In Which I both Agree and Disagree

…with a Supreme Court decision. In Mccullen v Coakley, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that placed a mandatory 35 foot buffer zone around abortion clinics within which anti-abortion protests were prohibited. The purpose of the law, to allow women wishing an abortion unfettered access to the clinic, was met, but overbroadly, according to the court.

That’s the part with which I agree. If we’re going to argue as I have in the past that “free speech zones,” like those on too many college campuses, unconstitutionally restrict free speech, then so does the other side of that coin: non-free speech zones. Either we have free speech in this country, or we do not.

Cell Phone Searches

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday police must almost always obtain a warrant before searching mobile devices seized when arresting someone….

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the Court’s unanimously held opinion, said

Modern cellphones aren’t a technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans “the privacies of life.”

Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple—get a warrant[.]

IRS’ Computers

During Monday night’s House Oversight Committee hearing, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen tried to deflect blame for the missing Lerner Emails by claiming that the IRS’ computer systems were outdated, obsolete, prone to PC hard drive crashes, and it’s all due to lack of funding:

It is not unusual for computers anywhere to fail, especially at the IRS in light of the aged equipment IRS employees often have to use in light of the continual cuts in its budget these past four years. Since January 1 of this year, for example, over 2,000 employees have suffered hard drive crashes.

The Courts Get Another One Right

Quartavius Davis was convicted of robbing, in 2010, seven stores in and around Miami and sentenced to roughly 162 years in prison. His prosecutors based their case, in large part, on cellphone records that placed Davis near the scene.

The evidence included records of the cell towers to which their phones were connected when they placed and received calls, according to court documents.

These data were obtained solely on the basis of a claim “that the records were relevant and material to an ongoing investigation.”

The 11th Circuit demurred. Writing for a unanimous court, Judge David Sentelle wrote in part

VA Union Mendacity

This tale comes from Kimberly Strassel in her recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority, the agency that mediates federal labor disputes, earlier this month ruled in favor of this union president [Janice Perry of local lodge 1798 of the National Federation of Federal Employees], in a dispute over whether she need bother to show up at her workplace—the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. According to FLRA documents, this particular VA employee is 100% “official time”—D.C. parlance for federal employees who work every hour of every work day for their union, at the taxpayer’s expense.

Another Thought on Privacy

David Kravets, writing in ars technica had one concerning a couple of cases coming before the Supreme Court dealing with the legitimacy of warrantless searches of cell phones and other digital devices pursuant to an otherwise legitimate arrest.

President Barack Obama’s administration and prosecutors from states across the country have lobbied for police officers to be able to search arrestees’ gadgets—at or about the time of arrest—without a warrant. Such action, however, demands an examination of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” If nine out of 10 American adults own mobile phones and the devices have advanced to become virtual extensions of our personal and private lives, at what point does law enforcement’s access to their call logs, photos, and cloud-hosted data become “unreasonable” invasions of constitutionally protected privacy?

What Personal Data? It’s Government’s Data

And we don’t care about its security.

Security experts worried that 35 state health exchange websites were vulnerable to hackers and were rated as “high risk” for security problems before ObamaCare’s launch….

Fears that the health law’s websites could put consumers at risk have plagued the program’s rollout from the beginning, but the administration told The Associated Press that the documents offer only a partial and “outdated” snapshot of an improving situation.

Never mind that “improving” now doesn’t alter the fact that the security failures existed at the time of the rollout.  And HHS rolled out their ObamaMart, anyway.  For example:

Health Plans vs Emergency Cash Savings

In light of the rapidly rising cost of health “coverage,” courtesy of Obamacare, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts comparing health plans with emergency cash savings.  To concretize things, let’s say a medical emergency costs $50,000.  A three-person household consisting of 43- and 41-year old parents and a 16-year-old child, a family with an $85,000 annual income in Collin County, Texas might select a Silver Plan from the ObamaMart that has a $681 monthly premium and that pays 70% of covered medical expenses after deductible and copays (this Plan has a $12,700 annual deductible with copays of $500 for ER and $250 for a hospital stay of any length, but let’s ignore these for this comparison.  On the other hand, let’s say the $50k medical event is a comprised of items that are covered under the Plan.  Also, it should be clear that, even though I’m positing a three-member family, the principles illustrated would apply to a family of any size, from a single person on up).

A Pending Blow for States’ Rights

A group of legislators in Maryland has introduced the “Fourth Amendment Protection Act” in the Maryland state legislature, a bill that would deny state support to Federal agencies engaged in warrantless electronic surveillance.  This bill is aimed directly at the National Security Agency and its warrantless monitoring and tracking of US citizens (secret warrants?  C’mon), and it would block the provision of “material support, participation, or assistance in any form” by any state entity or any entity of a political subdivision of the state, or by companies with state contracts.

Expectation of Privacy

In Klayman v Obama, DC District Federal Judge Richard Leon issued an injunction requiring the government to stop collecting metadata on Americans’ phone calls, ruling the NSA’s program likely unconstitutional.  Leon then stayed his injunction pending appeals.

The Wall Street Journal had some thoughts about Leon’s ruling; as some might expect, I have some thoughts about the WSJ‘s thoughts.

While obtaining the content of phone calls requires a warrant, the High Court ruled that people have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” for information about phone calls such as the date, time and length of their calls and the numbers they dial.  Such transactional data inevitably belong to the service provider, not to individuals….