Laws and regulations

  • Florida mulling banning school collection of students’ biometric information

    Some school districts in Florida, including Polk County and Pinellas County, are using scanners to collect fingerprints and hands, eyes, and voice characteristics from students. Pinellas County school district allows students to use palm scans instead of cash to pay for meals in the cafeteria. The collection of students’ biometric information has alarmed many parents who are concerned that students’ identity or personal records may be stolen or sold to private companies. Florida state legislators are debating a proposal which would stop school districts from collecting biometric information from students.

  • Arizona lawmaker pushes measure to limit NSA operations in the state

    Arizona State Senator Kelli Ward, a tea party Republican representing the Lake Havasu area, is pushing a bill in the State Senate which would impose limits on the ability of the NSA to operate in Arizona. In December Ward became the first legislator in the nation to declare she would introduce legislation to limit NSA activities in the state, and so far legislators in twelve other states have introduced similar bills. Arizona SB 1156 would. Among other things, prohibit local and state law enforcement officials from cooperating with the NSA and would prevent state or local prosecutors from using NSA-collected information which had not been obtained with a warrant. The bill would also withhold funds from state universities and colleges supporting the NSA with research or recruitment. Legal scholars say the courts would in all likelihood strike down Ward’s measure because Arizona, in essence, is trying to regulate the federal government.

  • U.S. will seek death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

    The U.S. Justice Department announced that the United States will seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 20-year-old accused of detonating two bombs the Boston Marathon last Aril, killing three people and injuring more than 200 others. The younger Tsarnaev faces thirty counts in the bombing, including use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and the bombing of a public place. Since 1964, the federal government has only executed three people, including Timothy Mc­Veigh who was convicted in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

  • A first: Constitutionality of NSA warrantless surveillance challenged by terrorism suspect

    Jamshid Muhtorov, a refugee from Uzbekistan now facing terrorism charges in Colorado, is the first criminal defendant who, as part of his lawyers’ defense strategy, is challenging the constitutionality of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program. Muhtorov filed a motion Wednesday in federal court in Denver to suppress any evidence obtained through the agency’s surveillance program on grounds that it was unlawful. In July 2013 the Justice Department reversed an earlier policy, and now informs defendants whether the case against them, in whole or in part, is based on information obtained through warrantless surveillance. To date, six months after the review process at Justice was launched, Muhtorov and Mohamed Mohamud, a Portland, Oregon teenager who had been convicted after an FBI sting operation of attempting to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, are the only defendants to receive such a disclosure.

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  • A first: Judge in terrorism case rules defense may examine government secret FISA application

    U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled yesterday (Wednesday) that the U.S. government cannot keep secret its request to conduct clandestine surveillance of an accused would-be terrorist. The ruling gives defense attorneys an unprecedented access to a request made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court for permission to spy on an American citizen. Judge Coleman said her ruling is the first time a defendant’s lawyers will be given access to an application prosecutors submitted to the FISA court. Security experts warned that opening FISA applications to review in a criminal case may set a dangerous precedent.

  • Supreme Court: airlines not liable for exaggerating in describing possible air emergency

    The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that when an airline reports to TSA about an individual who might pose a potential danger, the airline may not be held liable if its report contained exaggerations and minor falsehoods. Air Wisconsin terminated the employment of a pilot who failed several required tests, and who became extremely agitated and disruptive during the fourth, and last, test. In its report to TSA, the airline described the pilot as “mentally unstable.” The fired pilot sued the airline for describing him as mentally unstable, and a Colorado jury awarded him $1.2 million in damages. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, said “a few inaptly chosen words” were not enough to support the verdict. “Baggage handlers, flight attendants, gate agents, and other airline employees who report suspicious behavior to the TSA should not face financial ruin if, in the heat of a potential threat, they fail to choose their words with exacting care,” she wrote. A federal law — the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 — gives airline employees broad immunity from lawsuits for reports of suspicious activities.

  • U.K. terror suspects protected by anonymity rules

    Two U.K. terror suspects – one an al-Qaeda recruiter, the other involved in the Nairobi shopping mall attack last year – escaped British detention in 2007, but are still protected by court-imposed anonymity orders. Seven men suspected of terrorism will be released into the community in the next few weeks when the control measures restricting their movements expire. These men, too, will benefit from court-ordered anonymity. Security experts say that as is the case with two suspects who absconded in 2007, some or all of the seven terrorism suspects will be in a position to evade surveillance by using their anonymity.

  • CBP flew its drones on behalf of other agencies

    The U.S. Customs and Border Protection(CBP) operates the largest drone fleet in the United States. The Defense Departmenthas a much larger fleet, but it is prohibited from operating its drones in the United States for law enforcement missions. The FAA is working on opening U.S. skies for public and commercial drone traffic, but for now CBP is the only agency permitted to operate drones on a daily basis within the nation’s borders. Released documents show that agencies not allowed to operate drones borrowed them from CBP.

  • California lawmakers propose restricting use of antibiotics in livestock

    The growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans has been attributed to the increasing use of antibiotics in livestock. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect more than two million Americans a year,killing at least 23,000 of them. California legislators are proposing new laws to restrict the use of antibiotics in livestock.

  • Economists propose market-driven solutions to the problem of antibiotic use in agriculture

    Fifty-one tons of antibiotics are consumed daily in the United States, of which 80 percent are used in agriculture. To minimize the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, Aidan Hollis of the University of Calgary is proposing the imposition of an antibiotic tax on food producers, thus encouraging them to distinguish between good and bad use of antibiotics, since the fee would force farmers to purchase antibiotics only when needed to treat sick animals and not for non-illness purposes.Timothy Richards of Arizona State University says that more regulations or a tax would run the risk of harming the agriculture industry. He says that farmers and ranchers should clearly label their products as containing or not containing antibiotics, and then market dynamics would operate by “letting people follow labels and buy or not buy meats where antibiotics are used.”

  • Obama announces reforms of U.S. intelligence data collection practices

    President Barack Obama on Friday called for a “new approach” by the U.S. intelligence community to the collection of Americans’ phone metadata. The major changes in current practices involve storage of and access to bulk metadata; the presence of a public advocate during FISA court deliberations; new privacy protections for non-Americans; and new restrictions on spying on leaders of allied countries. Obama offered a robust defense of the U.S. intelligence services, saying that there was no evidence they had abused their power, and that many of their methods were necessary to protect Americans. “We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective,” he said. The president pointedly noted that some countries that “have loudly criticized the NSA privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower . . . and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.”

  • California bill would restrict selling, access to LPR-collected data

    A bill before the California State Senate would to prohibit law enforcement agencies and private firms in California from selling data collected by automatic license plate readers. (LPRs). The proposed Senate Bill 893 would prohibit LPR operators from selling data to non-law enforcement agencies or to non-law enforcement officials. Law enforcement access to LPR data retained for more than five years would require a court order.

  • Military technology outpaces laws of war

    Today’s emerging military technologies — including unmanned aerial vehicles, directed-energy weapons, lethal autonomous robots, and cyber weapons like Stuxnet — raise the prospect of upheavals in military practices so fundamental that they challenge long-established laws of war. Weapons that make their own decisions about targeting and killing humans, for example, have ethical and legal implications obvious and frightening enough to have entered popular culture (for example, in the Terminator films). The current international laws of war were developed over many centuries and long before the current era of fast-paced technological change.

  • Judge upholds New York gun restrictions -- except 7-round per magazine limit

    A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that New York’s strict new gun laws, including an expanded ban on assault weapons, were constitutional. He struck down, though, a provision prohibiting gun owners from loading more than seven rounds into a magazine. The 54-page ruling by William M. Skretny of Federal District Court in Buffalo should be considered a victory for gun control advocates who saw gun control measures on the federal level stall. Judge Skretny, writing that “whether regulating firearms is wise or warranted is not a judicial question; it is a political one,” said that expanded bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were legally sound because they served to “further the state’s important interest in public safety.”

  • FAA approves testing, developing standards for commercial use of drones

    The Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) yesterday (Monday) has authorized test sites for UAVs. The FAA has selected six institutions to run the tests and operate the test sites. The test sites are part of a program to develop safety and operational rules for drones by the end of 2015, as mandated by Congress. Experts anticipate an exponential growth of drone use in the agriculture and law enforcement sectors. Analysts predict that more than 70,000 jobs would be created in the first three years after Congress approves drone use in U.S. skies, and that the global commercial drone market will reach $89 billion in the next decade.