Just in time for Tax Day, the for-profit tax preparation industry is about to realize one of its long-sought goals. Congressional Democrats and Republicans are moving to permanently bar the IRS from creating a free electronic tax filing system.Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee, led by Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), passed the Taxpayer First Act, a wide-ranging bill making several administrative changes to the IRS that is sponsored by Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Mike Kelly (R-Pa).In one of its provisions, the bill makes it illegal for the IRS to create its own online system of tax filing. Companies like Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, and H&R Block have lobbied for years to block the IRS from creating such a system. If the tax agency created its own program, which would be similar to programs other developed countries have, it would threaten the industry’s profits.
THE CRIMINALIZATION OF political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West. In France, activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing T-shirts advocating a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements, which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as “the Palestine Exception” to free speech.But now, a group of 43 senators — 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats — wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country’s decades-old occupation of Palestine.
No one in Congress has voted on this legal update. It means a warrant granted somewhere within the US can be executed on the other side of the country – or the other side of the planet.
The change, approved by the Supreme Court, is in Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Right now, if law enforcement wants to hack a PC, they have to ask a judge for a warrant in the jurisdiction where it is located. With the rule change, they could do this to any computer anywhere in the US or the world.
As a bonus, the change would also allow law enforcement – without a warrant – free rein to hack into computers that have already been hacked. So, for example, if you have a virus infection then law enforcement can go through your files at will.
No choice but to use American gear, grins spymaster
We’ve been noting for years: when Senator Ron Wyden says that (1) there’s a secret interpretation of a law that is at odds with the public’s understanding of it, or (2) that government officials are lying, you should pay attention.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Monday used last week’s appellate court ruling that NSA bulk collection of call records is illegal to bash his Republican counterpart for wanting to keep it going through 2020.
“My friend, the Majority Leader, keeps talking about extending the program for five and a half years,” Reid said from the floor of the Senate, referencing Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “How can you reauthorize something that’s illegal?” Reid asked. “You can’t. You shouldn’t.”
“Extending an illegal program for five and a half years? That is not sensible,” he said. “What should happen is that we should move forward and do something that is needed here — and that is, do it all over again.”
On Sunday at a speech in Boston, McConnell called the bulk phone call metadata collection program “an important tool to prevent the next terrorist attack,” and said that the U.S. “is better off with an extension of the Patriot Act than not.” Three provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire on June 1, including one that the NSA has claimed justifies the program.
Reid offered an alternative Monday, saying that McConnell should seek to advance the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end the bulk collection of metadata from domestic phone companies. He pointed out that a version of the bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in April by a 25 – 2 vote, and predicted that the legislation would be advanced by a full House vote this week.
Reid also painted the bill as an escape hatch for McConnell — and said he would back a revolt that’s being openly planned, should the Senate Majority Leader attempt to move for a clean extension of the Patriot Act. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have already threatened filibusters.
“This is the only bipartisan, bicameral solution we have today that will end the illegal bulk collection and reform and reauthorize key provisions of FISA,” Reid said.
“Otherwise … I’m not the only one, Mr. President,” he added. “I’m told, walking over here, that the junior senator from Kentucky is not going to let an extension … take place. So why don’t we just go ahead and get it done now.”
In a few months, we’ll be marking the second anniversary of the first Snowden leak. The outraged responses of citizens and politicians around the world to these revelations has resulted in approximately nothing in those 24 months. There have been bright spots here and there — where governments and their intelligence agencies were painted into corners by multiple leaks and forced to respond — but overall, the supposed debate on the balance between security and privacy has been largely ignored by those on Team National Security.
Here in the US, multiple surveillance reforms were promised. So far, very little has been put into practice. The NSA may be forced to seek court approval for searches of its bulk phone metadata, but otherwise the program rolls on unimpaired and slightly rebranded (from Section 215 to Section 501).
Senator Ron Wyden — one of the few members of our nation’s intelligence oversight committees actively performing any oversight — isn’t happy with the lack of progress. In an interview with Buzzfeed’s John Stanton, Wyden points out that not only has there been little movement forward in terms of surveillance reform, there actually may have been a few steps backward.
Wyden bluntly warned that even after the NSA scandal that started with Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the Obama administration has continued programs to monitor the activities of American citizens in ways that the public is unaware of and that could be giving government officials intimate details of citizens’ lives.
Asked if intelligence agencies have domestic surveillance programs of which the public is still unaware, Wyden said simply, “Yeah, there’s plenty of stuff.
Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Orrin Hatch are now in a stand-off over a bill that would put secretive trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement on the Fast Track to passage through Congress. The White House meanwhile, has intensified their propaganda campaign, going so far as to mislead the public about how trade deals—like the TPP and its counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—will effect the Internet and users’ rights. They are creating videos, writing several blog posts, and then this week, even sent out a letter from an “online small business owner” to everyone on the White House’s massive email list, to further misinform the public about Fast Track.
In a blog post published this week, the White House flat out uses doublespeak to tout the benefits of the TPP, even going so far as to claim that without these new trade agreements, “there would be no rules protecting American invention, artistic creativity, and research”. That is pure bogus, much like the other lies the White House has been recently saying about its trade policies. Let’s look at the four main myths they have been saying to sell lawmakers and the public on Fast Track for the TPP.
Myth #1: TPP Is Good for the Internet
First, there are the claims that this agreement will create “stronger protections of a free and open Internet”. As we know from previous leaks of the TPP’s Intellectual Property chapter, the complete opposite is true. Most of all, the TPP’s ISP liability provisions could create greater incentives for Internet and content providers to block and filter content, or even monitor their users in the name of copyright enforcement. What they believe are efforts toward protecting the future of the Internet are provisions they’re advocating for in this and other secret agreements on the “free flow of information”. In short, these are policies aimed at subverting data localization laws.
Such an obligation could be a good or a bad thing, depending on what kind of impact it could have on national censorship, or consumer protections for personal data. It’s a complicated issue without an easy solution—which is exactly why this should not be decided through secretive trade negotiations. These “free flow of information” rules have likely been lobbied for by major tech companies, which do not want laws to restrict them on how they deal with users’ data. It is dishonest to say that what these tech companies can do with people’s data is good for all users and the Internet at large.