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US names six drone research sites – Americas – Al Jazeera English

US names six drone research sites – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

FAA does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop guidelines by 2015 [AFP]
The US has named six states that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the move of the unmanned aircraft into domestic skies.The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected.Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market.

Many universities are starting or expanding drone programmes.

Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, providing diverse climates, geography and air-traffic environments, Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, said on Monday.

At least one of the six sites will be up and running within 180 days, while the others are expected to come online in quick succession, Huerta said.

The growing US drone industry has critics among both conservatives and liberals.

Giving drones greater access to US skies moves the nation closer to “a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinised by the authorities”, the American Civil Liberties Union declared in a report last December.

Huerta said his agency is sensitive to privacy concerns involving drones. Test sites must have a written plan for data use and retention and will be required to conduct an annual review of privacy practices that involves public comment.

While selecting the sites, the FAA considered geography, climate, ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk. New York’s site will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast US airspace.

Nevada offered proximity to military aircraft from several bases.

In choosing Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of locations in seven climatic zones.

“These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies,” Anthony Foxx, US transportation secretary, said in a statement.

 

US names six drone research sites – Americas – Al Jazeera English

US names six drone research sites – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

FAA does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop guidelines by 2015 [AFP]
The US has named six states that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the move of the unmanned aircraft into domestic skies.The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected.

Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market.

Many universities are starting or expanding drone programmes.

Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, providing diverse climates, geography and air-traffic environments, Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, said on Monday.

At least one of the six sites will be up and running within 180 days, while the others are expected to come online in quick succession, Huerta said.

The growing US drone industry has critics among both conservatives and liberals.

Giving drones greater access to US skies moves the nation closer to “a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinised by the authorities”, the American Civil Liberties Union declared in a report last December.

Huerta said his agency is sensitive to privacy concerns involving drones. Test sites must have a written plan for data use and retention and will be required to conduct an annual review of privacy practices that involves public comment.

While selecting the sites, the FAA considered geography, climate, ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk. New York’s site will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast US airspace.

Nevada offered proximity to military aircraft from several bases.

In choosing Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of locations in seven climatic zones.

“These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies,” Anthony Foxx, US transportation secretary, said in a statement.

 

A Federal Judge Ruled NSA Surveillance Legal, Will the Supreme Court Follow Suit? | Motherboard

A Federal Judge Ruled NSA Surveillance Legal, Will the Supreme Court Follow Suit? | Motherboard.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

This morning, US District Judge Willaum Pauley ruled that the National Security Agency’s dragnet phone surveillance is legal—just weeks after US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled the NSA program was unconstitutional.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Pauley determined the September 11 terrorist attacks might have been prevented if bulk telephone data mining had been in place. In ruling that mass surveillance is legal, Pauley dismissed an ACLU lawsuit that argued the government’s interpretation of the Patriot Act’s powers was far too broad to justify the mass data mining of Americans’ electronic communications.

“The government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world,” wrote Pauley. “It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program—a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.”

Could this be a preview of how the Supreme Court might rule on the surveillance question? Judge Leon’s decision, while encouraging to many observers, feels like a judicial anomaly. More often than not, courts favor the US intelligence complex. There is little reason to believe the Supreme Court’s ideologically conservative majority would suddenly reverse course on surveillance.

In February of this year—months before Edward Snowden’s stunning NSA leaks—the Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by Amnesty International and other groups. The defendants argued that journalists, human rights advocates, and lawyers would be harmed by the NSA’s surveillance of their foreign communications. Judge Samuel Alito, delivering the Supreme Court’s opinion, concluded that the defendants did not have standing. “They cannot demonstrate that the future injury they purportedly fear is certainly impending and because they cannot manufacture standing by incurring costs in anticipation of non-imminent harm,” wrote Alito.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissented, questioning the majority’s decision. In their opinion, the defendants might well have standing for “future injury.” The minority also suggested that the defendants could have incurred costs in countering NSA surveillance. The ideological split in the nation’s highest court probably doesn’t bode well for any future Supreme Court case on surveillance.

Add to this the Supreme Court’s November dismissal of an Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) lawsuit claiming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) exceeded its legal authority in ordering Verizon to hand over telephone metadata. EPIC, as a Verizon customer, argued that it had legal standing, and was harmed by Verizon’s data handover, an argument that did not sway the court. This was the Supreme Court’s first opportunity to address NSA surveillance in the wake of Snowden’s leaks, and they brushed it aside.

While multiple surveillance reform bills are in committee on Capitol Hill, this could be exactly what some government officials want. A pro-surveillance Supreme Court ruling would effectively take the power out of the hands of legislative reformers. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who crafted her own bill to preserve and enhance the NSA’s powers, suggested as much in her response to Leon’s ruling.

“Only the Supreme Court can resolve the question on the constitutionality of the NSA’s program,” Feinstein wrote in a statement. “I welcome a Supreme Court review since it has been more than 30 years since the court’s original decision of constitutionality, and I believe it is crucial to settling the issue once and for all. In the meantime, the call records program remains in effect.”

When a pro-surveillance legislator like Feinstein calls for a Supreme Court case on the issue, it suggests confidence that the court will tow the government line. So, if the Supreme Court takes up surveillance in 2014, we could see the court’s recent surveillance rulings and Judge Pauley’s decision dictate their decision. And if the high court does rule surveillance constitutional, we’ll all suffer the consequences.

 

Local courts reviving ‘debtors’ prison’ for overdue fines, fees | Fox News

Local courts reviving ‘debtors’ prison’ for overdue fines, fees | Fox News.

As if out of a Charles Dickens novel, people struggling to pay overdue fines and fees associated with court costs for even the simplest traffic infractions are being thrown in jail across the United States.

Critics are calling the practice the new “debtors’ prison” — referring to the jails that flourished in the U.S. and Western Europe over 150 years ago. Before the time of bankruptcy laws and social safety nets, poor folks and ruined business owners were locked up until their debts were paid off.

Reforms eventually outlawed the practice. But groups like the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union say it’s been reborn in local courts which may not be aware it’s against the law to send indigent people to jail over unpaid fines and fees — or they just haven’t been called on it until now.

Advocates are trying to convince courts that aside from the legal questions surrounding the practice, it is disproportionately jailing poor people and doesn’t even boost government revenues — in fact, governments lose money in the process.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer resources, and it undermines the integrity of the justice system,” Carl Takei, staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, told FoxNews.com.

“The problem is it’s not actually much of a money-making proposition … to throw people in jail for fines and fees when they can’t afford it. If counties weren’t spending the money jailing people for not paying debts, they could be spending the money in other ways.”

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law released a “Tool Kit for Action” in 2012 that broke down the cost to municipalities to jail debtors in comparison with the amount of old debt it was collecting. It doesn’t look like a bargain. For example, according to the report, Mecklenburg County, N.C., collected $33,476 in debts in 2009, but spent $40,000 jailing 246 debtors — a loss of $6,524.

Fines are the court-imposed payments linked to a conviction — whether it be for a minor traffic violation like driving without a license or a small drug offense, all the way up to felony. Fees are all those extras tacked on by the court to fund administrative services. These vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, with some courts imposing more than others.

As states and counties grapple with shrinking budgets and yearly shortfalls, new fees are often imposed to make up the difference, though they can be quite overwhelming to individuals passing through the system — 80 percent of whom qualify as indigent (impoverished and unable to pay), according to the Brennan Center. Florida, for example, has added 20 new fees since 1996, according to the center. North Carolina imposes late fees on debt not paid and surcharges on payment plans.

More and more, courts are dragging people in for fines and fees that have ballooned due to interest imposed on the initial sums. Some owe money to the public defender’s office for the representation they received during their time in court. Others incur hundreds of dollars in fees while they’re incarcerated — for everything from toilet paper to the beds inmates sleep on.

The tab for the average offender could be as low as $250 or as high as $4,000. Both the ACLU and Brennan have been targeting big states with multiple jurisdictions they say are flouting U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 1970, 1971 and 1983. Those rulings essentially say courts cannot extend or impose a jail sentence for unpaid fines and fees if individuals do not have the ability to pay.

At the very least, according to the high court, the courts must inquire and assess whether a person is indigent and might benefit from an alternative method of payment, like community service, before sentencing.

“Even though a lot of jurisdictions do have statutes on the books that allow judges to waive fines and fees, it doesn’t always happen,” explained Lauren Brooke-Eisen, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

Much of the time, probation or the conviction itself will hinder individuals from finding employment (Brennan estimates that some 60 percent are still unemployed a year after leaving jail). But another incarceration over debt could either ruin the job they managed to get or make it even harder to find one.

Many jurisdictions have taken to hiring private collection/probation companies to go after debtors, giving them the authority to revoke probation and incarcerate if they can’t pay. Research into the practice has found that private companies impose their own additional surcharges. Some 15 private companies have emerged to run these services in the South, including the popular Judicial Correction Services (JCS).

In 2012, Circuit Judge Hub Harrington at Harpersville Municipal Court in Alabama shut down what he called the “debtors’ prison” process there, echoing complaints that private companies are only in it for the money. He cited JCS in part for sending indigent people to jail. Calling it a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket,” Harrington said many defendants were locked up on bogus failure-to-appear warrants, and slapped with more fines and fees as a result.

Repeated calls to JCS in Alabama and Georgia were not returned.

Defenders of the collection programs say the money is owed to the state and it’s the government’s right to go after it. “When, and only when, an individual is convicted of a crime, there are required fees and court costs,” Pamela Dembe, president of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, which oversees Philadelphia, said in a statement to reporters in May. An earlier review by the courts found an estimated 400,000 residents owed the city money. “If the defendant doesn’t pay, law-abiding taxpayers must pay these costs.”

Meanwhile, there’s evidence that groups like the ACLU are prompting reforms.

For example, the ACLU released “The Outskirts of Hope,” on court practices in Ohio. The report told the story of one couple, John Bundren and Samantha Reed, who both had racked up court fines. Bundren’s, which traced back to underage drinking and public intoxication convictions from his teenage years, totaled $3,000. They paid her fines before his, and Bundren ended up spending 41 days in jail because he couldn’t pay his own.

The ACLU found that seven out of 11 counties they studied were operating de facto debtors’ prisons, despite clear “constitutional and legislative prohibitions.” Some were worse than others. In the second half of 2012 in Huron County, 20 percent of arrests were for failure to pay fines. The Sandusky Municipal Court in Erie County jailed 75 people in a little more than a month during the summer of 2012. The ACLU says it costs upwards of $400 in Ohio to execute a warrant and $65 a night to jail people.

As a result of the study, the Ohio State Supreme Court has begun educating judges and personnel on the statutes and constitutional restrictions of collecting fines and fees, Bret Crow, spokesman for the state court, told FoxNews.com. It is also developing a “bench card,” intended as a reference guide for county judges.

More recently in Colorado, the state ACLU completed a report on “pay or serve” programs throughout the state. In the case of Wheatridge and Northglenn counties, the penalty was one day in the clink for every $50 owed; in Westminster, every offender got an automatic 10 days in jail.

The report also found that one jail racked up more than $70,000 in costs for incarcerating 154 people over a five-month period in 2012 — and only managed to collect $40,000 in overdue fines and fees in that time.

Mark Silverstein, a staff attorney at the Colorado ACLU, claimed judges in these courts never assess the defendants’ ability to pay before sentencing them to jail, which would be unconstitutional.

John Stipech, Municipal Court judge in Westminster, Colo., told FoxNews.com he agreed with the tenets of the ACLU investigation, but added that the practice of the automatic 10-day jail sentence was already scrapped by Westminster in December 2012. “It was because we had jail space problems and beds needed to be limited to actual criminals,” he said.

He complained that local coverage of the ACLU report “makes it sound like we’re putting everyone in jail.” He said he asks everyone who comes before him if they have the ability to pay. He acknowledged, however, that his court is working with the ACLU and will be instituting formal “show cause” hearings to determine indigence.

“Maybe the ACLU did some good, they brought it to my attention. Maybe they just should have done it in a better way,” Stipech said.

Brooke-Eisen said the reform movement is proceeding, albeit slowly in tough fiscal times.

 

Obama Wrongs the Bill of Rights | Democracy Now!

Obama Wrongs the Bill of Rights | Democracy Now!.

By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan
President Barack Obama proclaimed Dec. 15 Bill of Rights Day, praising those first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution as “the foundation of American liberty, securing our most fundamental rights—from the freedom to speak, assemble and practice our faith as we please to the protections that ensure justice under the law.” The next day, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon called Obama’s surveillance policies “almost Orwellian” in a court order finding the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata very likely unconstitutional. If that was not enough, the president’s own task force on the issues, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, delivered its report, which the White House released, with 46 recommendations for changes.

One adviser to the panel, Sascha Meinrath of the Open Technology Institute, was skeptical, telling me that “intelligence-community insiders, administration officials, comprise the entirety of this five-member group. I do not see how you can do a truly independent review of surveillance when so many people are tied in.” The panel is chaired by former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell, and is managed under the auspices of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, run by James Clapper. Clapper is widely considered to have lied in a Senate hearing on this issue. When asked by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., if the NSA collected phone records on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans, Clapper replied, “No, sir.” Following the Snowden leaks, Clapper admitted to NBC News that his answer was the “least untruthful” manner to say no.

Judge Leon’s ruling relates to just one of several filed after the June disclosures by former NSAcontractor Edward Snowden about the vast, global surveillance system vacuuming up personal data from billions of people. A separate federal lawsuit in New York, ACLU v. Clapper, seeks to end the mass surveillance completely, and to have all the data collected so far deleted.

Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called Edward Snowden “a patriot,” noting: “As a whistle-blower of illegal government activity that was sanctioned and kept secret by the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government for years, he undertook great personal risk for the public good. And he has single-handedly reignited a global debate about the extent and nature of government surveillance and our most fundamental rights as individuals.”

Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, reiterated the White House’s hard line this week: “Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information, and he faces felony charges here in the United States.”

Click here to read the rest of this column at Truthdig.com.

 

This Is How The NSA Is Tracking You This Instant | Zero Hedge

This Is How The NSA Is Tracking You This Instant | Zero Hedge.

That little “entertaining” cell phone in your back pocket, which you are so addicted to thanks to all its apps, videos, messaging function and all other cool bells and whistles, that you can’t possibly live without? It is simply the definitive NSA tracking beacon used to find where you are at any given moment. The following infographic explains how the NSA does just that…

 

The FBI Has Been Using Drones Domestically Since 2006 | A Lightning War for Liberty

The FBI Has Been Using Drones Domestically Since 2006 | A Lightning War for Liberty.

 

Decoding the NSA: How the Agency Manipulates Language to Mislead the Public | A Lightning War for Liberty

Decoding the NSA: How the Agency Manipulates Language to Mislead the Public | A Lightning War for Liberty.

 

Judge: Govt position in drone suit ‘disconcerting’

Judge: Govt position in drone suit ‘disconcerting’.

 

NSA surveillance: anger mounts in Congress at ‘spying on Americans’ | World news | guardian.co.uk

NSA surveillance: anger mounts in Congress at ‘spying on Americans’ | World news | guardian.co.uk.

 

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