Transparency News 6/11/13

Monday, June 11, 2013



State and Local Stories

The Republican Party of Virginia's request for the records of concealed handgun permits across the state were met with concern Monday by several Southwest Virginia circuit court clerks, with one seeking an attorney general's opinion. "The request itself poses several important legal questions," said Jack Kennedy, court clerk for Wise County and Norton. He and other clerks in the area received a Freedom of Information Act request from Anthony Reedy, the state GOP's executive director, asking for a list of concealed handgun permit carriers in each jurisdiction. Kennedyoutlined his legal questions in a letter sent Monday to state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and asked for an official opinion about how to respond.
Herald Courier

A Virginia state senator said Monday that he planned to ask the state’s Inspector General toinvestigate reports that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office had given legal advice to two energy companies in a complex battle with state residents over natural gas royalties, even though the state wasn’t a formal party in the lawsuit. Sen. Phillip P. Puckett said in a teleconference Monday that he was disturbed by media reports that an assistant attorney general aided lawyers for EQT Production Co. and CNX Gas Co., two Pittsburgh-area energy companies, in their dispute with landowners over royalty payments.
Washington Post

National Stories

The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a court order barring abortion protesters from displaying images of aborted fetuses in places where they might disturb children. As is their custom, the justices gave no reasons for declining to hear the case. The case arose from a protest in 2005 near an outdoor Palm Sunday service at an Episcopal church in Denver. As the parishioners re-enacted Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in a ceremony, Kenneth T. Scott and other protesters unhappy with the church’s stance on abortion loudly addressed the procession from public property. They showed large pictures of aborted fetuses. About 200 children were present, and some of them became upset. The church sued, and a Colorado court issued an order barring Mr. Scott from “displaying large posters or similar displays depicting gruesome images of mutilated fetuses or dead bodies in a manner reasonably likely to be viewed by children under 12.”
New York Times

License, registration and cell phone, please. Police officers across New Jersey could be saying that to motorists at the scenes of car crashes if new legislation introduced in the state Senate becomes law. The measure would allow cops — without a warrant — to thumb through a cell phone to determine if a driver was talking or texting when an accident occurred. It requires officers to have "reasonable grounds" to believe the law was broken.
Newark Star-Ledger

Though the source who revealed information about classified U.S. surveillance programs has revealed his name, what to call him remains a subject of hot debate. Politicians and pundits took to Twitter to weighed in on whether “leaker,” “whistleblower” or “traitor” was a more appropriate way to describe Edward Snowden.

The applicable law is one of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act — Section 215. It allows the FISA court to authorize broad warrants for most any type of records, including those held by banks, doctors and phone companies. Lawmakers have repeatedly voted to prevent the act from expiring. The government only needs to show that the information pertains to an “authorized investigation.” No connection to a terrorist or spy is required. But was the law, officially called the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, really meant to enable the government to conduct such massive spying? That’s what the American Civil Liberties Union and others want to know. They asked the FISA court Monday to release its secret opinions on the constitutionality of Section 215.


Times-Dispatch: Just weeks before the new law will take effect, the GOP has been using the state’s FOIA law to obtain lists of concealed-carry permit holders. Gun enthusiasts lean Republican, and the GOP has an interest in making sure they get out to vote. This isn’t something new — the state party routinely uses the Freedom of Information Act to request gun permit information and has done so for years. Obenshain has declined to condemn the GOP’s practice, though he — and others — took strong exception when newspapers used FOIA laws to obtain the same information. During the General Assembly session, Republicans skillfully delivered a number of self-righteous sermons about respecting the privacy of gun owners. Apparently they are less skilled at practicing what they preach. Troubling as the hypocrisy is, however, it is not all that significant. Politicians violate their own professed principles all the time. The more worrisome aspect of the new law concerns the willingness to use privacy as a reason to limit disclosure. That rationale could be stretched to cover many more kinds of government activity, reducing even further the already weak constraints of accountability on officials who are answerable to the public — or should be.

Ken Cuccinelli, Roanoke Times: The Roanoke Times published two misleading opinion pieces Monday about my office’s involvement in a lawsuit between property owners and natural gas companies in Southwest Virginia. Predictably, only one side of the story was covered. The case involves methane gas being extracted from underground coal beds and a disagreement over how much property owners should be paid by the gas companies that extract it. Contrary to media reports, the gas companies get their legal advice from their own attorneys, not this office. The senior assistant attorney general did communicate with attorneys for the gas companies about the interpretation of the act because they shared a common interest with the commonwealth in protecting the law. The gas companies were using the law as their defense, claiming they were following the law when they paid royalties to the property owners.

Daily Progress: It’s easier than you might think for government to search your emails — thanks to the wording of an outdated law. In today’s electronic world, we often choose to archive emails for a year, two years, maybe more. In the workplace, company policies regarding archived emails are languaged in such terms, assuming that information will be stored for far longer than six months. If emails were saved solely on a local hard drive, then the government would have to make a Fourth Amendment request to an independent judge for permission to search them. When emails are stored on a central server, all the government has to do is make a request to the server provider. There is no independent review to protect mailers’ privacy.

News LeaderSometimes in the light of day, what seemed necessary during a crisis shows itself to be an obvious overreaction. Post 9/11, in our anger and our fear, this country made more than one hasty, fear-driven mistake. Twelve years later, we find ourselves sometimes still doing things that go against who we say we are: the drones that kill innocent people, the waterboarding that we know is torture, the Guantanamo Bay imprisonment of suspects who will receive no trial, much less a speedy one. Many Americans never supported these sad acts; brave Americans said so from start, when such unflinching honesty was out of blind patriotic mode. Yet these deeds remained, in large part because they affected more foreigners than Americans, and because enough people believed them necessary to assure national security.