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Tom - Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell this past week went before congress seeking to extend the government’s power to read e-mails, listen to telephone calls and carry out other surveillance within the USA in national security cases. A 1978 law requires the nation’s intelligence services — CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and others — to get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before eavesdropping in a national security case on a target in the USA. Overseas targets, such as two foriegnoperatives speaking on cellphones in Pakistan, generally could be tapped without a warrant. Recent changes in fiber-optic technology, though, cause many foreign-to-foreign phone calls, e-mails and other electronic messages to pass through American-based switching points. Earlier this year, a foreign intelligence court judge ruled that warrants were required to intercept those calls as they passed through American lines. The warrant process, McConnell said, takes 200 hours per phone number and is unnecessarily time consuming and results in lost opportunities to collect intelligence. McConnell recently revealed some parts of the surveillance plan in an interview although the Bush adminsitration has refused to hand over information about the program to congress, despite congressional subpoenas to do so.
Linda – The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement saying it was entirely inappropriate for McConnell to lobbying members of Congress to pass the recent legislation, noting that the National Intelligence Director is supposed to be a non-partisan figure providing unbiased information. “It is outrageous that this administration has failed to turn over information critical to Congress and the public about its surveillance program while the National Intelligence Director is out giving interviews in which he reveals only what he wants to, when he wants to, and in the context he wants to, at his own discretion and accountable to no one,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Legal Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. Last month, the ACLU filed a motion with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court asking it to release the orders and legal opinions that, according to administration officials, necessitated the recent expansion of government wiretapping powers. Said the ACLU, “In a debate about whether the administration’s surveillance powers should be expanded, the administration is not a disinterested party and its disclosures may be selective, incomplete, and self-serving,” “If the FISC’s rulings can be made public without jeopardizing national security, they should be made public immediately.”
Tom – Computer software giant Microsoft suffered a decisive antitrust defeat on Monday when a European Union court upheld a landmark ruling that the world’s largest software maker had abused its dominant market position to crush rivals. The second-highest EU court dismissed the company’s appeal on all key points against the 2004 European Commission ruling and upheld a record 497 million euro ($689.9 million) fine.
EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said the ruling should lead to a “significant drop” in Microsoft’s 95 percent market share. While Microsoft’s top lawyer said it would affect the way the company markets its products in future. “Its clearly a major defeat for Microsoft. There is no doubt it will spur the Commission on to regulate Microsoft much more significantly,” said Chris Bright, a British competition lawyer.
Linda - The court said Microsoft was unjustified in tying new applications to its Windows operating system in a way that squeezed out rivals and harmed consumer choice. The Commission ordered the company to sell a version of Windows without the Windows Media Player application used for video and music, which few have bought, and to share information allowing rivals’ office servers to work smoothly with Windows. A spokesman for Microsoft’s opponents, the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, said the ruling confirmed Microsoft had abused its near-monopoly in computer operating systems and set ground rules for the company’s behavior. The company has weathered a series of defeats in antitrust cases in the last decade and sees legal setbacks as almost part of its business model and a price for its near-monopoly.
Tom – The Committee to Protect Journalists is renewing calls for the U.S. to release an al-Jazeera cameraman from Guantanamo Bay. Sami Al-Haj is now more than eight months into a hunger strike and doctors who’ve examined him say it appears he’s given up his fight to live. The Sudanese journalist has been jailed for more than five years at Guantanamo Bay and is two-hundred fifty days into a hunger strike protesting his imprisonment without charge or trial. Al-Haj was working as a cameraman for the Arabic TV network Al Jazeera when he was detained in a Pakistani town on the border with Afghanistan in December 2001. He was transferred to US custody and flown to Bagram Air Base. Six months later he was flown to Guantanamo Bay. He was been imprisoned there without charge ever since. Said Joel Campagna of the Committee to Protect Journalists “He is a journalist who worked for al Jazeera who was detained in the line of work for over five years now. He has yet to be charged with a crime. The implication of his arrest is that the U.S. military can effectively remove a journalist from the battlefield, hold them for years without end, without charge and not be compelled to charge them with a crime. And we’ve been calling on the U.S. military to either charge Sami Al-Haj with a crime and give him a fair trial or release him.”
Linda – Last week we reported that the Justice Department had made a public statement opposing the principle of internet network neutrality. In response to that statement, Free Press.net, the national, nonpartisan media reform group that coordinates the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act to uncover the underlying factors that led to the Justice Department’s Sept. 6 filing at the Federal Communications Commission, a filling which came months after the FCC’s formal comment period had closed. According to Freepress, the department of Justices late filing at the FCC mirrors phone and cable industry arguments against Net Neutrality. In late 2006, the DOJ’s antitrust division rubber-stamped AT&T’s takeover of BellSouth — the largest telecommunications merger in history — without seeking any consumer protections. The FCC ultimately required AT&T to respect Net Neutrality for two years as a condition of approving the deal.
Tom - The most recent anti-Net Neutrality filing came during Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ last days at the helm of the Justice Department. It followed recent revelations that the government and AT&T had conspired in far-reaching efforts to spy on Americans without legal warrant — efforts for which the Bush administration is now seeking to give immunity from prosecution to AT&T and other phone companies. Said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press “Actions taken against privacy and the open Internet by AT&T and the Bush administration are precisely why we need to make Net Neutrality the law,” “Lack of broadband competition has given giant companies like AT&T enormous power to advance their own interests — at a huge public expense.”
Linda – Several US media entities had been embarrassed as it has been revealed that a man who for years appeared in both US and French media as an intelligence expert appears to have faked his academic and work credentials and made up interviews with people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Alexis Debat, who claims to hold a PhD from Sorbonne and to have worked for the French Defence Ministry, has frequently presented himself as an intelligence and terrorism expert, despite evidence suggesting he did not actually possess those credentials. He has served as a consultant to US television channel ABC, and contributed to US and French political journals. French and US media have scrambled to distance themselves after it was revealed that an interview with US presidential contender Barak Obama, published in French political journal Politique International, was bogus. Last Friday, head of the journal Patrick Wajman said he had discovered that a series of interviews by Debat with other high-profile people such as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates were also phony. Debat insisted he was "co-operating 100 per cent" with the ABC News investigation, but said: "They have found nothing and will never find anything against me."
Tom – In Northern Indiana, cable TV subscribers will soon no longer have access to locally produces citizen TV. By the end of the month, Comcast will close its public access studios in Merrillville, Hammond, Portage and Valparaiso. That’s got dozens of local producers of shows, from gospel music to political discussions, crying foul. Comcast spokesman Rich Ruggiero says the company is just complying with a new state law saying “Comcast never supported the legislation that took affect. We thought the local franchising model had a lot going for it. We had excellent relationships and worked directly with local communities.” Last year, the Indiana General Assembly shifted cable television franchise agreements from local cities and towns to the state. The legislation was written with the guidance of Southwestern Bell Corporation (SBC), now AT&T/SBC. Comcast has said that if a city wants public access studios, it will have to foot the bill and Comcast will air it. Comcast will continue to air local public education and government channels.