Google says increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise ‘monumental’ legal concerns that should be decided by Congress
The Guardian, By Ed Pilkington, February 18
New York – Google is boldly opposing an attempt by the US Justice Department to expand federal powers to search and seize digital data, warning that the changes would open the door to US “government hacking of any facility” in the world.
In a strongly worded submission to the Washington committee that is considering the proposed changes, Google says that increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise “monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide”.
The search giant warns that under updated proposals, FBI agents would be able to carry out covert raids on servers no matter where they were situated, giving the US government unfettered global access to vast amounts of private information.
UN report finds girls face difficulty getting an education in more than 70 countries.
AP, February 9
Girls in at least 70 countries have faced threats, violent attacks and other abuse for trying to go to school over the past five years, the U.N. human rights office said Monday.
A report by the Geneva-based body noted that, despite some progress, girls still face difficulty getting an education in many countries around the world.
“Attacks against girls accessing education persist and, alarmingly, appear in some countries to be occurring with increasing regularity,” the authors found.
The Globe and Mail, By Sean Fine, February 6/7
Canadian adults in grievous, unending pain have a right to end their life with a doctor’s help, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.
The unanimous ruling, by establishing that the “sanctity of life” also includes the “passage into death,” extends constitutional rights into a new realm. The courts have used the 1982 Charter of Rights to establish gay marriage and to strike down a federal abortion law. The new ruling will change the way some Canadians are permitted to die.
In a brief, powerful opening paragraph, the court explained why it was creating a new constitutional right to autonomy over one’s death in some circumstances: Those who are severely and irremediably suffering, whether physically or psychologically, “may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering” by the government’s absolute ban on assisted dying. “A person facing this prospect has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel.”
Bangkok press freedom event canceled, raising fears about future of free expression in Thailand.
Al Jazeera, January 29
Thailand’s junta has effectively forced a German foundation to cancel a forum discussing new restrictions on the media, scheduled to be held Friday in Bangkok, raising concerns among journalists and right advocates about the junta’s efforts to curtail press freedom and political dissent in what has long been a relatively open society in the region.
The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a foundation that has headquarters in headquartered in Bonn and Berlin, Germany, that promotes social democracy worldwide, said it would comply with a request from the junta — also known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) — to cancel the forum, which was to feature a panel discussion and a presentation about a study on media freedom in Thailand.
“We received a call from the government asking us to postpone the event indefinitely because of the sensitive nature of the topic and the political climate within the country,” Thatsanavanh Banchong, the foundation’s media and civic education officer, told the Bangkok Post.
Poor Jon Chait.
He had the audacity to question whether the right of free speech comes with a responsibility on the part of both the speaker and the listener, and got hammered for it. In other words, he took on “political correctness” and in what may be one of the grandest moments of self-reinforcing demonstration, got spanked by the very movement he sought to critique. Read More
Electronic Intifada, By Ali Abunimah, January 19
It may sound like an ironic joke, but it isn’t. Less than a week after the massive rallies in defense of “free expression,” following the murders of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, French authorities have jailed a youth for irony.
The arrest is part of a harsh crackdown on free speech in the country that has prompted criticism from national and international human rights organizations.
A 16-year-old high school student was taken into police custody on Thursday and indicted for “defending terrorism,” national broadcaster France 3 reports.
His alleged crime? He posted on Facebook a cartoon “representing a person holding the magazine Charlie Hebdo, being hit by bullets, and accompanied by an ‘ironic’ comment,” France 3 states.
Lethal injection of convicted murderer will use controversial drug cocktail; Florida also set for execution Thursday.
AP, January 15
After a nearly nine-month delay prompted by a botched lethal injection last spring, Oklahoma plans to execute a death row inmate Thursday with the same controversial three-drug method Florida intends to use around an hour earlier.
Oklahoma prison officials ordered new medical equipment, more extensive training for staff and renovated the execution chamber inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary to prevent the kind of problems that arose during the execution of Clayton Lockett in April. Lockett writhed on the gurney, moaned and tried to lift his head after he’d been declared unconscious, prompting prison officials to try to halt his execution before he died.
Attorneys for the state say a failed intravenous line and a lack of training led to the problems with Lockett’s injection, not the drugs.
Both Oklahoma and Florida plan to start the executions with the sedative midazolam, which has been challenged in court as ineffective in rendering a person properly unconscious before the second and third drugs are administered, creating a risk of unconstitutional pain and suffering.
Associated Press, By Maggie Michael, January 12
Cairo — An Egyptian court on Monday acquitted 26 men arrested in a televised raid last month by police looking for gays at a Cairo public bathhouse, a ruling that set off deafening cheers and jubilation inside the courtroom as some of the defendants uncovered their faces and cried with relief.
The trial, which had caused an uproar among activists and rights groups, captured public attention after a pro-government TV network aired scenes of half-naked men being pulled from the bathhouse by police.
Same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited in Egyptian law but homosexuality is a social taboo in the conservative, Muslim-majority country. Same-sex marriage is unheard of. Only in recent years have movies and fiction included gay characters.
The courtroom erupted into a frenzy after the word “acquittal” was heard from the judge and women ululated. Scott Long, an American researcher who had followed the case said he was both “shocked and delighted.”
“I hope this is a sign that these raids will come to an end,” Long told The Associated Press amid the cheering. “Finally there was a judge who listened to the evidence.”
Mashable, By Brian Ries & Christopher Miller, December 31
A massive crowd of protesters gathered in Moscow’s Manezhka Square on Tuesday following the guilty verdict of anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny.
Navalny, a leading foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was found guilty of fraud and given a suspended sentence of three and a half years on Tuesday, while his brother was sent straight to prison.
“The government isn’t just trying to jail its political opponents — we’re used to it; we’re aware that they’re doing it — but this time they’re destroying and torturing the families of the people who oppose them,” he said, calling for people to attend the protest on Tuesday evening.
Hours after the ruling, Navalny himself appeared alongside protesters at Moscow’s Manezhka Square in defiance of a house arrest order — and was quickly detained by Russian authorities for breaking the terms. He was taken away in a bus and escorted back to his home.
Grabbed baby Jesus statue
Thomson Reuters, December 27
Vatican City – The Vatican said it had arrested a member of women’s rights group Femen who on Christmas Day bared her breasts and grabbed a statue of the baby Jesus from a nativity scene in front of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.
Femen’s website says the woman was protesting as part of its anti-clerical “Massacre of the Innocents” campaign contesting religions’ “maniacal desire to control women’s fertility”.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Friday that Ukrainian citizen Iana Aleksandrovna Azhdanova was being detained and questioned by a Vatican judge. On Saturday, the Vatican said she had been released and was forbidden to return to the Holy See.
He said she was accused of vilification of religion, obscene acts in public, and theft. He said her action “offended the religious feelings of many people”.
Washington Post, By David Nakamura, December 26
President Obama is preparing a major push on a vast free trade zone that seeks to enlist Republicans as partners and test his premise that Washington can still find common ground on major initiatives.
It also will test his willingness to buck his own party in pursuit of a legacy-burnishing achievement. Already, fellow Democrats are accusing him of abandoning past promises on trade and potentially undermining his domestic priority of reducing income inequality.
The dynamic, as the White House plots strategy for the new year when the GOP has full control of Congress, has scrambled traditional political alliances. In recent weeks, Obama has rallied the business community behind his trade agenda, while leading Capitol Hill progressives, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have raised objections and labor and environmental groups have mounted a public relations campaign against it.
The administration is moving aggressively in hopes of wrapping up negotiations by the middle of next year on a 12-nation free-trade pact in the Asia Pacific before the politics become even more daunting ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the administration,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a pro-trade Democrat viewed by the administration as a key ally. “They need to get out and educate members and address the concerns they might have. I’ve been advising colleagues who are skeptical and not supportive of trade to at least engage in conversations and feedback.”
BBC, December 25
Two Saudi women who were detained for defying a ban on female drivers are to be tried in a terrorism court, activists say.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, have been in detention for nearly a month.
The women’s cases had reportedly been transferred over comments they had made on social media – rather than for their driving, according to activists.
Australian PM Tony Abbott has vowed to “sweat blood” to secure constitutional recognition for indigenous people, saying he wants a referendum in 2017.
BBC, December 13
But Mr Abbott said he would not rush with the date until he was confident the referendum would succeed.
To be passed, the change must be backed by a majority of people in a majority of Australia’s six states.
The constitution currently does not recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the nation’s first people.
“The country we created has an Aboriginal heritage, a British foundation and a multicultural character and it’s high time that this reality was reflected in our constitution.”
In 2010, the government formed an expert panel to examine constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
I feel good. Do you feel good?
BBC, December 13
Thousands of people have marched through the US capital, Washington DC, to protest against the recent killings of unarmed black people by police.
Relatives of Michael Brown, shot dead in the Missouri town of Ferguson, and Eric Garner, who died being restrained in New York, were among them.
Both died after encountering police, but grand juries decided not to bring charges, sparking anger and unrest.
A demonstration in New York also drew thousands despite chilly weather.
Speakers at the Capitol called for changes to US legislation.
Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, told the crowd: “What a sea of people. If they don’t see this and make a change, then I don’t know what we got to do. Thank you for having my back.”
Reuters, By Bill Trott, December 6
New federal restrictions on racial profiling will still allow some officials to use the controversial practice along the southwestern U.S. border and in screening of airline passengers, the Washington Post said.
The rules will ban racial profiling from national security cases for the first time and will bar the FBI from considering religion and national origin when opening a case, the newspaper said.
The guidelines have been the subject of sharp debate within President Barack Obama’s administration concerning which agencies would be covered, the Post said. The FBI was concerned that they would hamper investigations while Department of Homeland Security officials argued that airport screeners and immigration and customs officials needed to consider many factors for the sake of security.
Sources told the Post the new policy will exempt the Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport screening. The Customs and Border Protection agency also will be allowed to use racial profiling in inspections at ports of entry and interdictions along the border, officials said.
Washington Post: Racial profiling will still be allowed at airports, along border despite new policy