Senate bill rewrite lets feds read your e-mail without warrants

A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans’ e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law, CNET has learned.

Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns, according to three individuals who have been negotiating with Leahy’s staff over the changes. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans’ e-mail, is scheduled for next week.

Leahy’s rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — to access Americans’ e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.

CNET obtained a draft of the proposed amendments from one of the people involved in the negotiations with Leahy; it’s embedded at the end of this post. The document describes the changes as “Amendments intended to be proposed by Mr. Leahy.”

It’s an abrupt departure from Leahy’s earlier approach, which required police to obtain a search warrant backed by probable cause before they could read the contents of e-mail or other communications. The Vermont Democrat boasted last year that his bill “provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by… requiring that the government obtain a search warrant.”

Leahy had planned a vote on an earlier version of his bill, designed to update a pair of 1980s-vintage surveillance laws, in late September. But after law enforcement groups including the National District Attorneys’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association organizations objected to the legislation and asked him to “reconsider acting” on it, Leahy pushed back the vote and reworked the bill as a package of amendments to be offered next Thursday. The package (PDF) is a substitute for H.R. 2471, which the House of Representatives already has approved.

One person participating in Capitol Hill meetings on this topic told CNET that Justice Department officials have expressed their displeasure about Leahy’s original bill. The department is on record as opposing any such requirement: James Baker, the associate deputy attorney general, has publicly warned that requiring a warrant to obtain stored e-mail could have an “adverse impact” on criminal investigations.

Read more here.

San Francisco lawmakers vote to ban public nudity

San Francisco lawmakers on Tuesday narrowly approved a proposal to ban public nakedness, rejecting arguments that the measure would eat away at a reputation for tolerance enjoyed by a city known for flouting convention and flaunting its counter-culture image.

The 6-5 Board of Supervisors vote means that exposed genitals will be prohibited in most public places, including streets, sidewalks and public transit.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the measure in response to escalating complaints about a group of men whose lack of clothing was an almost daily occurrence in the city’s predominantly gay Castro District.

“The Castro and San Francisco in general, is a place of freedom, expression and acceptance. But freedom, expression and acceptance does not mean anything goes under any circumstances,” Wiener said Tuesday. “Our public spaces are for everyone and as a result it’s appropriate to have some minimal standards of behavior.”

Read more here.

Levin Smacks Kristol on Tax Liberalism

Yesterday, radio host Mark Levin blistered Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol over Kristol’s repeated insistence that the Tea Party doesn’t care if President Obama raises taxes on those earning more than $200,000 per year. Kristol said that the Tea Party wouldn’t mind if “a few millionaires pay a couple percent more in taxes.”

Levin busted Kristol in the lip for that foolhardy remark:

Among the others who I think it’s time just to go someplace and talk among yourselves, would be Bill Kristol. I don’t know what he’s added to anything other than giving aid and comfort to Obama’s attack on capitalism and successful people. This has to be the 40th time he’s said something on this …

He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about. Takes it to 39.6 and depending on your capital gains situation, when you sell your home that’s another 3.8 percent, and we’re talking about a million small businesses. I mean, he doesn’t understand the gravity of this situation. On top of that, the principle behind and I don’t mean a theoretical principle, I mean a real, live, moral, tangible principle. It does nothing to slow the spending. This money’s not going to the debt. This money’s going to be spent before it’s even collected.

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Happy Thanksgiving: Food Pantries Overwhelmed Thanks to Obama Economy

President Obama’s most solid strongholds are suffering from economic disaster under his presidency, according to new reports. A University of Michigan study shows that 80 percent of people in southeast Michigan have been blasted by financial problems between 2007 and 2011. Those stastics were even higher among blacks without a college degree.

Assistant UM Professor of Social Work Kristen Seefeldt stated, according to local reports, that “researchers were shocked by the high levels of food insecurity, with nearly 28 percent of people interviewed did not have stable, reliable access to food or were forced to change their eating habits for financial reasons.” Some people, says Seefeldt, are skipping meals; that included many people with a job.

A few hundred miles to the East, Boston is running out of giveaway turkeys for the poverty-stricken. Three days in advance of Thanksgiving, the Pear Street Cupboard and Café in Framingham, Massachusetts, is out of turkeys. According to organizers, “requests for help are up 400 percent over last year.”

Moving south a few hundred miles, New York City food pantries and soup kitchens are shutting down at record rates thanks to overburden. One in four food pantries and soup kitchens have gone dark since 2007. “We’ve seen that food shortages are more commonplace and occur more broadly in our network and when people are turned away from a food pantry or a soup kitchen, it is most commonly due to a lack of food,” said Triada Stampas of the Food Bank for New York City. That was before Hurricane Sandy.

Moving to Connecticut, food bank officials are reporting serious shortages. “We’ve been hit in two directions,” explains Marjorie Dauster, a member of the Food Pantry Council. “There are economic issues in Connecticut, plus with hurricane Sandy the demand has been very high … We’re going to have a hard time serving them this year.”

Moving back to the west, St. Louis is now reporting that local food pantries are being overrun thanks to the “new poor.” Emmanuel Seventh Day Adventist Food Pantry Director Liz Chambwa says demand is up significantly: “People are losing their jobs, there’s not enough food coming in anymore for donors as much as they used to, so we really have to get out and do a lot of food drives and we get more and more people every week.”

Read more here.

Elmo Puppeteer Kevin Clash Resigns from ‘Sesame Street’: New Suit Adds Second Allegation of Underage Sex

Sesame Workshop announced on Tuesday that Kevin Clash, the long-time puppeteer of Elmo, has resigned. In its statement Tuesday, Sesame Workshop said “the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want,” leading Clash to conclude “that he can no longer be effective in his job.”

As the announcement was made, AP’s Frazier Moore reported “a lawsuit was being filed in federal court in New York charging Clash with sexual abuse of a second youth. The lawsuit alleges that Cecil Singleton, then 15 and now an adult, was persuaded by Clash to meet for sexual encounters. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $5 million.”

In a statement of his own, Clash said “personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work Sesame Street is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer. I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately.”

Sesame Workshop called it a “sad day for Sesame Street,” but clearly, they didn’t want their lucrative “nonprofit” brand to suffer ongoing negative publicity by association with Clash’s legal battles.

Read more here.

Obama can’t even say ‘radical Islamic terrorist’

Lawmakers have just scratched the surface in their investigation of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, but Congress has made progress on getting to the bottom of the biggest mysteries: Why the State Department denied requests for more security at the consulate and what information the White House initially received from intelligence sources.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is chairman of its Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. He said the Democrats have an explanation for the lack of security that simply doesn’t hold water.

The Democrats’ contention is that Republican budget cuts in security spending are responsible for the consulate being vulnerable to attack. Rohrabacher said the State Department official responsible for turning down the request for more security in Benghazi told his committee that theory was wrong.

“I personally asked her, ‘Was budget consideration any part of your decision not to have a higher level of security?’” said Rohrabacher. “And she answered, ‘No, there was no consideration of budget.’ So the Democrats trying to politicize this and get away with it doesn’t work.”

Rep. Rohrabacher said the official believed local militias could adequately enhance consulate security, a conclusion that was obviously wrong. But the congressman sees another troubling reason as to why the administration rejected calls for security upgrade.

“The administration has been trying to downplay the threat of radical Islam for the last few years. The president can’t even get those words out of his mouth, ‘radical Islamic terrorists,’” said Rohrabacher. “They’ve been excusing every one of these actions as something else other than radical Islamic terrorism. You have a mindset in the administration of minimizing the danger, and perhaps that had something to do with her decision as to having a lower level of security than was necessary.”

Read more here.