Texas Republican says filming police should be a crime, especially when armed

If one Texas lawmaker gets his way, it will be a misdemeanor for residents of the Lone Star State to point a camera at a police officer from a distance of 25 or fewer feet.

Republicans state Rep. Jason Villalbla told reporters last week that his measure, H.B. 2918, is aimed at keeping officers safe as they conduct their daily duties. But critics say the measure stinks of an effort to hinder citizen journalists who have increasingly focused their efforts on holding police officers accountable.

Brett Sanders, a Texas-based correspondent for the blog Photography Is Not A Crime (PINAC), said the proposal reveals multiple levels of government corruption in a recent blog post.

“[A]t a time when police are becoming more militarized and more aggressive, it’s not surprising that corrupt politicians want to hide the immoral behavior of their hired guns,” he wrote. “I mean, to quote one of the governments favorite lines, ‘if they have nothing to hide, they should have nothing to fear,’ right?”

And the language in Villalbla’s legislation does little to negate the critical response from independent bloggers. For example, the bill would allow qualified “news media” personnel to record police actions from as little a distance as 10 feet — but it makes no such exception for online media outlets.

The legislation defines “approved media” thusly:

(A) a radio or television station that holds a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission;

(B) a newspaper that is qualified under Section 2051.044, Government Code, to publish legal notices or is a free newspaper of general circulation and that is published at least once a week and available and of interest to the general public in connection with the dissemination of news or public affairs; or

(C) a magazine that appears at a regular interval, that contains stories, articles, and essays by various writers, and that is available and of interest to the general public in connection with the dissemination of news or public affairs.

For activists like Sanders, that’s a major problem.

PINAC, which encourages all Americans to film and photograph the police whenever possible, contends that the measure would essentially allow mainstream media outlets to act as PR agents for local police.

“At a time when much of the corporate media is becoming further consolidated, turning the so-called Fourth Estate into a conglomerate of the government, the only entity left to ensure government transparency is the newly emerged Fifth Estate, which are not only sites like PINAC, but any member of the public who wields a camera and uses social media as a publishing platform,” the organization said on its website.

The scope of Villalbla’s proposed assault on Texans’ constitutional rights is widened by another provision in the bill which makes filming the police at a distance of less than 100 feet a crime for anyone carrying a firearm.

From the bill:

(1) filming, recording, photographing, or documenting the officer within 25 feet of the officer; or

(2) filming, recording, photographing, or documenting the officer within 100 feet of the officer while carrying a handgun under the authority of Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code.

(g) It is a defense to prosecution for an offense under Subsection (a)(1) based on conduct described by Subsection (f)(2) that the interruption, disruption, impediment, or interference was caused by a person who, at the time of the offense, was:

(1) a news media employee acting in the course and scope of the person’s employment; or

(2) employed by or working with an organization or entity engaged in law enforcement activities.

That measure would put an end to an increasingly popular form of open carry activism wherein citizens film encounters with pedestrians and often with police officers responding to reports of guns in public as they assert their firearm rights.

Hundreds of such videos from around the nation can be found on YouTube. And too often they portray officers overreacting to a completely legal activity.

While unpopular with activists, Villalbla’s proposal does have the support of Texas police organizations.

The Associated Press reported last week: “Frederick Frazier, the first vice president of the Dallas Police Association, said he and others asked Villalba to file the bill after tense encounters between police and people with cameras in Tarrant County, Houston and Dallas.”

Frazier told the AP that “somebody is going to get killed” if citizen journalists and activists continue filming officers — or, as he put it, “trying to pick a fight with their camera.”

What the Texas lawmaker doesn’t have going for him (aside from the 1st Amendment) is legal precedent. Several high-profile cases over the years have reaffirmed the right of Americans to film police activities, including the 2011 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Glik v. Cunniffe.

In that case, Boston resident Simon Glik was arrested in 2007 and charged with illegal wiretapping, along with disturbing the peace and aiding in the escape of a prisoner for filming an arrest. He was eventually cleared of all charges and awarded damages.

But more importantly, the case reaffirmed the right of Americans to exercise their 1st Amendment rights with cellphone cameras.

“[A] private citizen has the right to record video and audio of public officials in a public place,” the Glik appeal determined.

Prison reform, the Koch brothers and 2016

Charles Koch, a longtime favorite boogeyman for Democrats across America, is putting serious effort into the decidedly bipartisan issue of reforming the nation’s criminal justice system. Now that Koch is working alongside groups like the Center for American Progress and the ACLU, will the left be forced to find a new No. 1 enemy?

The nonprofit Charles Koch Institute announced Thursday that it will kick off a nationwide campaign of talks and debates to educate the public about the benefits of criminal justice reform later this month.

The first event, taking place March 26 at the Georgia Pacific Auditorium in Atlanta, will examine how the Georgia legislature’s wrongheaded approach to tough on crime policy over the years has led the state to a criminal justice crisis.

“In only two decades, its prison population had doubled, diminishing opportunity and well-being for non-violent offenders caught up in the system. Meanwhile, its incarceration budget had also doubled,” the nonprofit’s website notes.

The talk will also focus on recent criminal justice reforms in the state that have reallocated some resources to rehabilitating non-violent offenders and saved taxpayers nearly $20 billion.

The initiative Koch is currently publicizing has extremely bipartisan roots. As The New York Times reported last month:

Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the conservative Koch brothers, and the center, a Washington-based liberal issues group, are coming together to back a new organization called the Coalition for Public Safety. The coalition plans a multimillion-dollar campaign on behalf of emerging proposals to reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism and take on similar initiatives. Other groups from both the left and right — the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Tea Party-oriented FreedomWorks — are also part of the coalition, reflecting its unusually bipartisan approach.

The coalition will have initial backing of more than $5 million, with groups also spending independently on their own criminal justice initiatives.

Criminal justice reform has become a popular topic throughout the nation in the wake of several highly publicized police mishaps fueled by the use of heavy handed tactics and horror headlines involving civil forfeitures and botched raids. And while the left has long decried punishment focused justice for nonviolent offenders, a burgeoning libertarian streak in the GOP has brought some conservative superstars fully into the debate.

One such example is Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who has made criminal justice reform a key point of passion in public speeches throughout the years.

As Reason’s Jacob Sullum pointed out last October: ““[I]n the last two years, the Kentucky Republican has emerged as his party’s most passionate voice on criminal justice reform, decrying the system’s disproportionate impact on African Americans,” Sullum wrote.

“You might think Paul, widely seen as a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, is trying to redeem himself with black voters who were alienated by his criticism of the Civil Rights Act. Yet both positions spring from the same wariness of state power, as illustrated by the senator’s comments on the over-the-top police response to the unrest that followed the August 9 shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.”

Paul, an avid critic of the Obama administration, notably offered support for Attorney General Eric Holder’s call to end mandatory minimum laws and has frequently introduced legislation with similar goals. Last year, Paul teamed up with New Jersey Democratic Senator Corey Booker to produce legislation aimed at helping nonviolent offenders be more productive members of society by keeping their records sealed.

Other Republicans have also taken an, albeit less spirited, interest in reforming the nation’s legal system with efforts like Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015. That measure would give judges the ability to sentence nonviolent drug offenders below existing mandatory minimums—but it stops short of doing away with mandatory sentencing.

Some Republicans (and a few Democrats), meanwhile, continue to cow-tow to prison and police lobbies intent on keeping prison populations high and federal money flowing. And the writing on the wall says it could hurt them if they also have 2016 presidential ambitions.

Charles and David Koch have longed espoused libertarian leaning ideals but their affiliation with certain mainstream GOP politicians has kept any talk about the potentiality of their being social libertarians to a minimum. And with billions of tax dollars on the line, jumping into the prison reform debate certainly has a fiscal justification— but the socio-economic facts of incarceration in the U.S. also provide for a social angle. It’s also worth noting that the Koch brothers one bankrolled the Libertarian Party.

Why does that matter? Because the brothers Koch reportedly intend to spend around $900 million to help their favorite candidate take the White House in 2016— that’s nearly a third more than the Republican National Committee spent losing the last election.

After watching the GOP stumble over itself defending old guard social stances in elections past, it’s hardly fathomable that the two are willing to drop that kind of coin on a do-over campaign. So their support for an issue which has become a favorite of many Republicans who lie outside of the party establishment’s comfort zone could be a sign of tacit support for said Republicans.

Perhaps that Republican would have a history of arguing that the GOP should open its doors to new ideas and supporters, something like: “So many times, Republicans are seen as this party of, ‘We don’t want black people to vote because they’re voting Democrat; we don’t want Hispanic people to vote because they’re voting Democrat. We wonder why the Republican Party is so small.”

Paul said that to an audience in Alexandria, Va., last fall… at the end of a speech dedicated largely to the topic of criminal justice reform.

Comedian pokes holes through Hillary Clinton’s email logic

Political satirist and fake newsman Jon Stewart tore into Hillary Clinton for using secret email during Wednesday night a segment of his Comedy Central show. Clinton’s story, Stewart concluded, just doesn’t make any sense.

During a Tuesday press conference, Clinton told reporters she opted to use personal email for official State Department business for the convenience of carrying just one device.

There are just two problems with her weak explanation of the secretive email scheme, Stewart contends.

“Since Clinton left the State Department, her single device preference has completely gone away,” the comedian said, noting that Clinton recently told a crowd she uses multiple devices.

Stewart continued, outlining the second problem, “You are a person who wants to be president, which is a super inconvenient job. Did you know that everywhere you go you not only have to carry a phone, but a briefcase filled with nuclear codes?

“So you can’t suddenly go ‘well, the briefcase is kind of a hassle to carry, can I just put the codes on my phone,'” Stewart continued. “Because then halfway through your term, you butt dial a nuclear strike on Mexico.”

The main issue, Stewart said, is that the government has email rules in place for a reason.

“The rule exists so that the government can auto archive all of your work emails,” Stewart said. “But, since you did it your own way, your work emails are all mixed up with your personal emails — and now they have to be separated out.”

Stewart called on Clinton to allow an independent investigator to examine the thousands of emails she deemed “personal” in nature but reminded the audience that it may be impossible because Clinton went to the trouble of deleting them.

“You just told us you didn’t follow the rules, because having two separate email addresses would be way too big a pain in in ass, but you know what is a far bigger pain in the ass?” Stewart asked. “Trying to delete 30,000 emails.”

Watch: Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense officials get a Constitution class from Rand Paul

During a Wednesday Senate hearing Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) schooled Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials on how Constitutional separation of government power is supposed to work in the United States.

The Kentucky lawmaker’s remarks were likely prompted by Kerry’s earlier criticism of the 47 senators who signed an open letter warning Iranian leaders that any plan worked out with the administration would have to pass congressional muster.

“To write to the leaders in the middle of a negotiation… to write them and suggest that they’re going to give a constitutional lesson, which by the way was absolutely incorrect, is quite stunning,” Kerry had said. “This letter ignores more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of American foreign policy.”

Paul wasn’t impressed and took a few minutes during a conversation on Obama’s latest request to use military force against the Islamic State to explain to Kerry why the administration is wrong.

Quoting John Madison, Paul reminded Kerry that the Constitution vested war powers in the legislature because the “executive branch is most prone to war.” He also noted that the Constitution was designed, in part, to pit the ambitions of the three branches of government against one another.

“I’m not particularly happy with being lectured to by the administration about the Constitution,” Paul said. “This is an administration who I believe has trampled the Constitution at many turns.”

“This is an administration that seeks to legislate when it is not in their purview, whether it be immigration, whether it be health care, or whether it not be a war that’s been going on for eight months without congressional authorization,” he continued.

Paul said that his reason for signing the letter to Iran was to send a message to the White House.

“The message was to President Obama, that we want you to obey the law, we want you to understand the separation of powers,” Paul said.

“I signed it to an administration that doesn’t listen, to an administration that at every turn tries to go around Congress, because you think you can’t get your way,” he added. “The president says, ‘oh, the Congress won’t do what I want, so I’ve got a pen and I’ve got my phone and I’m going to do what I want.’ The letter was to you.”

Moving on to the issue of authorizing military force against ISIS, Paul lamented that the administration’s current request is too broad.

“If we’re going to go to war in Libya, I want to vote for war in Libya,” he said. “If we’re going to go war in Nigeria, I want to vote for war in Nigeria.”

“This administration is in direct defiance of what Senator Obama ran on and what he was elected upon,” Paul added. “He said no country should go to war without the authority of Congress, unless under imminent attack.”

Oklahoma lawmakers vote to end government sanctioned marriage

Oklahoma lawmakers voted Tuesday to get the state’s government out of the business of issuing marriage licenses.

Oklahoman state Rep. Todd Russ (R), the bill’s author, said the legislation is intended to end controversy over gay marriage in the state.

“The point of my legislation is to take the state out of the process and leave marriage in the hands of the clergy,” he told The Oklahoman. “Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second. Under my bill, the state is not allowing or disallowing same-sex marriage. It is simply leaving it up to the clergy.”

Under the proposal, which has been sent to the state Senate for consideration, certificates issued by clergy or other individuals sanctioned to conduct marriage ceremonies would replace marriage licenses issued by county courts.

From the proposal:

Any entity requiring proof of identity or marital status shall accept a certified copy of the marriage certificate or affidavit of common law marriage that has been filed with the court clerk. Any reference in the Oklahoma Statutes requiring a marriage license as proof of identity or marital status shall be interpreted to include a marriage certificate or affidavit of common law marriage executed on or after November 1, 2015.

Russ contends that the legislation would provide relief to the employees of county clerks offices currently “caught in the middle of a fight between the federal and state government.”

Critics of the plan, meanwhile, contend that it could potentially endanger marital legal protections.

“This legislation puts all couples who plan to marry in Oklahoma at risk of being denied hundreds of federal legal rights and protections, if it were to become law,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of the gay activist group Freedom Oklahoma. “The federal government and other states will not be required to acknowledge these proposed ‘marriage certificates.’ This legislation will only result in mass confusion from clerks’ offices to courtrooms around the nation — while putting Oklahoma families at risk.”

NYC residents could get paid for spying on one another

New York City lawmakers have proposed a bill that would pay residents to video vehicles left idling on the street for more than three minutes and turn the footage over to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

According to NYC Councilmembers Donovan Richards and Helen Rosenthal, the plan is aimed at cutting down on pollution in the city by increasing enforcement of a city ordinance that prohibits idling for more than three minutes, or one minute in a school zone.

“This is a real environmental problem and a real public health problem that I know my constituents have been urging me to address,” Rosenthal told CBS New York.

The NYC lawmakers contend that paying residents cash to rat out their neighbors is necessary because the idling car problem is too widespread for NYPD and DEP officers to police.

“Unfortunately, DEP does not have enough enforcement agents,” Richards said. “They have 40 enforcement agents for a city of nearly 8 million people.”

Under the council plan, residents who attend a brief training session would be used as evidence-gatherers for the DEP.

“They can videotape a violation, upload it onto the DEP website, and then DEP can go forward and issue violations as appropriate,” Rosenthal said.

For violators of the idling law a first-offense would result in a warning— but repeat offenders could get tickets in the mail ranging from $350 to $2000. According to reports, members of the city’s civilian enforcement team could earn as much of half the amount of the fine for each ticket they help issue.

ATF backtracks on ammo ban

Following massive pressure from thousands of American 2nd Amendment supporters and members from both sides of Congress, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has temporarily backed off its plan to ban certain types of 5.56mm/.223 caliber ammunition.

After receiving more than 80,000 comments from the public, ATF officials announced Tuesday that the agency plans to conduct more research before moving forward with a plan to ban “green tip” ammunition for AR-15 rifles.

“Although ATF endeavored to create a proposal that reflected a good faith interpretation of the law and balanced the interests of law enforcement, industry, and sportsmen, the vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study,” the agency said in a statement. “Accordingly, ATF will not at this time seek to issue a final framework. After the close of the comment period, ATF will process the comments received, further evaluate the issues raised therein, and provide additional open and transparent process (for example, through additional proposals and opportunities for comment) before proceeding with any framework. ”

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who has been actively fighting the attempted ammo ban, applauded the decision.

“I am pleased that the Obama Administration has abandoned its attack on the Second Amendment. Congress will continue to steadfastly protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and it is entirely inappropriate for President Obama to stretch his regulatory authority to implement partisan policies that Congress has refused to enact. Such an abuse of power would impact many law-abiding gun owners and restrict the American people’s ability to legally and responsibly exercise their Second Amendment rights,” the lawmaker said. “I and other members of the House Judiciary Committee will continue to keep a watchful eye on the Obama Administration so that we protect Americans’ constitutional rights. We cannot allow the President of the United States to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights afforded to all Americans.”

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne La Pierre said that the ATF’s rapid retreat is proof that the plan was purely political.

“Today’s announcement proves what we have said all along — this was 100 percent political. President Obama failed to pass gun control through Congress, so he tried to impose his political agenda through executive fiat. But every gun owner in America needs to understand Barack Obama’s hatred of the Second Amendment has not changed,” he said.

Related:

“White House claims populist support of ammo ban as critics warn of intensifying assault on the 2nd Amendment”

“GOP lawmaker reissues legislation to dissolve the ATF”

“New bill aims to stop ammo grab in its tracks”

“ATF’s ammo ban a slippery slope to useless guns”

Clinton says personal email use was for ‘convenience’

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted Tuesday to explain away her use of private email during her time as the nation’s top diplomat. But the damage from the scandal may be irreversible, as Americans appear to be increasingly suspicious of the former first lady.

The possible 2016 presidential candidate addressed the controversy following a speech before the United Nations Tuesday, saying the choice to use personal email accounts for official business was a simple matter of convenience.

“I thought it would be easier to carry one device for my work,” Clinton said, adding that it probably “would’ve been better” to use the government system.

“Looking back, it would have probably been smarter to use two devices, but I have absolute confidence that everything that could be in any way connected to work is now in the hands of the State Department,” Clinton said.

The State Department is currently reviewing 55,000 printed pages of emails Clinton provided from her secretary of state tenure. The former first lady claimed Tuesday that about 60,000 total emails were sent — but that about half of them were personal and would not be released.

“No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy,” Clinton said.

During the process of handpicking what to turn over to the State Department, Clinton and her staffers reportedly deleted the “personal” messages.

According to reports, sorting through the 55,000 paper documents Clinton provided will likely cost U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars.

A Rasmussen poll this week revealed that nearly 4 in 10 Americans believe that Clinton has something to hide with regard to the emails. Nearly half (49 percent) said that using personal email to handle diplomatic responsibilities put the nation’s security at risk.

GAO: Firing bad government workers is too hard

Recent news reports have revealed that ineffective government workers are costing U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. But don’t expect Uncle Sam to fix the problem anytime soon: The Government Accountability Office revealed this week that firing a federal employee for poor performance takes a minimum of 170 days.

“The time and resource commitment needed to remove a poor performing permanent employee can be substantial,” the GAO found in its report. “It can take six months to a year (and sometimes longer) to dismiss an employee.”

The lengthy firing process for poor performance in a government job often includes counseling for the slacking employee and a grace period to give an opportunity for improvement. If managers decide that the firing should occur following that process, the employee has the right to appeal the termination. In some cases an appeal can take 200 days to complete.

According to the GAO, government managers often opt to keep underperforming employees on the payroll in order to avoid the headaches and “bureaucratic obstructions” of the lengthy firing process.

Out of 2.5 million federal workers, GAO estimates that only about 3,500 are fired each year. A majority of the workers fired were still in their yearlong probation period and easier to let go, according to the report.

Another reason GAO cites for the government’s reluctance to fire employees with full job protection is “concern over litigation.”

“Supervisors who take performance-based actions may need to be involved in providing depositions, witness statements, internal meetings, and meeting with attorneys and union representatives for an extended period of time where an employee seeks an avenue of redress concerning the performance-based action,” the GAO said. “Supervisors may be concerned about appeals, grievances or discrimination complaints if the topic of poor performance is broached.”

Last week, Partnership for Public Service president and CEO Max Stier told CBS News that unproductive government workers are a major problem for U.S. taxpayers.

“There is no question that taxpayers are losing hundreds of millions of dollars, in a conservative estimate,” he said. “They are losing more than that because they are losing the ability to get the very best out of government.”

The GAO’s auditors believe that federal officials can begin fixing the problem by better training managers to new evaluate employees during the probation period and extending the amount of time new hires must work before they receive job protections.

Internet giant, human rights groups sue government spies

The Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the Wikipedia website, and a host of human rights groups have joined forces to sue the National Security Agency and Department of Justice for violating Americans’ constitutionally protected free speech and privacy rights.

The goal of the lawsuit, according to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, is to put a stop to the NSA’s “upstream” surveillance practices, which basically equate to a warrantless large-scale search and seizure of Internet communications.

“Surveillance erodes the original promise of the Internet: an open space for collaboration and experimentation, and a place free from fear,” Wales said in a statement.

The practice of sweeping up digital communications en masse was authorized by the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FAA). The FAA only specifically authorizes the collection of communications data of “non-U.S. persons,” but it’s impossible for the NSA to avoid collecting domestic data because the information is collected by conducting dragnet surveillance on the Internet’s principal data routes.

For that reason, Wikimedia representatives argue that the agency has essentially tapped the Internet.

“By tapping the backbone of the Internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy,” said Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. “Wikipedia is founded on the freedoms of expression, inquiry and information. By violating our users’ privacy, the NSA is threatening the intellectual freedom that is central to people’s ability to create and understand knowledge.”

The lawsuit also makes the case that the NSA has taken liberties with its interpretation of the already broad FAA authorizations resulting in surveillance that would be obviously unconstitutional outside of the digital realm.

From the complaint:

Seizing and searching Wikimedia’s communications is akin to seizing and searching the patron records of the largest library in the world — except that Wikimedia’s communications provide a more comprehensive and detailed picture of its users’ interests than any previous set of library records ever could have offered.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include: The Nation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Pen American Center, the Global Fund for Women, the Rutherford Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the groups.

Report: CIA spent a decade trying to spy on iPhones, iPads

New documents from the trove obtained by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden reveal that the CIA spent nearly a decade trying to come up with ways to hack iPhones and iPads.

According to the documents first reported by The Intercept, a team of researchers within the agency have focused their efforts on creating both “physical” and “non-invasive” to monitor user data on the Apple mobile phones and tablets.

“This could enable spies to plant malicious code on Apple devices and seek out potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the iPhone and iPad currently masked by encryption,” The Intercept reported.

It’s unclear from the documents whether the agency has succeeded in breaking the tech company’s encryption coding. The leaked documents do, however, contain boasts about the agency’s ability to introduce surveillance backdoors to mobile applications sold through Apple App Store by mimicking the company’s software development tools.

“The security researchers… claimed they had created a modified version of Apple’s proprietary software development tool, Xcode, which could sneak surveillance backdoors into any apps or programs created using the tool,” according to The Intercept. “Xcode, which is distributed by Apple to hundreds of thousands of developers, is used to create apps that are sold through Apple’s App Store.”

Using the same tactic, CIA agents also appear to have developed the ability to “force all iOS applications to send embedded data to a listening post” and install “keylogger” software on the devices.

Much of the agency’s Apple-focused research was presented to attendees of a secret annual conference called the Trusted Computing Base Jamboree.

“The conference was sponsored by the CIA’s Information Operations Center, which conducts covert cyberattacks,” The intercept reported. “The aim of the gathering, according to a 2012 internal NSA wiki, was to host ‘presentations that provide important information to developers trying to circumvent or exploit new security capabilities,’ as well as to ‘exploit new avenues of attack.’ NSA personnel also participated in the conference, through the NSA’s counterpart to the CIA’s Trusted Computing Base, according to the document.”

The latest Snowden revelations come as tech firms like Apple and Google are pushing back against government demands that they weaken encryption by providing law enforcement a backdoor entrance into all communications devices.

In September, Apple increased the strength of its encryption to make it impossible for the company to extract user data at the government’s request.

That resulted in increased pressure from top law enforcement officials.

“[W]e have to find a way to help these companies understand what we need, why we need it, and how they can help, while still protecting privacy rights and providing network security and innovation,” FBI Director James Comey said last fall. “We need our private-sector partners to take a step back, to pause, and to consider changing course.”

Leslie Caldwell, who serves as assistant attorney general to the Department of Justice’s criminal division, said in January that tech companies are creating a “zone of lawlessness” and protecting criminals by keeping the government’s hands off of customer data.

“We understand the value of encryption,” she said. “We understand the importance of security, but we’re also very concerned that there not be what I would call ‘the zone of lawlessness,’ where there’s evidence that we could have lawful access to… that we’re prohibited from having because of a company’s technological choices.”

Apple has yet to respond to reports of the CIA’s hacking efforts. But CEO Tim Cook assured customers last year that the company would do everything possible to protect user data from government snoops.

“I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services,” he said in a statement. “We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”

Lindsey Graham, John McCain avoid email scandals with a fear of email

In response to the ongoing Hillary Clinton email scandal, Sen. Lyndsey Graham (R-S.C.) claimed over the weekend that he’s never sent a single email.

The revelation came on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when reporter Chuck Todd asked the lawmaker, “Do you have a private e-mail address?”

“I don’t email,” Graham replied. “No, you can have every email I’ve ever sent. I’ve never sent one.”

Whether Graham has a number of slimy secrets he doesn’t want in the digital realm or he’s a Luddite notwithstanding, he’s not the only lawmaker with a disdain of digital communication.

Sen. John McCain told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell last Thursday that he doesn’t use emails because he’s afraid he might show his temper.

“Well, you know, Andrea, you and I have had the pleasure of knowing each other for a number of years,” McCain said. “And you know that from time to time I get a little emotional.”

“I’m afraid that if I was emailing, given my solid, always calm temperament that I might email something that I might regret,” he continued.

“You could send out an email that you would regret later on and would be maybe taken out of context,” McCain said. “And frankly, I don’t have any trouble communicating with my constituents without it.”

We’ll just leave this example of McCain’s superb communication skills here:

While not using email certainly isn’t the worst thing any of America’s esteemed lawmakers will do while in office, it should be at least a little worrisome that these are the people in charge of determining whether Americans have digital communications privacy.

Will the Department of Justice investigate Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails?

Conservative and transparency groups are on the offense against former secretary of state and presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton following reports that she used personal email for official business.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), headed up by former U.S. Attorney Mathew Whitaker, says that it intends to “pursue every legal option” to obtain emails Clinton stored on a clandestine personal server during her tenure at the State Department.

The group kicked off its effort by setting the wheels in motion for a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit shortly after The New York Times reported that Clinton handled her State Department correspondence through personal email.

The Times reported last week: “[A]n examination of records requests sent to the [State Department] reveals how the practice protected a significant amount of her correspondence from the eyes of investigators and the public.

“Mrs. Clinton’s exclusive use of personal email for her government business is unusual for a high-level official, archive experts have said. Federal regulations, since 2009, have required that all emails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system.”

In response to FOIA requests and increasing pressure from congressional investigators, Clinton handed over a cache of 50,000 emails to state officials late last year. But because Clinton and her advisers carefully reviewed the personal account and handpicked correspondence to turn over, vital — and potentially damning — information could have been left out.

Groups like FACT point out that, in light of serious State Department controversies such as the handling of the 2012 Benghazi attack on Clinton’s watch, it is vital that the entire contents of her State Department correspondence be divulged in accordance with federal law.

That’s why Whitaker’s group has gone beyond FOIA, demanding that the Department of Justice get involved to investigate Clinton’s State Department email habits and, if necessary, sue to obtain all emails federal law requires officials to keep on record for historical and transparency purposes.

“The Federal Records Act does not create a private right of action under which citizens may directly enforce the law,” the groups said in a letter to DOJ officials.

“The Attorney General’s office, however, may bring suit to recover public records. Thus, it is in the public’s interest the Office of the Attorney General initiate an action to recover all of Secretary Clinton’s email correspondence from her private account during the time she served as Secretary of State,” the letter, which was leaked to Washington Secrets, continues.

The right-leaning transparency organization Judicial Watch has also launched a probe into Clinton’s secret email server, announcing Monday that it filed six FOIA requests with the State Department.

A statement on the organization’s website says that the group is seeking the following information:

  • Communications between employees of the U.S. Department of State and former Secretary Clinton and/or her representatives relating to emails sent or received by former Secretary Clinton on non-“state.gov” email addresses: from June 1, 2014, to the present.
  • Records concerning the use of a non-­“state.gov” email address by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Including records concerning security, classification, preservation, and compliance with the Federal Records Act and/or the Freedom of Information Act: from January 20, 2009, to February 20, 2009.
  • Records that identify the number and names of all current and former officials, officers, or employees of the State Department from January 20, 2009, to the present who used email addresses other than their assigned “state.gov” email addresses to conduct official State Department business.
  • Records that identify the policies and/or procedures in place to ensure that emails that were sent or received by officials, officers, or employees of the U.S. Department of State who used email addresses  other than “state.gov” email addresses to conduct official State Department business were searched for responsiveness to FOIA requests.
  • Communications between employees of the Department of State and officials or employees of the White House and/or Executive Office of the President relating to the use of non-“state.gov” email addresses by former  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: from June 1, 2014, to the present.
  • Communications between officials or employees of the Department of State and Members of Congress or Congressional staff, or Congressional Members or staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi relating to the use of non-“state.gov” email addresses by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: from June 1, 2014, to the present.

Judicial Watch representatives say that they will follow up on the requests with a lawsuit if state officials fail to provide the information requested, or justification for withholding it, within 20 business days.

Noting that “18 lawsuits, ten of which are active in federal court, as well as about 160 Judicial Watch FOIA requests” could currently be affected by Clinton’s secret emails, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said there’s no time to wait for a congressional investigation.

“[T]he Obama administration is in cover-up mode,” he said. “As with Benghazi and the IRS scandals, there is no doubt that Judicial Watch’s litigation forced the disclosure Hillary Clinton’s email cache, and we will continue to pursue the case.”

White House claims populist support of ammo ban as critics warn of intensifying assault on the 2nd Amendment

The White House last week defended the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) proposal to ban so-called “green tip” ammunition as a “common-sense” gun control measure. But according to National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, the nation will be in for compounding attacks on the 2nd Amendment if the administration is successful in banning the ammo.

“[The president] has long believed that there are some common sense steps that we can take,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last week. “[E]veryone should agree that if there are armor-piercing bullets available that can fit into easily concealed weapons, that it puts our law enforcement [officers] at considerably more risk.”

Earnest also accused critics of the plan of “astroturfing” in an effort to “give the impression that there’s widespread support for or against an agenda when there’s not.”

The NRA, meanwhile, contends that the White House is attempting to spin to downplay the beginning of a White House gun grab that will gradually intensify through the remainder of Obama’s presidency.

In reality, NRA officials said, Obama is attempting to use federal regulations “to ban the second most popular ammunition for the most popular rifle in America.”

As it is currently written, the ATF’s proposal would reclassify certain types of 5.56mm/.223 caliber ammunition as armor-piercing. The ban would specifically ban the manufacture and sale of M855/SS109 “green tip” ammunition.

Despite the White House’s claims that everyone is on board with the ATF plan, NRA officials cite significant pushback from Capitol Hill Republicans as proof that the regulatory ammo ban “is being widely and vigorously opposed.”

Earlier this month, Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney introduced the Protecting Second Amendment Rights Act to “prohibit the ATF or any other federal agency from issuing or enforcing any new restriction or prohibition on the manufacture, importation or sale of ammunition in the United States.”

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) took opposition to the ammo ban a step further, reintroducing legislation to dissolve the ATF into other federal law enforcement agencies. He’d originally unveiled the proposal at the height of controversy involving the agency’s Fast and Furious gunwalking program and a series of other high-profile ATF scandals.

The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action began working with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to produce a congressional plan to halt the proposed ammo ban as soon as news of the ATF plan broke.

Goodlatte demanded to know the legal basis for the ban in a recent letter to ATF officials.

“The idea that Congress intended [the ‘armor-piercing’ ammunition law] to ban one of the preeminent rifle cartridges in use by Americans for legitimate purposes is preposterous,” he wrote.

The latest vocal congressional opposition to the plan came in a letter potential 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sent to supporters via his political action committee RANDPAC.

“The BATF has a March 17th deadline to hear public comments on this outrageous assault on the Second Amendment,” Paul said in the letter before urging supporters to “flood” the ATF with messages from “America’s pro-gun majority.”

“Your grassroots muscle played a vital role in defeating President Obama’s national gun registration scheme in 2013,” Paul added. “And your support is needed again to defend our Second Amendment rights in 2015.”

During a recent appearance on Fox, NRA’s LaPierre emphasized the importance of hefty opposition to the ammo ban by reiterating the concerns of sportsman’s associations which have warned of a slippery slope to more ammo bans.

“If he can ban that, because it pierces soft body armor, he can also ban the .30-06, a really popular hunting cartridge, he can ban the other two hunting cartridges there, the .300 Win Mag, the .375,” he said. “He can ban every cartridge in between… because all of them pierce soft body armor.”

For that reason, LaPierre added, letting Obama’s ATF get its way on the current ammo ban proposal could make the more than 600 days remaining under the current president’s administration “the most dangerous days in the history of the Second Amendment.”

If you’re interested in contacting the ATF in opposition of the ammo ban before the March 16 deadline, NRA instructs its supporters of three ways to do so:

  1. Via email at APAComments@atf.gov (follow the instructions at the link for submitting comments).
  2. Via fax at (202) 648-9741.
  3. Via mail to Denise Brown, Mailstop 6N-602, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Enforcement Programs and Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 99 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20226: ATTN: AP Ammo Comments.

GOP bill would kill net neutrality, strip FCC of power over Internet

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has introduced legislation to strip the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to regulate Internet broadband as a public utility. If passed, the legislation would do away with the agency’s divisive new net neutrality rules.

Late last month, a politically divided FCC approved the neutrality rules with the stated purpose of prohibiting Internet service providers from picking favorites among legal content providers on the Web.

Blackburn and other critics of the plan, including dissenting FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, argue that reclassifying cyber broadband as a public utility clears the way for all manner of government intrusion in the free flow of online information.

“Once the federal government establishes a foothold into managing how Internet service providers run their networks they will essentially be deciding which content goes first, second, third, or not at all,” Blackburn said in a statement. “My legislation will put the brakes on this FCC overreach and protect our innovators from these job-killing regulations.”

Indeed, the lawmaker’s proposal states that the FCC’s new rules “shall have no force or effect, and the Commission may not reissue such rule in substantially the same form, or issue a new rule that is substantially the same as such rule, unless the reissued or new rule is specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of the enactment of this Act.”

Blackburn’s legislation is backed by 31 fellow Republicans, but it also has its critics.

A reporter for Tech Times on Thursday charged that Blackburn’s proposal is about protecting the interests of massive tech companies, not keeping the government’s hands off the Internet, writing: “As it is often the case with these Republican politicians, Blackburn has a lot of reason to side with Internet service providers. In the last election cycle, Blackburn received $25,000 from an AT&T political action committee, $20,000 from a Comcast PAC, $20,000 from a cable industry association PAC and $15,000 from a Verizon PAC.

“It is not known whether Blackburn is acting at the suggestion of Internet service providers, but if not, as mentioned, she certainly has reason to fight for these companies, whether it benefits the general public or not.”

Proponents of Blackburn’s legislation, meanwhile, contend that passage of the Blackburn bill would send a powerful message that government can’t legislate via bureaucracy by stripping the FCC of its assumed authority over the Internet.

GOP lawmaker reissues legislation to dissolve the ATF

In apparent response to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF) attempt to regulate popular types of rifle ammunition off the civilian market, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has reintroduced legislation to disband the agency.

Sensenbrenner, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, contends that the ATF’s functions could easily be handled by the nation’s other law enforcement agencies.

“[The ATF’s] ‘Framework’ is an affront to the Second Amendment and yet another reason why Congress should pass the ATF Elimination Act,” the lawmaker said in a statement.

Republican lawmakers and 2nd Amendment supporters throughout the nation have most recently criticized the agency for its proposal to reclassify certain types of 5.56mm/.223 caliber ammunition as armor-piercing. The ban would specifically ban the manufacture and sale of M855/SS109 “green tip” ammunition.

But Sensenbrenner has long called for the ATF’s abolition, citing a series of well-publicized ATF scandals in recent years as proof that the agency does more harm to the nation than good.

In 2010, the ATF’s notorious Fast and Furious program shot to the center of public debate after news broke that Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed with a firearm the agency had allowed to “walk” into the hands of Mexican cartel members.

Then, in December 2013, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel issued a report detailing how ATF agents operating stings in six different cities “took advantage of the mentally ill, set up stings near churches and schools and made decisions which some claim actually increased crime in their neighborhoods” in a bid to trump up firearms charges against individuals.

A Government Accountability Office report out last summer noted the scandals and criticized ATF policy changes that caused the agency to overlap the duties of other U.S. law enforcement agencies while decreasing its original mission.

“Beginning in 2010, ATF made criminal organization investigations one of its highest priorities, similar to firearms investigations, and deemphasized alcohol and tobacco investigations that do not involve violent crime,” the GAO report noted. “ATF data show that alcohol and tobacco investigations decreased by 85 percent (from 168 to 25 investigations opened) from fiscal years 2003 through 2013. In 2012, to more effectively identify and address the most violent criminal threats.”

That report led to Sensenbrenner’s original call to dissolve the agency.

“The ATF is a largely duplicative, scandal ridden agency that lacks a clear mission. It is plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges and a lack of leadership. For decades it has been branded by high profile failures,” he said in September. “There is also significant overlap with other agencies. At a time when we are approaching $18 trillion in debt, waste and redundancy within our federal agencies must be addressed. Without a doubt, we can fulfill the role of the ATF more efficiently.”

Sensenbrenner’s ATF Elimination Act would place the ATF’s firearms, explosives and arson responsibilities to the FBI and alcohol and tobacco law enforcement to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Though the most recent proposal to eliminate the ATF comes from a Republican, the agency has also come under fire from Democrats in the past.

In 1993, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced legislation to “transfer all functions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms relating to the regulation of firearms from the Department of the Treasury to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Cyberattacks on federal government on the rise

As a growing number of Americans rely on government websites to handle their taxes or sign up for healthcare, a new report from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) raises questions about how secure the government is keeping online information.

The OMB report details a 15 percent increase in cyberattacks on the government for fiscal 2014, bringing the total number of incidents to a record of 70,000.

While cyberattacks often involve phishing scams and denial of service attacks, OMB investigators said the biggest cyber threat comes from government employees’ mishandling of online documents containing personal information.

Another major concern is that many agencies lack authentication procedures to keep information stored on their servers safe.

“[N]early a third of federal incidents are related to or could have been prevented by strong authentication [two-factor] implementation,” OMB wrote in the report. “[In] FY 2013, 65 percent of federal civilian cybersecurity incidents were related to or could have been prevented by strong authentication implementation. This figure decreased 13 percent in FY 2014 to 52 percent of cyber incidents reported to US-CERT. While this is a decrease from FY 2013, it is still a troublingly high percentage when one considers that strong authentication implementation for civilian agency user accounts remains at only 41 percent, well below the 75 percent target.”

The OMB report urges federal agencies to require employees to log in to secure networks with unique personal identification cards rather than easily transferable usernames and passwords.

“Agencies which have the weakest authentication profile allow the majority of unprivileged users to log on with user ID and password alone, which makes unauthorized network access more likely as passwords are much easier to steal through either malicious software or social engineering,” OMB said.

The report did contain some good news, with researchers noting that the increase in cyber incidents is at least partially attributable to the government’s increasing ability to identify cyberattacks.

Still, OMB and some members of Congress say there is more work to be done.

“Although some agencies are making significant progress, this report underscores the troubling reality that cyberattacks and intrusions continue to occur at an increasing rate, and agencies need to be better prepared,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) said Wednesday.

Arizona lawmaker seeks end to ban on short-barreled shotguns, silencers and nunchakus

A Republican state senator in Arizona proposed legislation this week that would end a ban on sawed-off shotguns, silencers and nunchakus in the state.

Sen. Kelli Ward (R-Lake Havasu City), a prolific gun rights legislator, introduced the proposal as an amendment to a separate bill aimed at restoring firearm ownership rights to felons when a judge determines they have served their time.

Ward’s amendment:

IF A JUDGMENT OF GUILT IS SET ASIDE PURSUANT TO THIS SECTION THE PERSON’S RIGHT TO POSSESS A GUN OR FIREARM IS RESTORED. THIS SUBSECTION DOES NOT APPLY TO A PERSON WHO WAS CONVICTED OF A SERIOUS OFFENSE AS DEFINED IN SECTION 13-706. IF A PERSON’S RIGHT TO POSSESS A GUN OR FIREARM IS RESTORED PURSUANT TO SUBSECTION D OF THIS SECTION, THE PERSON MAY POSSESS:

  1. A DEVICE THAT IS DESIGNED, MADE OR ADAPTED TO MUFFLE THE REPORT OF A FIREARM.
  2. A RIFLE WITH A BARREL LENGTH OF LESS THAN SIXTEEN INCHES, OR SHOTGUN WITH A BARREL LENGTH OF LESS THAN EIGHTEEN INCHES, OR ANY FIREARM THAT IS MADE FROM A RIFLE OR SHOTGUN AND THAT, AS MODIFIED, HAS AN OVERALL LENGTH OF LESS THAN TWENTY-SIX INCHES.
  3. AN INSTRUMENT, INCLUDING A NUNCHAKU, THAT CONSISTS OF TWO OR MORE STICKS, CLUBS, BARS OR RODS TO BE USED AS HANDLES, CONNECTED BY A ROPE, CORD, WIRE OR CHAIN, IN THE DESIGN OF A WEAPON USED IN CONNECTION WITH THE PRACTICE OF A SYSTEM OF SELF-DEFENSE.

The amendment would, of course, also extend the rights to residents with no criminal records.

“We have the right to keep and bear arms, and really, that right shouldn’t be infringed,” Ward said. “The government putting any kind of regulations on that is wrong.”

The lawmaker’s proposal is drawing fire from some.

Via AZCentral:

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, was incredulous over the bill’s advance, coming minutes after the Senate rejected his efforts to ban text messaging while driving, something already the law in 48 states.

“Some people think we’re still the Wild West,” he said of Ward’s bill. “I can’t wait to hear what law enforcement has to say about this.”

“I was leaning toward voting for (the original bill),” Farley said. “If somebody has their felony conviction vacated, they should have their right to be able to have a gun again. By putting this new bill, in effect, onto that bill, the underlying bill doesn’t matter anymore.”

He predicted that if passed, the legislation would prompt a pricey legal battle that Arizona would ultimately lose.

Similar legislation that would lift a ban on firearm suppressors is making its way through the Iowa Legislature.

Americans are ready for war with ISIS

Poll after poll has shown that Americans are incredibly war-weary after more than a decade of conflict in the Middle East and little to show for the trouble. But new data illustrates that when it comes to ISIS, Americans want boots on the ground to eliminate the terror threat.

A Quinnipiac University poll out Wednesday shows Americans favor sending ground troops to battle ISIS in Iraq and Syria by a 2-to-1 margin, with 60 percent in support and 30 percent who oppose the idea.

The new poll represents a change in opinion since last summer when headlines about ISIS atrocities first began cropping up. A WSJ/NBC poll at the time found just 37 percent support for the use of ground troops, though there was majority support for other military action against the terror group.

Quinnipiac’s latest numbers are also remarkable because they show support for using ground troops is high across all party, gender and age groups.

Seventy-three percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents, and 53 percent of Democrats support sending ground troops. There was also majority support for ground troops in all age brackets, with people 18-34 (60 percent) and 35-54 (66 percent) surprisingly more in favor than those 55 and older (59 percent).

Sixty-four percent of respondents said that Congress should grant authorization for use of military force. Fifty-three percent expressed concern that the military won’t be allowed to “go far enough in stopping ISIS,” compared to 39 percent who worry U.S. military action will go too far.

“Send in the troops and eliminate ISIS: The resounding hardline message from Americans say, ‘Don’t negotiate with terrorists, destroy them,'” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, in a statement.

Immigration union leader says terrorists are crossing U.S. borders

The head of one of the nation’s largest immigration-related employee unions warned Americans this week that President Barack Obama’s lax immigration policies are opening the nation up to a terror attack on par with 9/11.

According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) head Kenneth Palinkas, the inability of immigration officials to thoroughly vet each of the thousands of new immigrants to the U.S. under Obama’s policies could help potential terrorists set the stage for “an even more catastrophic event then what occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.”

Palinkas has long criticized lax immigration policies. He joined the heads of several other employee unions whose members deal with immigration back in 2013 to speak out against the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration plan, which he said would turn his employees into rubber stampers.

“It compels the officer to go on this assembly line, much like Lucille Ball back in the day with those chocolates,” he told NPR at the time. “[It’s] just, ‘Go get this job done.’ You’re not given enough time to adjudicate. We don’t have the manpower. People [are] not properly trained. So we’re not really even ready to take over the responsibility.”

With Obama’s unilateral immigration overhaul, Palinkas’ fears have become reality without the Gang of Eight bill passing.

At a recent Senate hearing Donald Neufeld, the associate director of Service Center Operations for USCIS, said that employees in his union handle “the world’s largest immigration system that includes more than 100 immigrant and nonimmigrant classifications and more than 200 different forms and applications.”

In 2014, USCIS employees handled immigration paperwork for about 7 million immigration petitions and requests. At that volume, immigration officials are increasingly unable to conduct face-to-face interviews with immigrants during the vetting process.

And according to Palinkas, it’s likely that terrorists have already exploited the overburdened immigration system.

“Our current immigration system leaves us vulnerable to terrorist threats and terrorism in general by providing entry avenues for people sworn to destroy America… We must remain diligent and not continue lessening our guard against extremists who seek to destroy this nation,” he said.

“We must not govern based on politically correct clichés about relaxed immigration that only serve to weaken the country.”

Feds unveil Common Core for local cops

Details unveiled in an interim report on the Obama administration’s plan to restructure law enforcement throughout the United States hint that federal involvement could soon increase greatly in the day-to-day operations of small-town police departments.

“We have a great opportunity… to really transform how we think about community law enforcement relations,” President Obama said as the report was released Monday.

“We need to seize that opportunity… this is something that I’m going to stay very focused on in the months to come,” he added.

The president’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing calls for a series of changes in the way community police departments operate and offers a plan to tie federal funding to cooperation with the changes.

“The U.S. Department of Justice, through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services [COPS] and Office of Justice Programs, should provide technical assistance and incentive funding to jurisdictions with small police agencies that take steps towards shared services, regional training, and consolidation,” the report states.

The task force report contains a six-pillar plan for law enforcement agencies throughout the nation. The pillars include:

  • Building trust and legitimacy
  • Policy and oversight
  • Technology and social media
  • Community policing and crime reduction
  • Training and education
  • Officer wellness and safety

While suggestions outlined under the pillars involving trust, legitimacy and oversight could have a positive impact on citizen civil rights during police encounters, other ideas in the have led critics to worry about a creeping national police force.

For instance, the report calls for the federal government to “support the development of partnerships with training facilities across the country to promote consistent standards for high quality training and establish training innovation hubs.”

The report further states: “Federal funding would be a powerful incentive to these designated academies to conduct the necessary research to develop and implement the highest quality curricula focused on the needs of 21st century American policing, along with cutting edge delivery modalities.”

In addition to calling for more federal involvement in training local police, the report calls for increased information sharing between local and federal law enforcement agencies.

“Inconsistent or non-existent standards also lead to isolated and fractured information systems that cannot effectively manage, store, analyze, or share their data with other systems. As a result, much information is lost or unavailable — which allows vital information to go unused and have no impact on crime reduction efforts,” the report states. “As one witness noted, the development of mature crime analysis and CompStat processes allows law enforcement to effectively develop policy and deploy resources for crime prevention, but there is a lack of uniformity in data collection throughout law enforcement, and only patchwork methods of near real-time information sharing exist. These problems are especially critical in light of the threats from terrorism and cybercrime.”

Part of the information-sharing increase should be facilitated by the development of a national public safety broadband network for law enforcement use only, the report says.

“A national public safety broadband network which creates bandwidth for the exclusive use of law enforcement, the First Responder Network (FirstNet) is considered a game-changing public safety project, which would allow instantaneous communication in even the most remote areas whenever a disaster or incident occurs,” the report says. “It can also support many other technologies, including video transmission…”

Critics of the plan have pointed out that attaching the recommendations put forth to federal funding mirrors the way in which the federal government recently increased its control over education with Common Core.

And President Obama has already hinted that he expects the policing plan to be controversial.

“There’s some good answers to be had if we don’t make this a political football or sensationalize it, but rather really focus on getting the job done,” he told reporters. “So I appreciate everybody’s efforts. I’m going to be focused on it. I hope you will be, too.”

Read the full report here.

Would privatized police be better police?

Recent reports indicate that the number of private citizens doing police work is on the rise throughout the nation. And though many people have concerns about lack of training and oversight, private police advocates point to stories of success in places where law enforcement has been privatized.

The Washington Post late last month published a report detailing the rise of private police, or conservators of the peace as designated by English common law, in states throughout the nation.

From the report:

The number of “special conservators of the peace” — or SCOPs, as they are known — has doubled in Virginia over the past decade to roughly 750, according to state records.

The growth is mirrored nationally in the ranks of private police, who increasingly patrol corporate campuses, neighborhoods and museums as the demand for private security has increased and police services have been cut in some places.

Experts say Virginia’s increase is SCOPs is part of a nationwide uptick in private security that began in the 1970s and accelerated after the Sept. 11 attacks. The number of private security guards — nearly 1.1 million — dwarfs the 640,000 public police officers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And despite concerns about the informal nature of haw many private police firms operate, they’ve been embraced in some areas.

In 2012, officials in Sharpstown, Texas, concluded that their public police force was wholly ineffective and disbanded the constable’s office. The town then signed a contract to have the private security company SEAL Security solutions patrol the streets.

Sharpstown is reportedly saving taxpayers about $200,000 per year and SEAL Director of Operations James Alexander told Guns.com that his team has rapidly lowered crime rates.

“Since we’ve been in there, an independent crime study that they’ve had done [indicates] we’ve reduced the crime by 61 percent [in 20 months],” he said.

Alexander attributes the success to a different patrol style than what was used by the public police.

“On a constable patrol contract, it’s either a 70/30 or an 80/20. Meaning they say they patrol your community 70 percent of the time, [while] 30 percent of the time they use for running calls out of your area or writing reports,” he said.

Alexander added, “The second thing that drastically reduces the crime is that we do directed patrols, meaning we don’t just put an officer out there and say ‘here, go patrol.’ We look at recent crime stats, and we work off of those crime stats. So if we have hotspots in those areas say for that month, we focus and concentrate our efforts around those hotspots.”

Private police advocates say Sharptown’s crime reduction success with private policing could be duplicated throughout the nation. They also say private policing has other benefits, pointing to recent high-profile incidents where public police officers used too much force, resulting in a suspect’s injury or death. Private police companies have a negative incentive to initiate force against a suspect because of liabilities that don’t burden public agencies.

Pew finds young Republicans more likely to be social liberals

The youngest members of the GOP continue marching to a more libertarian drum as new polling data shows a majority, nationwide, supports marijuana legalization and same sex marriage.

According to polling data from Pew, 63 percent of Republicans who fall into the Millennial (born 1981 to ’96) demographic say that marijuana use should be legal in the United States. That’s compared to 35 percent who say it should remain illegal at the federal level.

While the number of Republican Millennials who support marijuana legalization is high, it’s still three percentage points lower than the number of their Democratic contemporaries favoring legalization.

According to Pew, a softer stance on marijuana from Millennials in the GOP could have electoral implications in 2016.

“The debate over marijuana … comes ahead of the 2016 presidential election, when both political parties are fighting over the coveted Millennial vote as this group of eligible voters swells in size, even if its members do not consistently show up on Election Day,” Pew noted.

But it isn’t just marijuana where younger Republicans are veering away from the party’s establishment messaging— they’re more socially liberal in general.

For instance, Millennials are also the only group in the GOP who support same-sex marriage by a majority (58 percent).

The Pew report came as attendees of the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., noticed (yet again) that the face of conservatism slowly appears to be getting more youthful and libertarian.

And that, as Reason notes in a video from this year’s event, is creating a divide within the GOP that won’t soon go away.