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First Look to Support Defense of Reality Winner in Espionage Act Prosecution

from July 11, 2017 at 09:06AM http://bit.ly/2ubudD5

The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media, has taken steps to provide independent support for the legal defense of Reality Winner, the NSA contract employee who was recently arrested in the first instance of the Trump administration using the 100-year-old Espionage Act to prosecute an alleged journalistic source.

Winner, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of having anonymously mailed a document to The Intercept relating to a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The NSA report, which was the basis of a story published by The Intercept on June 5, describes efforts by Russian military intelligence to hack into several states’ voting infrastructure, highlighting vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system and providing vital context for the current debate over Russian interference in the election.

Winner’s legal defense is led by John C. Bell and Titus Nichols of the Augusta-based firm Bell & Brigham. First Look’s Press Freedom Defense Fund, whose mission is to pursue legal fights where key principles of press freedom are at stake, will provide funding for the engagement of an additional law firm to support Bell & Brigham. Belief that it is wrong for journalistic sources to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act is the key principle that moved the Press Freedom Defense Fund to provide support for Winner’s legal defense. With Winner’s consent, First Look’s counsel Baruch Weiss of the firm Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer may support the defense efforts while continuing to represent First Look’s interests.

As a separate grant, based on the same principle, the Press Freedom Defense Fund is providing $50,000 in matching funds to Stand with Reality, a grassroots crowd-funding campaign to support public awareness and legal work around Winner’s case.

We at The Intercept have always opposed the use of the Espionage Act against government whistleblowers. Our stand is unwavering and we would object to the prosecution of Winner under the act even if we had no connection to the materials she is accused of disclosing. The First Amendment, not the Espionage Act, should be the framework for viewing the act of whistleblowing. Following in the steps of the Obama administration, which prosecuted more sources under the act than all previous administrations combined, the Trump Justice Department is wielding that archaic statute designed for punishing spies and traitors against someone who is suspected of contributing newsworthy material to a journalistic organization.

Of course, as the news outlet Winner is accused of leaking to, The Intercept has a unique perspective on her case and a passionate desire to see her receive a fair trial — even though we had no idea who our source was and still have no independent knowledge of the source’s identity. We view the Press Freedom Defense Fund’s support as a critical step to ensure that Winner has the strongest possible defense.

The Intercept Concludes Review

At The Intercept, we have also been carefully examining our own role in Winner’s predicament. Our reporting practices came under immediate scrutiny after the publication of our story as the Trump administration’s DOJ suggested in an unsealed affidavit and search warrant that it had gleaned clues about the leaker’s identity in part from our reporting. An internal review of the reporting of this story has now been completed. The ongoing criminal case prevents us from going into detail, but I can state that, at several points in the editorial process, our practices fell short of the standards to which we hold ourselves for minimizing the risks of source exposure when handling anonymously provided materials.

Like other journalistic outlets, we routinely verify such materials with any individuals or institutions implicated by their disclosure and seek their comment, as we explain on our website. This process carries some risks of source exposure that are impossible to mitigate when dealing with sensitive materials. Nonetheless, it is clear that we should have taken greater precautions to protect the identity of a source who was anonymous even to us.

As the editor-in-chief, I take responsibility for this failure, and for making sure that the internal newsroom issues that contributed to it are resolved. We are conducting a comprehensive analysis of our source protection protocols and will make revisions to ensure that any materials provided to us anonymously are handled in the most secure manner possible. We will ensure that all staff members have rigorous security training and are held to account for any lapses. Our security team will be consistently integrated into the editorial process. We will also provide revised and expanded guidelines for whistleblowers on our website. I am grateful to the entire Intercept staff for committing to this essential task.

It remains core to our mission to ensure that all our journalism is carried out in a manner that honors the risks that whistleblowers take.

The post First Look to Support Defense of Reality Winner in Espionage Act Prosecution appeared first on The Intercept.

Read more at: The Intercept http://bit.ly/1QabwCe

Trump Has Secretive Teams to Roll Back Regulations, Led by Hires With Deep Industry Ties

from July 11, 2017 at 03:49AM http://bit.ly/2va4Ajc

by Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times,

This story was co-published with The New York Times.

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations.

But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

At the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team were most recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit college operator.

So far, the process has been scattershot. Some agencies have been soliciting public feedback, while others refuse even to disclose who is in charge of the review. In many cases, responses to public records requests have been denied, delayed or severely redacted.

The Interior Department has not disclosed the correspondence and calendars for its team. But a review of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets for guests visiting the agency’s headquarters in Washington found that appointees had met regularly with industry representatives.

Over a four-month period, from February through May, at least 58 representatives of the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency’s visitor logs before meeting with appointees.

The EPA also rejected requests to release the appointment calendar of the official leading its team — a former top executive for an industry-funded political group — even as she met privately with industry representatives.

And the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security provided the titles for most appointees to their review teams, but not names.

Help Us Identify the Officials Helping Trump Roll Back Regulations

In February, President Trump ordered federal agencies to form task forces charged with finding regulations to weaken or eliminate. While the names of appointees to executive-agency task forces are typically made public, some agencies are refusing to reveal who is on their panels. See who we know about and who we don’t.

When asked for comment about the activities of the deregulation teams, the White House referred reporters to the Office of Management and Budget.

Meghan Burris, a spokeswoman there, said: “As previous administrations have recognized, it’s good government to periodically reassess existing regulations. Past regulatory review efforts, however, have not taken a consistent enough look at regulations on the books.”

With billions of dollars at stake in the push to deregulate, corporations and other industry groups are hiring lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help navigate this new avenue for influence. Getting to the front of the line is crucial, as it can take years to effect regulatory changes.

“Competition will be fierce,” the law firm Clark Hill, which represents businesses pitching the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a marketing memo. “In all likelihood, interested parties will need to develop a multi-pronged strategy to expand support and win pre-eminence over competing regulatory rollback candidates.”

Jane Luxton, a lawyer at the firm, said she advised clients to pay for economic and legal analyses that government agencies, short on staff, could use to expedite changes. She declined to identify the clients.

“You may say this is an agency’s job, but the agencies are totally overloaded,” Luxton said.

On a cloudy, humid day in March, Laura Peterson, a top lobbyist for Syngenta, arrived at the headquarters for the Interior Department. She looped the letter “L” across the agency’s sign-in sheet.

Her company, a top pesticide maker based in Switzerland, had spent eight years and millions of dollars lobbying the Obama administration on environmental rules, with limited success.

But Peterson had an in with the new administration.

Scott Cameron, newly installed at the Interior Department and a member of its deregulation team, had just left a nonprofit he had founded. He had advocated getting pesticides approved and out to market faster. His group counted Syngenta as a financial partner.

The meeting with Peterson was one of the first Cameron took as a new government official.

Neither side would reveal what was discussed. “I’m not sure that’s reporting information I have to give you,” Peterson said.

But lobbying records offered clues.

Syngenta has been one of several pesticide manufacturers pushing for changes to the Endangered Species Act. When federal agencies take actions that may jeopardize endangered animals or plants, they are generally supposed to consult with the Interior Department, which could raise objections.

For decades, the EPA largely ignored this provision when approving new pesticides. But recently, a legal challenge from environmental groups forced its hand — a change that affected Syngenta.

Pesticide lobbyists have been working behind the scenes at agencies and on Capitol Hill to change the provision. Companies have argued that they should be exempt from consulting with the Interior Department because they already undergo EPA approval.

Along with spending millions of dollars on lobbying, they have funded advocacy groups aligned with their cause. Cameron’s nonprofit, the Reduce Risks From Invasive Species Coalition, was one such group for Syngenta.

The organization says on its website that its goals include reducing “the regulatory burden of the Endangered Species Act on American society by addressing invasive species.” One way to do that is to use pesticides. The nonprofit’s mission includes creating “business opportunities for commercial products and services used to control invasive species.”

Because donations are not publicly reported, it is unclear how much Syngenta has contributed to Cameron’s organization, but his group has called the pesticide company one of its “generous sponsors.”

Cameron also served on a committee of experts and stakeholders, including Syngenta, that advised the federal government on decisions related to invasive species. At a committee event last July, he said that one of his priorities was “getting biocontrol agents to market faster,” according to meeting minutes.

Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman, said: “Employees regularly engage with those in government that relate to agriculture and our business. Our purpose is to balance serving the public health and environment with enabling farmers’ access to innovation.”

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not respond to questions about how Cameron’s relationship with Syngenta might influence his review of regulations.

Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

In many cases, the administration has refused to say whether appointees to Trump’s deregulation teams have done either.

One such appointee is Samantha Dravis, the chairwoman of the deregulation team at the EPA, who was a top official at the Republican Attorneys General Association. Dravis was also president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which brought together energy companies and Republican attorneys general to file lawsuits against the federal government over Obama-era environmental regulations.

The Republican association’s work has been criticized as a vehicle for corporate donors to gain the credibility and expertise of state attorneys general in fighting federal regulations. Donors include the American Petroleum Institute, the energy company ConocoPhillips and the coal giant Alpha Natural Resources.

The Republican association also received funding from Freedom Partners, backed by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch. Dravis worked for that group as well, which recently identified regulations it wants eliminated. Among them are EPA rules relating to clean-water protections and restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, declined to say whether Dravis had recused herself from issues dealing with previous employers or their backers, or had discussed regulations with any of them.

“As you will find when you receive Samantha’s calendar, she has met with a range of stakeholders, including nonprofits, industry groups and others, on a wide range of issues,” Bowman said.

Bowman said the calendar could be obtained through a public records request. ProPublica and The Times had already filed a request for records including calendars, but the agency’s response did not include those documents. (An appeal was filed, but the calendar has not yet been released.)

“We take our ethics responsibilities seriously,” Bowman said. “All political staff have had an ethics briefing and know their obligations.”

Addressing the agency’s regulatory efforts, she said, “We are here to enact a positive environmental agenda that provides real results to the American people, without unnecessarily hamstringing our economy.”

At the Agriculture Department, the only known appointee to the deregulation team is Rebeckah Adcock. She previously lobbied the department as a top executive both at CropLife America, a trade association for pesticide makers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group for farmers.

The department deals with many issues involving farmers, including crop insurance and land conservation rules, but it would not disclose whether Adcock had recused herself from discussions affecting her past employers.

At the Energy Department, a member of the deregulation team is Brian McCormack, who formerly handled political and external affairs for Edison Electric Institute, a trade association representing investor-owned electrical utilities.

While there, McCormack worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-funded group. Both organizations fought against rooftop solar policies in statehouses across the country. Utility companies lose money when customers generate their own power, even more so when they are required to pay consumers who send surplus energy back into the grid.

Though the Energy Department does not directly regulate electrical utilities, it does help oversee international electricity trade, the promotion of renewable energy and the security of domestic energy production. After joining the department, McCormack helped start a review of the nation’s electrical grid, according to an agency memo.

Clean-energy advocates fear the inquiry will cast solar energy, which can fluctuate, as a threat to grid reliability. Such a finding could scare off state public utility commissions considering solar policies and serve as a boon for electrical utilities, said Matt Kasper, research director at the Energy and Policy Institute, an environmental group.

Disclosure records show that while McCormack was at Edison, the trade group lobbied the federal government, including the Energy Department, on issues including grid reliability.

The department would not answer questions about McCormack’s involvement with those issues.

Across the government, at least two appointees to deregulation teams have been granted waivers from ethics rules related to prior jobs, and at least nine others have pledged to recuse themselves from issues related to former employers or clients.

Some of the recusals involve appointees at the Small Business Administration and the Education Department, including Bob Eitel, who leads the education team and was vice president for regulatory legal services at an operator of for-profit colleges.

Another recusal involves Byron Brown, an EPA appointee who is married to a senior government affairs manager for the Hess Corporation, the oil and gas company.

Hess was fined and ordered to spend more than $45 million on pollution controls by the EPA during the Obama administration because of alleged Clean Air Act violations at its refinery in Port Reading, N.J. Disclosure records show that Brown’s wife, Lesley Schaaff, lobbied the EPA last year on behalf of the company.

An EPA spokeswoman declined to say whether Brown or Schaaff owned Hess stock, though an agency ethics official said Brown had recused himself from evaluating regulations affecting the company.

The agency declined to say whether Brown would also recuse himself from issues affecting the American Petroleum Institute, where his wife’s company is a member. The association has lobbied to ease Obama-era natural gas rules, complaining in a recent letter to Brown’s team about an “unprecedented level of federal regulatory actions targeting our industry.”

Before being selected to lead the deregulation team at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Maren Kasper was a director at Roofstock, an online marketplace for investors in single-family rental properties. Financial disclosure records show Kasper owned a stake in the company worth up to $50,000.

Changes at HUD could increase investor interest in rental homes, affecting a company like Roofstock. The agency, for example, oversees the federal government’s Section 8 subsidies program for low-income renters.

Ethics officials allowed Kasper to keep her stake, but she pledged not to take actions that would affect it. (A spokesman for HUD said Kasper’s tenure on the deregulation task force has since ended.)

One by one, scientists, educators and environmental activists approached the microphone and urged government officials not to weaken regulations intended to protect children from lead.

The forum, run by the EPA in a drab basement meeting room in Washington, was part of the agency’s push to identify regulations that were excessive and burdensome to businesses.

Few businesspeople showed up. As public hearings on regulations have played out in recent weeks, many industry and corporate representatives have instead met with Trump administration officials behind closed doors.

Still, the EPA has asked for written comments and held about a dozen public meetings. The agency has received more than 467,000 comments, many of them critical of potential rollbacks, but also some from businesses large and small pleading for relief from regulatory costs or confusion.

After a quiet moment at the meeting to discuss lead regulations, the owner of a local painting company, Brian McCracken, moved to the microphone.

McCracken was frustrated by what he described as costly rules that forced him to test for lead-based paint in homes before he could begin painting. Each test kit costs about $2, and he may need six per room. If a family then declines to hire him, those costs come out of his pocket.

“I don’t think anyone is sitting here saying that lead-based dust does not hurt children,” he said. “That’s not what we are talking about. What the contractor needs is a better way to test.”

His voice quavered: “Why do I have to educate the general public about the hazards that generations before me created? It doesn’t make sense at all.”

Trump is not the first president to take on such frustrations.

President Bill Clinton declared the federal government was failing to regulate “without imposing unacceptable or unreasonable costs on society.” He assigned Vice President Al Gore to collect agencies’ suggestions for rules that should go. One rule dictated how to measure the consistency of grits.

President George W. Bush’s regulatory overhaul focused more on how new regulations were created. The administration installed a political appointee inside each agency who generally had to sign off before any significant new rule could be initiated. At the EPA for a time, that official came from an industry-funded think tank.

President Barack Obama ordered regular updates from each agency about the effectiveness of rules already on the books.

Here’s How Trump Transferred Wealth to His Son While Avoiding the Usual Taxes

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“When you raise the profile, when it’s clearly an executive priority, it gets attention,” said Heather Krause, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, the main auditor of the federal government. According to the auditor’s analysis, the effect under Obama was mostly to clarify and streamline rules, not eliminate them.

Like Bush, Trump has empowered political appointees. Though some agencies have included career staff members on their review teams, an executive order from Trump creating the teams does not require it — nonpolitical employees are generally believed to be more wedded to existing rules. And like Obama, Trump has imposed regular reporting requirements.

But Trump, who spent his business career on the other side of government regulations, has put an emphasis on cutting old rules.

The same day he signed the executive order initiating the review, he addressed a large crowd of conservative activists at a Maryland convention center.

“We have begun a historic program to reduce the regulations that are crushing our economy — crushing,” Trump said. “We’re going to put the regulations industry out of work and out of business.”

Amit Narang, a regulatory expert at the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen, said Trump’s decision to create teams of political appointees — formally known as regulatory reform task forces — should make it easier for the White House to overcome bureaucratic resistance to his rollback plans.

“To the extent there’s a deep state effect in this administration,” Narang said, “the task force will be more effective in trying to get the agenda in place.”

The New York Times’ Kitty Bennett contributed reporting to this story.

If you know anything about these task forces, contact us at taskforce@propublica.org or via Signal at 213–271–7217. See who we know about and who we don’t.

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations http://bit.ly/1lISYtS

Police Excuse for Infamous Shooting of Black Teenager Jordan Edwards Turns Out to Be a Fabrication

from June 30, 2017 at 01:37AM http://bit.ly/2tWPuRb

The 15-year-old was unarmed and posed no threat to the officer who shot him.

A house party in late April in a small Texas suburb resulted in the fatal shooting of Jordan Edwards, an unarmed black teenager who was leaving the party. Edwards, 15, died instantly when an officer fired multiple shots from a rifle into the front window of a car occupied by Edwards, his brother and two friends.

Following the incident, officers claimed there had been alcohol at the party, though did not cite any source to corroborate their claims. Now Dallas News reports that an anonymous law enforcement official said there was no alcohol present at the party, and the autopsy report reveals Edwards had no alcohol or illegal drugs in his system when he was killed.

This was not the only false claim officers made about the incident. Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber initially claimed that Roy Oliver, the officer who shot and killed Edwards, “fired his rifle into the vehicle because the driver was aggressively backing up toward the officers.” However, body camera footage shows that the car was moving forward at the time.

Police arrived at the house in Balch Springs, located right outside Dallas, in response to a 911 complaint regarding a party in the neighborhood. As officers arrived on the scene and proceeded to break up the party, they reported hearing what they thought were gunshots. When officers ran outside to survey the scene, Edwards, his brother and two friends got into a car to leave the party. While they were attempting to leave, Officer Tyler Gross approached the vehicle and ordered them to stop, smashing one of the windows with his gun. Oliver then fired multiple shots into the passenger side window, striking Edwards in the head and killing him.

Roy Oliver was later fired and charged with murder, and the case has yet to be heard by a Dallas County grand jury. Personnel records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by NBC News reveal that Oliver has a history of aggression and issues with anger. According to a 2013 internal disciplinary report, Oliver “failed to comply with the Balch Springs Code of Ethics” when he became angry and starting spewing profanities during a court interaction. He was suspended for 16 hours and ordered to attend anger management classes and training in courtroom demeanor.

In addition, Oliver had been indicted on two aggravated assault charges for a road rage incident that took place two weeks before the party. A woman reported that Oliver had pulled his gun on her when she rear-ended him while he was off-duty. First Assistant District Attorney Michael Snipes has called Oliver a danger to the community.

Jordan Edwards is one of 148 black people killed by police in 2017, according to Mapping Police Violence. He was the 156th person shot and killed by police in 2017. As of June 29, the Washington Post’s police shooting tracker counts 484 people shot and killed by law enforcement so far this year.

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

WATCH: Florida Cop Makes up Law to Ticket Black Man for Walking Without Identification

from June 27, 2017 at 09:57AM http://bit.ly/2uF2ZCv

The video quickly went viral after it was posted to Facebook.

According to the Miami Herald, a police officer in Jacksonville, Florida incorrectly cited a law requiring identification for drivers when giving a ticket to a black man for jaywalking and for not having an ID on him, as shown in a viral video the man in question posted on social media.

The video posted by 21-year-old Devonte Shipman on June 20 shows Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Officer J.S. Bolen confronting Shipman for jaywalking.

“Miami Beach, 1962?” the Herald report asked. “No, Jacksonville, 2017.”

When Shipman asked the officer what he’d done wrong, the cop told him that he was fining him for jaywalking, which costs $65. Bolen then asked the young man for his ID, and when he told the officer he didn’t have it, Bolen “snapped.”

“That’s another infraction,” Bolen said. “In the state of Florida, you have to have an ID card on you identifying who you are or I can detain you for seven hours until I figure out who you are.”

According to the Herald, however, the officer got the law wrong — Florida Statute 322.15 requires licensed drivers to always have their licenses when driving and can incur a $136 fine if they do not, but no such law exists for walking without a license.

“Bolen also gave Shipman a citation for failing to obey a pedestrian control signal, another $62.50 fine,” the Herald noted.

Watch video of the altercation below, via Blacktivist and Devonte Shipman.

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

More Than 100 Federal Agencies Fail to Report Hate Crimes to the FBI’s National Database

from June 27, 2017 at 12:55AM http://bit.ly/2tWs1j0

The gaps in data damage efforts to understand the nature and scope of violence driven by racial and religious hatred.

In violation of a longstanding legal mandate, scores of federal law enforcement agencies are failing to submit statistics to the FBI’s national hate crimes database, ProPublica has learned.

The lack of participation by federal law enforcement represents a significant and largely unknown flaw in the database, which is supposed to be the nation’s most comprehensive source of information on hate crimes. The database is maintained by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which uses it to tabulate the number of alleged hate crimes occurring around the nation each year.

The FBI has identified at least 120 federal agencies that aren’t uploading information to the database, according to Amy Blasher, a unit chief at the CJIS division, an arm of the bureau that is overseeing the modernization of its information systems.

The federal government operates a vast array of law enforcement agencies — ranging from Customs and Border Protection to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Amtrak Police — employing more than 120,000 law enforcement officers with arrest powers. The FBI would not say which agencies have declined to participate in the program, but the bureau’s annual tally of hate crimes statistics does not include any offenses handled by federal law enforcement. Indeed, the problem is so widespread that the FBI itself isn’t submitting the hate crimes it investigates to its own database.

"We truly don’t understand what’s happening with crime in the U.S. without the federal component," Blasher said in an interview.

At present, the bulk of the information in the database is supplied by state and local police departments. In 2015, the database tracked more than 5,580 alleged hate crime incidents, including 257 targeting Muslims, an upward surge of 67 percent from the previous year. (The bureau hasn’t released 2016 or 2017 statistics yet.)

But it’s long been clear that hundreds of local police departments don’t send data to the FBI, and so given the added lack of participation by federal law enforcement, the true numbers for 2015 are likely to be significantly higher.

A federal law, the 1988 Uniform Federal Crime Reporting Act, requires all U.S. government law enforcement agencies to send a wide variety of crime data to the FBI. Two years later, after the passage of another law, the bureau began collecting data about "crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity." That was later expanded to include gender and gender identity.

The federal agencies that are not submitting data are violating the law, Blasher told us. She said she’s in contact with about 20 agencies and is hopeful that some will start participating, but added that there is no firm timeline for that to happen.

"Honestly, we don’t know how long it will take,"Blasher said of the effort to get federal agencies on board.

The issue goes far beyond hate crimes — federal agencies are failing to report a whole range of crime statistics, Blasher conceded. But hate crimes, and the lack of reliable data concerning them, have been of intense interest amid the country’s highly polarized and volatile political environment.

ProPublica contacted several federal agencies seeking an explanation. A spokesperson for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, which handles close to 50,000 offenses annually, said the service is adhering to Defense Department rules regarding crime data and is using a digital crime tracking system linked to the FBI’s database. But the Army declined to say whether its statistics are actually being sent to the FBI, referring that question up the chain of command to the Department of Defense.

In 2014, an internal probe conducted by Defense Department investigators found that the "DoD is not reporting criminal incident data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for inclusion in the annual Uniform Crime Reports."

ProPublica contacted the Defense Department for clarification, and shared with a department spokesman a copy of the 2014 reports acknowledging the failure to send data to the FBI.

"We have no additional information at this time," said Christopher Sherwood, the spokesman.

Federal agencies are hardly the only ones to skip out on reporting hate crimes. An Associated Press investigation last year found at least 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments that repeatedly failed to report hate crimes to the FBI.

In the case of the FBI itself, Blasher said the issue is largely technological: Agents have long collected huge amounts of information about alleged hate crimes, but don’t have a digital system to easily input that information to the database, which is administered by staff at an FBI complex in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Since Blasher began pushing to modernize the FBI’s data systems, the bureau has made some progress. It began compiling some limited hate crimes statistics for 2014 and 2015, though that information didn’t go into the national hate crimes database.

In Washington, lawmakers were surprised to learn about the failure by federal agencies to abide by the law.

"It’s fascinating and very disturbing," said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who said he wanted to speak about the matter with the FBI’s government affairs team. He wants to see federal agencies "reporting hate crimes as soon as possible."

Beyer and other lawmakers have been working in recent years to improve the numbers of local police agencies participating in voluntary hate crime reporting efforts. Bills pending in Congress would give out grants to police forces to upgrade their computer systems; in exchange, the departments would begin uploading hate crime data to the FBI.

Beyer, who is sponsoring the House bill, titled the National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act, said he would consider drafting new legislation to improve hate crimes reporting by federal agencies, or try to build such a provision into the appropriations bill.

"The federal government needs to lead by example. It’s not easy to ask local and state governments to submit their data if these 120 federal agencies aren’t even submitting hate crimes data to the database," Beyer said.

In the Senate, Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota said the federal agencies need to do better. "I’ve long urged the FBI and the Department of Justice to improve the tracking and reporting of hate crimes by state and local law enforcement agencies," Franken told ProPublica. "But in order to make sure we understand the full scope of the problem, the federal government must also do its part to ensure that we have accurate and trustworthy data."

Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, a House Republican who authored a resolution in April urging the "Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal agencies to work to improve the reporting of hate crimes," did not respond to requests for comment.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.






Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

America Is Suffering from a Plague of Deadly, Unaccountable and Racist Police Violence

from July 6, 2017 at 03:51AM http://bit.ly/2t1IEoR

A year after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s deaths, the state of police violence in the U.S. remains bleak.

A year ago on July 5, Alton Sterling was wrestled to the ground by two police officers. Moments later, he was shot and killed. The next day, Philando Castile was fatally shot by Officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop. His death was witnessed by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her young daughter, and its aftermath livestreamed to Facebook by Reynolds. 

In the year since Sterling and Castile’s deaths sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the country and a national conversation on police violence and racism, 1,006 more civilians have met similar fates at the hands of police officers. A national election ended with Donald Trump, whose campaign largely centered around fear-mongering and promises to restore law and order, being elected the country’s 45th president. Jeff Sessions, who was once denied a federal judgeship because he was deemed too racist, became the head of the Department of Justice.

While the death of these two black men prompted many people across the country to demand greater accountability for the actions of police officers, their power to use excessive force against civilians remains largely unchecked without any added oversight. In fact, Trump’s election and his nomination of Sessions to the Justice Department offer even more credence to police officers’ power, as both men have been openly supportive of furthering police powers.

The state of police violence and police accountability remains bleak and the fight for justice continues to be hindered.

Pursuit of Justice for Castile and Sterling

Baton Rouge officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II were the two officers who confronted Alton Sterling outside a convenience store. A federal investigation into the incident found that the entire confrontation lasted a mere 90 seconds, in which the officers wrestled Sterling to the ground, tased him and then shot him a total of six times. The Justice Department announced in May that it would not be pursuing any charges against Salamoni and Lake, who are currently on paid leave. An investigation by the Louisiana attorney general’s office is looking into whether the two officers, who are both white, should be charged on state laws.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter last fall for shooting and killing Castile during a traffic stop. His trial began in early June, and after about two weeks, the majority-white jury acquitted him of all charges. Yanez testified in the trial that he had “feared for his life” because he had smelled marijuana inside of Castile’s car. The city of St. Anthony police department has since fired Yanez from the force.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Star Tribune reported that the judge who presided over the Yanez trial, William H. Leary III, wrote a letter of support to the jurors who acquitted Yanez. Citing the widespread criticism on the jury’s decision, Leary called the outcry over the verdict “a failure to understand what you were asked to do.”

While Leary did not give his opinion on the outcome of the case, he wrote that the jury’s decision “was fully supported by a fair interpretation of the evidence and the law you were obligated to apply.”

Two other police officers have also avoided legal punishment for killing black men. Dominique Heaggan-Brown was acquitted of all charges for fatally shooting Sylville Smith during a foot chase, and the trial of former University of Cincinnati officer Raymond Tensing, who killed Samuel DuBose in his car, ended in a mistrial.

State Bills

A number of bills in state legislatures are poised to expand police powers. Thirty-two so-called Blue Lives Matter bills have been introduced in 14 states so far, according to the Huffington Post. These bills intend to make police a protected class similar to racial minorities and would classify attacks against police as hate crimes.

However, these Blue Lives Matter bills are unnecessary and redundant, as all 50 states already have statutes that automatically increase penalties for violent attacks against law enforcement, according to the Anti-Defamation League. These statutes do not require prosecutors to prove motive. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Huffington Post that murdering a police officer could likely mean a death sentence in some states.

“So the truth is that including police in hate crime laws is merely a political statement, and an unnecessary one at that,” he told the Huffington Post.

According to the Huffington Post’s tracking of these proposed bills, at least 20 bills introduced in the past year have lost traction and either died via vote or the end of the congressional session. Twenty-two bills are being reviewed by committee and awaiting a vote. States that have passed Blue Lives Matter bills include Louisiana, the first state to pass such a bill, Mississippi and Kentucky.

Other bills have been passed in New Jersey and Texas requiring schools to teach students how to properly interact with police. The New Jersey bill passed in the Assembly 76-0 on June 22 stipulates that starting in kindergarten and up to 12th grade, school districts must teach kids how to talk to law enforcement as part of their social studies curriculum. A later amendment added to the original bill mandates that students be taught about the rights they have when interacting with police officers. The Department of Education would also be required to work with an advisory committee—which includes the many groups that are already part of the Newark’s Civilian Complaint Review Board—to create the curriculum. If passed, the program would be implemented starting in 2018.

The bill’s primary sponsor, New Jersey Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, defended the bill by saying it would prepare students for possible future encounters with police and could help rebuild trust between police forces and the communities they serve.

"This is a lesson many parents already teach to their children," Oliver told NBC News. "Making it part of the school curriculum is the next logical step."

Several activists have taken issue with this type of legislation, arguing that it places the onus on the student to act politely and correctly when interacting with officers, while not holding officers responsible for their actions.

"Placing the onus on individuals, whether it be students or drivers, to take responsibility for their safety during police interactions is, frankly, ridiculous,” Portia Allen-Kyle, the Pratt Criminal Justice Transparency fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union, told NBC News.

A number of bills have also gained traction in several states criminalizing protests and imposing harsher punishments on protesters. Seventeen states are currently considering this type of legislation, according to the database project Our States. In North Dakota, which saw large waves of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline last year, a bill was recently passed and signed making protest penalties a class B felony if 100 or more people are involved, and carrying a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Another bill that was passed imposes penalties on protesters who wear masks, as Occupy demonstrators often do.

While a bevy of bills seek to increase police power at the expense of the rights of civilians, Our States counts 32 states considering legislation that would address police violence. Two bills introduced in the California legislature would restrict police involvement in schools, prevent police from enforcing low-level offenses and require police to undergo procedural justice and implicit bias training.

A series of bills passed in the Republican-controlled Texas legislature would mandate de-escalation training for law enforcement, prevent police departments from receiving state grants if they do not comply with reporting requirements for shootings involving police, establish a grant program to fund rapid response teams to handle mental health emergencies, and require independent investigation of deaths in custody.

Legislation signed into law in Louisiana would strengthen police training requirements and make it easier for officers who commit misconduct to lose their certification. Another house bill that was passed in the state would establish a statewide police misconduct database to prevent officers who are fired or who resign from a misconduct investigation from being rehired. A fourth bill would reduce the amount of time before police can be questioned after an incident from 30 to 14 days.

Federal Level

Law enforcement now has strong allies in the White House via Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to restore “law and order" while criticizing what he characterized as a “war on police” perpetrated by Black Lives Matter activists.

Just after Trump’s inauguration, the White House published six issue statements on its website, one of which was titled Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community. The statement unabashedly throws full support behind law enforcement and promises that the Trump administration will “empower our law enforcement officers to do their jobs and keep our streets free of crime and violence.”

“The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong,” the statement reads. “The Trump Administration will end it.”

Speaking at the 36th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service on May 15, Trump said police officers are subject to “unfair defamation and vilification” that has increased the dangers of the job. Trump also promised his administration would provide more federal resources for local police departments.

“You are the thin blue line between civilization and chaos,” Trump said. “Because you don’t hear it nearly enough, I want you to know that patriotic Americans of all backgrounds truly support and love our police. The very sad thing is that today many politicians don’t want to say that, they don’t want to talk about that, because it’s not politically correct, and they think it might hurt them with voters. I will say it, and I will talk about it proudly.”

Like Trump, Sessions is decidedly uninterested in police reform. According to reporting from ProPublica, the Department of Justice under Sessions has begun to roll back the use of consent decrees, court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights. Among its functions, consent decrees in the past have often been used as a tool to reform troubled police departments.

Sessions has voiced disagreement about the use of consent decrees between the federal government and police forces. He once said that consent decrees “reduce the morale of police departments” and make civilians less safe. As a result, Sessions announced in April a review of the 15 consent decrees currently in place in police departments and cities.

One of the local law enforcement forces under a consent decree is the Seattle Police Department. The consent decree originated from a federal investigation in 2011 into the department’s use-of-force policies and bias among officers. The department is in its fifth year with the consent decree, but the fatal shooting last month of Charleena Lyles—a 30-year-old mentally ill black woman—by Seattle police officers, shows the department has further improvement to make.

In an interview on Politico’s Off Message podcast, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the city would continue to follow the consent decree regardless of whether the Justice Department pulls out of Seattle.

“The issue of race and policing has not gone away,” Murray said. “For this Justice Department to back out of those and no longer offer cities tools to get police and those communities of color in a better place, I think is very dangerous.”

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

Trump Supporter Admits to Vandalizing Elementary School in Order to Frame ‘Liberals’

from July 6, 2017 at 09:52AM http://bit.ly/2uYNrcc

Graffitied messages included "Bernie Sanders 2020" and "Left is the best."

A Connecticut man who scrawled anti-Trump graffiti on the walls of a local elementary school has been revealed to be a Trump supporter who intended to frame leftists with “liberal hate speech.”  

According to the Hartford Courantsurveillance footage from the evening of June 15 captured 32-year-old Steven Marks writing profane messages on the walls of Morley Elementary School with a green Sharpie. The messages included, “Kill Trump,” “Death to Trump,” “Bernie Sanders 2020” and “Left is the best.”

After footage and Marks’ picture were released by law enforcement June 19, Marks turned himself in to the police and confessed, according to Buzzfeed News. He was charged with second-degree breach of peace and third-degree criminal mischief. The Courant reports that Marks told police he vandalized the school property “out of ‘anger towards liberals’” and said liberals “are breaking major laws every day and being disrespectful towards our government.” Marks also admitted that he intended his crimes to appear as though they were perpetrated by people on the left.

West Hartford Police spokesman Lieutenant Eric Rocheleau told Buzzfeed News that Marks regretted his actions.

"He said the reason he did do it was to show support towards Trump by having the other side bash him, to show how the other side is basically crazy enough to go and write stuff on a school playground,” Rocheleau said.

Following the incident, the Courant reports that Marks sent an email of apology to the elementary school principal, with a letter he hoped would be sent to parents. Marks has since been court-ordered to stay off the school property. His next hearing is set for August 2.  

In an interview with the Courant, Marks said he was sorry for his actions.

“It was just a stupid thing I did at the time,” Marks told the Courant. “It was stupid, stupid, stupid.”

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

A Muslim activist is under attack because her critics don’t know what “jihad” actually means

from July 7, 2017 at 11:28AM http://bit.ly/2tWn2yO

Linda Sarsour

(Credit: AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, File)

Conservatives are lashing out at Muslim activist Linda Sarsour because they don’t understand what the word “jihad” means.

In a speech before the Islamic Society of North America last weekend, Sarsour discussed standing up to President Donald Trump as a form of “jihad.” according to Time. “Jihad” means “to struggle,” not to declare war on.

After quoting Mohammad as saying that “a word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad,” Sarsour went on to argue, “I hope that when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad.”

She then added that socially conscious Muslims “are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or the other side of the world, but here in the United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”

As a result of this speech, Sarsour has been attacked for promoting violence by publications like Conservative Review and Breitbart. In the latter, an article acknowledged that “the context of Sarsour’s remarks indicate that she meant a jihad using words” before drawing attention to how Islamist terrorists have used it with a more violent connotation.

Not surprisingly, Sarsour has taken to Twitter to speak out against the unfair characterization of her speech.

Sarsour made headlines earlier this year for criticizing Zionists. Her argument was that you cannot be both a Zionist and a feminist.

Read more at: Salon.com http://www.salon.com

NYPD Attempts to Block Surveillance Transparency Law With Misinformation

from July 7, 2017 at 08:06AM http://bit.ly/2uFwHar

Earlier this year, New York City Council members Vanessa Gibson and Daniel Garodnick introduced the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act, which would require public disclosure and dialogue on the New York Police Department’s purchase and use of surveillance equipment. The bill is in the weaker vein of similar legislation passed or under consideration by lawmakers in 19 cities across the U.S., where elected officials hope to write use policies and approve or deny the purchase of surveillance gear.

Criminal justice reform and civil rights groups have praised the POST Act for the transparency it brings to NYPD spy equipment purchases, but the bill already faces a steep path to passage as law. Mayor Bill de Blasio opposes it, meaning the city council will need to approve the legislation with at least 34 votes to override the mayor’s veto.

The tough odds haven’t stopped the NYPD from throwing itself into a bare-knuckles publicity campaign to push back against the proposed legislation.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller laid into the POST Act during a public safety committee hearing on June 14, calling the proposed bill’s disclosure requirements “insane” and “an effective blueprint for those seeking to do us harm.”

“There is a habit now, a trend of calling documented, authorized investigations ‘police spying,’” Miller said at the hearing. “This is all balled up in some kind of paranoia — we operate under strict rules.”

In a June 16 appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Deputy NYPD Commissioner for Legal Affairs Lawrence Byrne said, “This is not about transparency, this is about keeping New York City safe — this is about not revealing confidential law enforcement investigative techniques.” MSNBC did not invite any proponents of the bill to speak on the program, and the show’s hosts lobbed softball questions at Byrne and Miller when they weren’t busy working themselves into a lather about the perfidy of the Brennan Center, one of the prominent supporters of the POST Act.

During their recent testimonies at city council, Miller and Byrne made a number of statements that mischaracterized or omitted crucial details regarding the department’s record of transparency, its use of specific technologies like cell-site simulators, the surveillance of communities of color, and how such technologies are acquired by police. Here’s a rundown of those statements.


The NYPD is notorious for flouting the New York State Freedom of Information Law for even the most routine requests about police activity, contracts, and policies. Regarding surveillance technology, the department has been or is being sued for refusing to release information about facial recognition software, its use of predictive policing software, controversial X-ray vans, and the “mosque raking” program that placed the city’s Muslim communities under mass surveillance. Most recently, the local news channel NY1 sued the NYPD for footage from officers’ body-worn cameras, which are being introduced to precincts throughout the city this year. The police demanded $36,000 to release the footage.

The NYPD also recently invoked the Glomar response — the FBI’s famous “we cannot confirm or deny” construction — in response to requests for public records. It represents a bold new frontier in opacity for New York state’s open records laws, which are supposed to require affirmative or negative responses.

Addressing federal transparency requirements at the June hearing, Miller said that federal law doesn’t require the NYPD to release information on how technology is used for investigative or counterterrorism purposes. While Miller is correct about the exemptions to federal law for Privacy Impact Assessments, which were mandated by the E-Government Act of 2002, federal law enforcement nonetheless publishes highly descriptive documents for many sensitive databases on the open web. Federal authorities have released detailed documentation on the capabilities of ICEGangs, the now-discontinued gang database for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as LeadTrac and FALCON-SA, two of ICE’s data-analysis tools used to track and identify suspects in criminal and civil immigration investigations.

Mass surveillance and Handschu

Since a 1985 settlement over the NYPD’s surveillance of left-wing organizations, the department’s intelligence operations on political activities have been subject to a federal consent decree known as the Handschu agreement. The nature, extent, and unconstitutionality of the NYPD’s spying on political groups first became public during the 1971 trial of 21 Black Panther members accused of attempting to bomb police stations and department stores. The agreement between the department and the federal government established strict guidelines for how the NYPD could monitor First Amendment activity — those are the “strict rules” Miller was referring to during the city council hearing.

The cops, however, chafed at the Handschu restrictions for years. In 2003, they successfully convinced the presiding federal judge to loosen the limits, under the premise that they impeded the NYPD’s counterterrorism operations.

The relaxed regulations on political surveillance manifested in the department’s undercover operations directed at anti-war protesters, transportation activists, left-wing political activists nationwide, and, most notoriously, Muslim Americans. The Demographics Unit, created by former Commissioner Ray Kelly in the mid-2000s, went about mapping Muslim and Middle Eastern communities in the city’s five boroughs. Meanwhile, undercover officers were sent to infiltrate religious congregations and student groups as far afield as Connecticut and New Jersey.

The Demographics Unit has been disbanded and the department’s “mosque-raking” operations led to a legal settlement and further operational restrictions last year, but activists and legal workers say the department’s surveillance in Middle Eastern and South Asian communities is still prevalent.

At the hearing, Byrne claimed the police were not “engaged in a surveillance program of any community” — a statement belied by the NYPD inspector general report that focused on the department’s surveillance operations of political activity involving people of Muslim origin. More than 50 percent of those investigations continued beyond their date of authorization, the report found.

Miller’s and Byrne’s assertions about the NYPD’s human intelligence operations received significant pushback from Queens council member Rory Lancman, who recalled past abuses despite court oversight. “The department has repeatedly over the years pushed the limits of what it can do in terms of intel gathering and surveillance,” Lancman said.

“There’s a reason,” Lancman added, “the Handschu agreement over time, on numerous occasions, has had to be modified and expanded.”

Funding and disclosure of surveillance equipment

For years, the NYPD has kept details of its purchase of surveillance equipment from public view, going so far as to redact even the most anodyne information about grant spending and rejecting my Freedom of Information Law requests about surveillance technology contracts on over 10 occasions since 2006.

There is supposed to be external oversight of the NYPD’s contracts by the independent city comptroller’s office, which registers agency procurements, and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. At the June hearing, Byrne explained the process.

“Every contract that the NYPD enters into, whether it’s for confidential technology or equipment or pens and pencils and legal pads, has to be approved by the mayor’s office of contracts and has to be registered by the comptroller,” Byrne said. “If the comptroller does not register the contract, we cannot go forward.”

Contracts for at least two of the NYPD’s major surveillance technologies — the department’s cell-site simulators, which collect information from nearby mobile phones, and the data-mining software from the security analytics firm Palantir — were not turned over by the comptroller’s office pursuant to a Freedom of Information Law request. According to a recent report by BuzzFeed, the NYPD paid Palantir $3.5 million annually for its services, which are reportedly being terminated. The Brennan Center has an ongoing FOIL lawsuit for documentation of Palantir’s work with the NYPD. The request unearthed contract records for the NYPD’s license-plate reader contractor ELSAG, Vigilant Solutions’ national database of billions of vehicle records, and ShotSpotter gunshot detectors that geolocate the sound of gunfire with permanently enabled microphones and issue automatic notifications for police.

There are multiple ways the police department can conceal contract information, aside from its intransigence on records laws. The city Law Department, which is a branch of the mayor’s office and handles most of the city’s legal affairs, can unilaterally declare a contract to be “registered” and not turn it over to the comptroller. The NYPD can also request that the comptroller review a contract in confidence and withhold that information from public disclosure. Or the department can channel the purchase of surveillance technology through the New York City Police Foundation, a private nonprofit organization that is not subject to public disclosure laws and receives major donations from firms like Axon, Palantir, and Microsoft, which sell technology to the NYPD.

The NYPD can also withhold contracts for sensitive technology pursuant to a nondisclosure agreement with the vendor, according to Byrne’s remarks at the council. “Many of these technologies, because they’re only effective if bad people don’t know how they work and how to defeat it, are given to us pursuant to very strict nondisclosure agreements,” he said.

How surveillance technology works

One of the few technologies the NYPD openly discussed at the city council hearings was cell-site simulators, which are devices that mimic cellphone towers to identify, locate, and in some cases, intercept communications from cellphones. Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union released records documenting the NPYD’s use of cell-site simulators over 1,000 times from 2008 through May 2015.

Byrne characterized the department’s use of the devices as “pursuant to a court order supported by probable cause” and affirmed they were only used to track the location of target phones.

However, the NYPD did come under fire last year for using court orders that do not spell out that a cell-site stimulator will be used to track a cellphone. Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have abandoned these orders in favor of warrants, which carry with them more privacy protections, for cell-site simulator use.

What’s more, Byrne’s assertion that the department’s cell-site simulators only gather data on target cellphones misrepresents how the devices actually work. They function by hoovering up signals from all cellphones within range, allowing searches through that pool of data for the target device’s identifying number.

Byrne’s remarks disturbed Michael Price, an attorney at the Brennan Center who testified in favor of the POST Act at the city council hearing. “NYPD literally believes that cell-site simulators work like PEN registers,” Price told The Intercept, referring to an older technology that tracks calls made and received by a target phone. “It is either a misunderstanding on Byrne’s part or a misrepresentation that underscores the need for the kind of disclosure outlined in the POST Act.” Price pointed out that both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security acknowledge the collection of nontarget data by cell-site simulators and require deletion within 30 days of collection.

No vote has been held yet on the POST Act. The NYPD campaign to oppose the bill in the court of public opinion has already won favorable coverage in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages. The department’s legendary intransigence on public disclosure and oversight, then, is likely to continue. And the city council, which has faced NYPD overreaches on issues like stop and frisk, will likely be stymied. If the POST Act represents the council’s last chance to shed some sunlight on the surveillance practices of the country’s largest police department, it may yield only a failed effort.

Top photo: An NYPD security camera hangs atop a light pole across the street from Trump Tower in New York on March 7, 2017.

The post NYPD Attempts to Block Surveillance Transparency Law With Misinformation appeared first on The Intercept.

Read more at: The Intercept http://bit.ly/1QabwCe

Election Experts See Flaws in Trump Voter Commission’s Plan to Smoke Out Fraud

from July 6, 2017 at 01:23PM http://bit.ly/2t1V6VO

by Jessica Huseman

Vice President Mike Pence’s office has confirmed the White House commission on voter fraud intends to run the state voter rolls it has requested against federal databases to check for potential fraudulent registration. Experts say the plan is certain to produce thousands of false positives that could distort the understanding of the potential for fraud, especially given the limited data states have agreed to turn over.

“This just demonstrates remarkable naivety on how this voter data can be used,” said David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. “There’s absolutely no way that incomplete data from some states — mainly consisting of names and addresses — can be used to determine anything.”

The commission’s vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, sent a letter to states last week requesting detailed information on voters. The request asked for information such as Social Security numbers and military status most states cannot legally make available. But most states will be handing over information that is public, such as names, years of birth and whether they’ve voted in previous elections.

Marc Lotter, spokesman for Pence, told ProPublica the state voter information will be run “through a number of different databases, looking for the possibility for areas where voter rolls could be strengthened.”

While Lotter would not say specifically which databases the rolls would be run against, The Washington Times reported last week the commission may seek to check the names against the federal government’s database of non-citizens. A 2012 attempt by Florida to do that resulted in many legitimate voters being falsely flagged because they had the same names as people in the federal database. Gov. Rick Scott scrapped the effort and eventually apologized.

Comparing names nationwide could result in far more false positives.

“How many Manuel Rodríguezes born in 1945 who are citizens are going to be on an immigration list? There are likely to be several,” said Charles Stewart, a professor at MIT and expert in election administration. “How will you know if he’s the immigrant, or he is one of the several people with that name who are citizens and legally registered?”

Kobach runs a matching program that appears to have its own high rate of errors. A recent study by political scientists at Stanford University found that Kobach’s Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program had 200 false positives for every actual double registration. The Kansas secretary of state’s office did not immediately return a call for comment on the program.

Other systems already exist that do rigorous matching. The Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, is a voluntary, paid system operated by a nonprofit and used by 20 states and the District of Columbia. The system uses far more information than states are able to make publicly available, such as driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers and even email addresses.

Becker, who helped create ERIC, said it took years of work to ensure careful matches. The speed at which Kobach and Pence sought information from states, which were given two weeks to hand over their voter rolls, and their plan for the limited amount of information they’ll receive “demonstrates a remarkable ignorance of the process,” said Becker.

Lotter, Pence’s spokesman, said that even if false matches were made they’d do no harm since the commission can’t remove names from states’ voter rolls. He said the commission is simply going to provide recommendations and highlight any common problems that might come up in the matching process.

“What we are trying to do is create the first national look at voter registration and the potential for fraudulent registration that could lead to fraudulent voting,” Lotter said. “At the end of the day you have to ask yourself who is not for making sure we have one person one vote?”

John Merrill, the Republican secretary of state for Alabama, said any false positive raises the likelihood a voter might be incorrectly purged.

Presidential Commission Demands Massive Amounts of State Voter Data

A commission created by President Donald Trump to enhance confidence in America’s elections has asked all 50 states for copies of their voter records which often include names, addresses and ages. Read the story.

“I would be surprised if they could find a way to improve upon the methods already in place from the consortiums that already exists,” Merrill said. “Every time you remove a mechanism that more positively identifies a voter, it increases the opportunity for a false positive to match.”

President Trump created the commission after making unsupported claims that there were millions of illegal votes cast in the 2016 presidential election. Kobach, the commission’s public face, has long asserted without evidence that voter fraud is widespread.

Despite numerous academic studies to the contrary, Kobach has claimed that non-citizens regularly vote, that people vote twice with frequency and has backed Trump’s claims of illegal voting last year. Kobach, along with other members of the commission, has also supported restrictions on voter registration, including strict voter ID laws.

Lotter said the bipartisan nature of the commission — currently four of the 10 announced commissioners are Democrats — should assuage any concerns from critics. The four Democrats include Maine’s secretary of state, Matthew Dunlap, whose state has declined to provide the information the commission requested in Kobach’s letter.

Lotter also said none of the commissioners had “pre-conceived notions” about voter fraud and that they would fairly judge the results of the matches.

Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, disputed Lotter’s claims of neutrality.

“It’s up is down and black is white,” he said. “The idea that people who have made repeated public statements that they believe, contrary to all evidence, that there is massive fraud are not biased is ludicrous.”

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations http://bit.ly/1lISYtS