Tag Archive: 4th Amendment

Oct 11 2013

Never Mind Bush, Obama Worse Than Nixon

This is the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.

That is what David E. Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, told former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie. Sanger was one of 30 journalists Downie interviewed for a report on the Obama administration’s efforts to control leaks. Downie, who was one of the editors involved in the Post’s Watergate investigation, called the administration’s “war on leaks” the most aggressive since the Nixon administration.

The Obama Administration and the Press

by Leonard Downie Jr. with reporting by Sara Rafsky, Committee to Protect Journalists

Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America

U.S. President Barack Obama came into office pledging open government, but he has fallen short of his promise. Journalists and transparency advocates say the White House curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press. Aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists.

Compounding the concerns of journalists and the government officials they contact, news stories based on classified documents obtained from Snowden have revealed extensive surveillance of Americans’ telephone and e-mail traffic by the National Security Agency. Numerous Washington-based journalists told me that officials are reluctant to discuss even unclassified information with them because they fear that leak investigations and government surveillance make it more difficult for reporters to protect them as sources. “I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,” said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity, an influential nonprofit government accountability news organization in Washington. “It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for the government to monitor those contacts,” he said.

“I think we have a real problem,” said New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane. “Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions. They’re scared to death. There’s a gray zone between classified and unclassified information, and most sources were in that gray zone. Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone. It’s having a deterrent effect. If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government.”

At the same time, the journalists told me, designated administration spokesmen are often unresponsive or hostile to press inquiries, even when reporters have been sent to them by officials who won’t talk on their own. Despite President Barack Obama’s repeated promise that his administration would be the most open and transparent in American history, reporters and government transparency advocates said they are disappointed by its performance in improving access to the information they need.

In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, Leonard Downey discusses freedom of the press and the Obama administration.

I found that these leaks investigations and a program called the Insider Threat Program, instituted since the Bradley Manning leaks, that requires government employees to monitor each other to make sure that they’re not leaking information to anyone, including journalists, to have really frightened government officials. Many, many reporters that I interviewed here in Washington say that government officials are afraid to talk to them. They’re afraid that their telephone conversations and their email exchanges would be monitored. That is to say that investigators could come in later, as they did in several leaks investigations, and use their telephone and email records in order to find the contacts between government officials and reporters. So they’re simply scared to talk to reporters.

And this, this is not good, because-I just heard the president saying that he was concerned about the safety of our troops and our intelligence officers. It’s important that responsible, knowledgeable government officials be able to talk to reporters about these matters, so that, among other things, they can alert reporters to information that might be harmful to national security or harmful to human life, in which case no responsible news organization would publish those.



Transcript can be read here

Aug 01 2012

9th Circuit ruling favorable for Occupiers to hold police, gov’ts accountable for excessive force

A three judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals filed an unanimous ruling in Nelson v. City of Davis. The student plaintiff, Timothy Nelson was seriously and permanently injured by the excessive use of force by police in a 2004 incident at UC Davis.

The Court found that the police actions violated a basic constitutional right, the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable seizure and invalidated qualified immunity for the police, meaning that police could be held liable for damages.  This ruling should offer considerable support to Occupiers pressing suit against police and governments for their often brutal and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.

Jan 23 2012

SCOTUS Unanimous On Privacy Rights Of Citizens

This morning the Supreme Court handed down a 9 – 0 decision on the 4th Amendment and privacy right ruling that police must obtain a warrant before they can place GPS device on a person’s vehicle. The ruling in United States v. Jones upholds a citizen’s right to privacy and smacks down the Obama administrations defense of unlimited surveillance. The ruling overturns the drug conviction of Antoine Jones that used information from a GPS device that was placed on his vehicle without a warrant.

Justices Say GPS Tracker Violated Privacy Rights

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that the police violated the Constitution when they placed a Global Positioning System tracking device on a suspect’s car and monitored its movements for 28 days.

But the justices divided 5-to-4 on the rationale for the decision, with the majority saying that the problem was the placement of the device on private property. That ruling avoided many difficult questions, including how to treat information gathered from devices installed by the manufacturer and how to treat information held by third parties like cellphone companies. [..]

Though the ruling was limited to physical intrusions, the opinions in the case collectively suggested that a majority of the justices are prepared to apply broad Fourth Amendment privacy principles unrelated to such intrusions to an array of modern technologies, including video surveillance in public places, automatic toll collection systems on highways, devices that allow motorists to signal for roadside assistance and records kept by online merchants.

The Obama administration had argued that under a 1983 ruling the police had the right to place the device:

One of the Obama administration’s main arguments in support of warrantless GPS tracking was the high court’s 1983 decision in United States v. Knotts, in which the justices ruled it was OK for the government to use beepers known as “bird dogs” to track a suspect’s vehicle without a warrant. In that case, the police had the consent of that truck’s owner, which was not the case in the opinion decided Monday, Scalia wrote.

Law Professor Jonathan Turley provides broader discussion of the two opinions that were written by Justices Samuel Alito and Anton Scalia. Scalia’s opinion prevailed with Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor concurring.

Also Jeralyn E. Merritt of TalkLeft points out a question that was not addressed:

Whether the electronic surveillance, if achieved without having to physically trespass on Jones’s property, would have been “an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”