Judiciary Committee kills civil liberties bills

Judiciary Committee kills civil liberties bills


SACRAMENTO — Two Republican members of the California Assembly recently authored resolutions encouraging Congress to halt the eavesdropping on the America people by the National Security Agency. Both resolutions were smacked down Tuesday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, whose hearings I attended. The Democratic majority refused even to vote on the resolutions, claiming more information was needed.

Big Brother poster“What this says is, ‘We don’t want to error on the side of liberty,’” Assemblyman Tim Donnelly told me. A Republican from Twin Peaks, he authored Assembly Joint Resolution 27 to encourage Congress to pass and President Obama to sign into law the “Limiting Internet and Blanket Electronic Review of Telecommunications and Email Act.”

AJR 26, by Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach, calls on the president and Congress to make the protection of civil liberties and national security equal priorities, and to immediately discontinue any practices contrary to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. That amendment allows searches only with a warrant from a judge.

Leading up to the hearing, both bills had bipartisan support, the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a Democratic co-author.

However, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, removed his name as co-author of Donnelly’s bill, and strongly recommended to committee members they not vote on the resolution.

Donnelly attributed Wieckowski’s change of heart to a case of partisan politics, specifically on orders “from the powers that be.” According to Donnelly, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, was not happy Wieckowski had his name on a Donnelly bill.

I called Wieckowski, who is an attorney, to discuss why he removed his name from AJR 27, but did not receive a return call.

What’s this all about?

In June, Edward Snowden, an American computer specialist who worked as a contractor for the NSA, admitted leaking secrets about classified U.S. surveillance programs, along with documents detailing U.S. telephone and Internet surveillance efforts, to the Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper. When the news broke, Americans were in an uproar. Charges of spying on Americans were levied against the NSA by politicians and civil libertarian groups.

The NSA had obtained direct access to Google, Facebook, Apple and other U.S. Internet companies, according to the documents first provided by Snowden to the Guardian.

The NSA’s extensive access was originally enabled by changes to U.S. surveillance law introduced under President George W. Bush following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. And NSA access was renewed under President Obama in December 2012.

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment guarantees, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Donnelly called the NSA spying practice “abusive” and “tyrannical,” and said his LIBERT-E Act had bipartisan support from hundreds of groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Republican Liberty Caucus.

NSA audit confirms excessive snooping

There have been countless news stories about the NSA collecting and storing Americans’ Internet, phone and financial data, while claiming the information is needed to prevent or stop terrorist activity.

A May 2012 audit of the NSA found 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications, the Washington Post recently reported. “The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.”

Allen said, “This revelation that the NSA has been collecting these records from unaware American citizens and ignoring court orders to cease their activities is raising questions and distrust amongst the public regarding the constitutionality of the government’s actions. AJR 26 appeals to the federal government to equally prioritize the need for national security against terrorist threats and the protection of every American citizen’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.”

What’s a government to do?

According to several news stories, more than one billion records a day are collected by the NSA in the name of “national security.” The excuse is that all that data is needed to preempt terrorist attacks.

Yet with all the federal muscle and high-tech surveillance available to the NSA, it was a citizen who found the Boston Bombers after three people were killed, and more than 260 were injured.

Both Allen and Donnelly reiterated to the Judiciary Committee they understand the federal government is responsible for protecting Americans from threats to national security, but must balance that with also protecting citizens’ constitutional rights to privacy.

“Our country was founded on the principles of protecting individual liberties and the inalienable rights of the people from the infringement of overreaching governments,” Allen said at the hearing. “Government should be transparent, strive for the highest level of integrity, and be held accountable to the public.”

But Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, said there just wasn’t sufficient information for him to be able to make a decision. Other Democratic members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee echoed this sentiment, including Assembly members Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrence and Wieckowski — all attorneys.

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