brings invaluable perspective and connections to our group. He’s a true American hero and we’re excited to have him serving in this capacity,” said Cannabis Sativa, Inc. Board Chairman Steve Kubby.

Gravel isn’t Cannabis Sativa, Inc.’s first high level employee with a political background. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson was named the company’s president and CEO back in July.

Police body cam study finds reduction in force and citizen complaints

Police body cameras have been lauded by justice reform advocates for their ability to capture evidence essential to sorting out disagreements between civilians and peace officers. But a first of its kind study from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology (IOC) a much more important societal benefit of outfitting officers with the cameras: drastic reductions in violence from officers as well as a drop in abusive behavior by civilians during police-public encounters.

Researchers examined 12 months of policing by officers wearing body cameras in Rialto, California, in 2012, finding an increased “self-awareness” of all parties involved in police interactions when the cameras are present.

That accounted for a 59 percent reduction in officer use of force and an 87 percent drop in the number of complaints against officers from the previous year.

“An officer is obliged to issue a warning from the start that an encounter is being filmed, impacting the psyche of all involved by conveying a straightforward, pragmatic message: We are all being watched, videotaped and expected to follow the rules,” Barak Ariel, a Cambridge researcher and coauthor of the study, said in a statement.

While Rialto has become a poster child for the positive benefits of police body cams, the researchers warn that the findings are only a first step in determining whether the technology should be mandatory for all departments.

“Rialto is but one experiment; before this policy is considered more widely, police forces, governments and researchers should invest further time and effort in replicating these findings,” researcher Alex Sutherland said in a statement.

One question the researchers are still trying to understand is how the cameras might change the legal process.

“Historically, courtroom testimonies of response officers have carried tremendous weight, but prevalence of video might lead to reluctance to prosecute when there is no evidence from body-worn-cameras to corroborate the testimony of an officer, or even a victim,” said Ariel.

President Barack Obama recently pledged to allocate $75 million in federal funds to equip officers throughout the nation with body cams.