Laws and regulations

  • BiolabsThe number of labs handling deadly germs grows, and so do calls for regulating lab safety

    The number of labs handling dangerous pathogens continues to grow, and so does the number of accidents involving dangerous pathogens. The number of reported accidents involving dangerous microbes grew rapidly from just sixteen in 2004 to 128 in 2008, and 269 in 2010, the last year reported.Experts note that currently there is no single federal agency responsible for assessing overall laboratory needs — instead, departments and agencies only assess the needs for labs relative to their respective missions.

  • ImmigrationAppeals Court blocks Arizona’s order denying driver’s licenses to “dreamers”

    A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked an August 2012 executive order issued by Arizona’s Republican governor Jan Brewer which denies driver’s licenses and other public benefits to young immigrants who are allowed to remain in the United States under a 2012 Obama administration policy.

  • Law-enforcement technologySupreme Court cites NIST guidelines in ruling on cell phone searches

    As digital technology transforms twenty-first century life, questions about privacy rights abound. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on one such question in late June: if you are arrested, can the police search your cell phone without first obtaining a warrant? No, according to the 25 June 2014 ruling in Riley v. California. “Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,’ … The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

  • PrivacyPrivacy advocates worried about new Senate cybersecurity bill

    Privacy groups are concerned that a new Senate cybersecurity bill could give the NSA unrestricted access to personal information of Americans. The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a counterpart to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) which passed the House in 2013, would create a “gaping loophole in existing privacy law,” several privacy advocacy groups wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

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  • PrivacySupreme Court: police must obtain a warrant to search suspect’s cellphone

    Earlier this week the Supreme Courtruled that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to search a suspect’s cellphone. Law enforcement argued that no current law makes a distinction between cellphones and the pocket litter (wallets, cigarette packs) which police have always been permitted to search when arresting a suspect, but Chief Justice John Roberts rejected this argument, saying, “That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon,” adding: . “Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse.” Roberts acknowledged that requiring police to seek a warrant could impede some investigations but “privacy comes at a cost,” he said.

  • TerrorismJudge rules use of NSA surveillance-based information in terrorist case is legal

    Lawyers for Mohamed Mohamud, a U.S. citizen who lived in Oregon, have been denied a motion to dismiss his terrorism conviction, with the court affirming the legality of the U.S. government’s bulk phone and e-mail data collection of foreign nationals living overseas. Mohamud’s defense team claimed the surveillance violated his constitutional rights, and that federal prosecutors did not make available to the defense evidence obtained via the surveillance. U.S. District Judge Garr King upheld Mohamud’s conviction, saying that suppressing the evidence collected through NSA surveillance “and a new trial would put defendant in the same position he would have been in if the government notified him of the (surveillance) at the start of the case.”

  • TerrorismTerror court case in U.K. continues to be held in secret, alarming critics

    A major terrorism trial in the United Kingdom has also become a media cause célèbre as media representatives challenge senior judges, leading to a case which is both mysterious and well known. That came after the Crown Prosecution Service (CSP) had persuaded the case judge that the entire trial should take place in secret. No further reasons for the case have been made public, and it still remains uncertain whether the full trial will be reportable.

  • ImmigrationDHS relaxes employment rules for H-1B visa spouses

    Last month DHS proposed two new rule changes which would allow H-4 dependent spouses of highly skilled immigrant workers who hold an H-1B, E, or L visas, to work legally in the United States. Current regulations prohibit work authorization for spouses of said visa holders. Some immigration advocates say the proposal is too narrow since getting employers to sponsor an H-1B visa applicant is already challenging.

  • Ammonium nitrateFederal oversight of ammonium nitrate exceedingly weak

    A new Government Accountability Office(GAO) report found that the federal government has no way of fully knowing which chemical facilities stockammonium nitrate, a widely used fertilizer which was the cause of the explosion last year at a West, Texas fertilizer plan, which resulted in the death of fourteen people – and which was used by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City twenty years ago. Poor data sharing with states, outdated federal policies, and numerous industry exemptions have contributed to a weak federal oversight. Without improved monitoring, regulators “will not know the extent to which dangerous conditions at some facilities may continue to exist,’’ the GAO report said.

  • Nuclear wasteNRC will not require nuclear plants to transfer waste to dry cask storage

    Cooling pools on the grounds of U.S. nuclear plants, where toxic nuclear waste is stored, are near capacity, and in 2010 the plug was pulled on the Yucca Mountain centralized national nuclear waste repository, meaning that for the foreseeable future radioactive will continue to accumulate on site at the more than 100 nuclear power plants. Lawmakers called on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to require nuclear plants to hurry the transfer of spent fuel from the cooling pools to dry cask storage, which scientists consider much safer. The NRC, however, has decided that, at least for now, there is now reason to require nuclear plants to do so.

  • ImmigrationU.S. govt. the largest employer of undocumented immigrants

    At least 60,000 undocumented immigrants have worked at federal detention centers while waiting for an immigration court to hear their case. While detained, many immigrants work as cooks and janitors at federal and privately-run detention centers, often making less than $1 a day. The cheap labor saves the federal government and private companies at least $40 million a year by making it unnecessary to pay outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Since about half of all immigrants in immigration court typically win their case, this means that that tens of thousands of legal immigrants are working for less than a dollar a day in immigration detention facilities.

  • ImmigrationServer outages continue to hobble immigration courts’ work

    The servers of the U.S. Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)support the fifty-nine immigration courts administered by the EOIR,the electronic registry for accredited immigration attorneys and representatives, and the 260-plus immigration court judges and staff. For the last six weeks, these servers have suffered from severe outages, hobbling the work of the immigration courts. During the six week period, about 366,724 cases were pending, butcourt clerks were unable to access court records, enter new records in the system, and make digital recordings of hearings.

  • ImmigrationA bill offers a military path to citizenship for Dreamers

    The Enlist Act,authored by Representative Jeff Denham (R-California) would allow immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally before 2012 and below the age of fifteen at the time (Dreamers) to enlist in the military, earning them permanent legal status, and upon honorable discharge, eligibility for U.S. citizenship. Denham and his co-sponsors tried to get the proposal though the National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA), a bill likely to pass, but House leaders rejected the idea.

  • Drone surveillanceDrone surveillance raises legal, ethical concerns

    The use of drones for domestic security purposes, surveillance of citizens, and putative criminals and organizations raises many legal and ethical concerns particularly with regard to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Council of Europe instruments, and the EU Data Protection Framework. Experts suggest that the rise of drones for surveillance and other applications highlights particular challenges to civil liberties and tensions between these and national security and justice concerns.

  • ImmigrationHitting the reset button on Secure Communities

    Last Tuesday law enforcement officials said they anticipate a “reboot” of the controversial immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, in which police officers are asked to submit fingerprints taken by police to DHS so the individuals stopped by the police can be screened for deportation eligibility. Critics argue the program leads to too many low-level criminals and non-criminals being turned over to immigration authorities, and in addition to the cost involved in the process, the program could make witnesses and victims of crime reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement.