Monday, February 29, 2016

National Commission on Security and Technology Challenges bill introduced in Congress to “address the growing national security threat of ‘going dark’”

Press staffers at the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Commission today released the following press release:

McCaul, Warner Lead Bipartisan Coalition to Establish National Commission on Digital Security
Brings together tech, intel, law enforcement, global commerce and privacy experts
to make recommendations to protect privacy and public safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a show of bipartisanship and bicameral cooperation to address the growing national security threat of “going dark,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the National Commission on Security and Technology Challenges. The legislation establishes the McCaul-Warner Commission on Digital Security, which was first announced in an Op-Ed published in The Washington Post on December 28, 2015.

The purpose of this Commission is to collectively address the larger issue of protecting national security and digital security, without letting encrypted communications become a safe haven for terrorists.

This Commission brings together the most capable experts and stakeholders from law enforcement, the technology industry, the intelligence community, and privacy and civil liberties communities to discuss the challenges and advise policy makers on this complex issue. The Commission will provide recommendations on the best path forward for the security of our nation and the public safety of Americans.

Over the past year, the Homeland Security Committee has met with more than 70 stakeholders to closely examine how to protect digital and national security, while at the same time not allow open, and undetected encrypted pathways for terrorists to plot and carry out devastating attacks.

Chairman Michael McCaul:  “The challenge of protecting national security and digital security simultaneously is complex. The ongoing Apple vs. FBI dispute is only a symptom of a much larger problem. But we are almost certain to see this scenario repeated unless the larger issue is addressed. Law enforcement clearly needs the ability to gain lawful access to information that can stop future attacks. I am proud to partner with Senator Warner on this initiative and I urge our colleagues in both chambers to quickly establish this Commission so we may effectively address this challenge for law enforcement now and in the future.”

Senator Mark Warner:  “As someone who spent nearly two decades in the tech industry, I recognize that there are no easy or simple solutions to the challenges posed by the growing use of secure technologies. The same tools that allow terrorists and criminals to evade detection by American intelligence and law enforcement are also used each day by Americans who rely upon secure technologies to safely shop online, communicate with friends and family, and run their businesses.”

Warner continued: “I believe that we can strike an appropriate balance that protects Americans' privacy, American security, and American competitiveness, but we won't achieve that while all sides continue to talk past each other. What we don’t want is a solution that could simply drive terrorists to use software and hardware based overseas, pushing their communications even farther out of reach for American law enforcement and intelligence. Chairman McCaul has been a solid partner in this initiative, and I appreciate the support for this proposal from colleagues in both parties and on both sides of Capitol Hill.”  

The McCaul-Warner Commission on Digital Security was introduced on Monday, February 29, 2016 with the following original cosponsors:
Jim Langevin (D-RI-02);  Pat Meehan (R-PA-07);  Suzan Delbene (D-WA-01);  Mike Bishop (R-MI-08);  Ted Lieu (D-CA-33);  Will Hurd (R-TX-23);  Kathleen Rice (D-NY-04);  Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27);  Eric Swalwell (D-CA-15);  Dan Donovan (R-NY-11);  Jerry McNerney (D-CA-09);  Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10);  Mimi Walters (R-CA-45);  Ryan Costello (R-PA-06); Dave Reichert (R-WA-08).

The McCaul-Warner Commission on Digital Security has been endorsed by major media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, tech companies and trade association, and privacy advocates.

For more information on the McCaul-Warner Commission, please view the one-pager and section-by-section

Friday, February 19, 2016

Senator McGuire’s “Marijuana Value Tax Act” is referred to Governance and Finance Committee, could be considered on March 13th

SB 987,the “Marijuana Value Tax Act,” which would impose a 15% excise tax on retail sales of medical cannabis in California, has been referred to the California State Senate’s Governance and Finance Committee.  

The bill’s author, California State Senator Mike McGuire, is also the author of last year’s SB 643, the “Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act,” (MMRSA) which established a state-wide system of licensure of the component elements of the medical cannabis value and supply chains.  It is expected that the model set forth in the MMRSA will provide the basis for future regulation of recreational cannabis in the state, at such time as that occurs.

March 12th will be the bill’s 31st day in print.  The bill can be considered by the committee on or after that date.  According to the committee's web site,  it "meets every Wednesday of the month, at 9:30 A.M. in Room 112."  So the earliest the bill could be considered would be March 13th, which is a Wednesday.

The Senate Governance and Finance Committee is chaired by the ebullient former Speaker of the California Assembly Robert “Bob” Hertzberg, who now represents the 18th Senatorial District, in the San Fernando Valley in the City of Los Angeles.

The Vice Chair is Senator Janet Nguyen.  

Other members of the committee are:

Since the bill imposes a tax, it will require a two-thirds vote to pass each house of the legislature.  It is, however, categorized on its "Status" page in the state legislative database as a "Non-Tax Levy" bill.  Since it seems to levy a tax, further Etopia News investigation will next focus on the reason for this seeming anomaly.

Cannabis defense attorney Bruce Margolin opposes SB 987

A new state-wide excise tax on the retail sale of medical cannabis will be imposed under the terms of SB 987 ("Marijuana Value Tax Act"), now pending in Sacramento, authored by California State Senator Mike McGuire, who represents the North Coast in the California State Senate.  Senator McGuire is also the author of SB 643, the "Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act," (MMRSA) which establishes a state-wide program for licensing participants in the medical cannabis supply chain.  The MMRSA was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 9, 2015, and went into effect on January 1, 2016.    

Noted California cannabis defense attorney Bruce Margolin told Etopia News today that levying a 15% excise tax on retail sales of medical cannabis “would put a burden on patients and shows prejudice and bias against medical cannabis users.”  

 Margolin said that trying to implement this additional tax is a sign of “prejudice that doesn’t recognize the rights of patients.”

On a related matter, he also said he expects that the Sean Parker Initiative, which legalizes, within limits, recreational cannabis in California, would qualify for the November, 2016, ballot.  He also said he expects it to be the only cannabis-legalizing initiative to make it to the ballot this fall.  He said it will “probably pass.”

Although this long-time advocate of cannabis legalization finds the limits set by the Parker Initiative to be unduly restrictive, he thinks that passing legislation that finally legalizes cannabis will help “take away the stigma” associated with the drug.  He contends that this stigma derives at least in part from anti-black and anti-Latino prejudice, and continues to be responsible for such things as this effort to impose an additional tax on medical cannabis patients.

You can read the views of California NORML on SB 987 here.

You can watch Senator McGuire preside over the Southern Humboldt County Community Forum on Medical Marijuana on January 29, 2015, here.  Senator McGuire represents California's North Coast, which includes Humboldt County, in the state senate.  His second senatorial district includes most of the "Emerald Triangle," (Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties), which is, according to Wikipedia, "the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States and the world." 

For more about opposition to SB 987, in an article entitled "Marijuana Advocates Battle Huge Pot Tax Increase," in the LA Weekly by Dennis Romero, click here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

California Assemblymember Jim Cooper is appalled by Apple’s refusal to make iPhone data available to law enforcement

In the wake of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s refusal to comply with a government order to find a way to allow the FBI to use a “brute force” attack on a terrorist’s iPhone without erasing all its data, California Assemblymember Jim Cooper, author of AB 1681, which would prohibit the sale of smartphones with unbreakable encryption, today issued  this statement:

“Like many Californians, I am appalled that after two months and a federal court order the manufacturer of a phone used in a terrorist attack is unwilling to help law enforcement access crucial evidence. 

“I introduced AB 1681 precisely to help law enforcement continue to protect the public. My bill preserves the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and ensures that a time tested, judicial process of obtaining a probable cause search warrant, remains intact.

“As a retired law enforcement officer with 30 years of experience and as the former Commander of the Sacramento Valley High-Tech Crimes Task Force, I have worked tirelessly to protect the public and our children from sexual exploitation. We cannot sit idly by while pimps and pedophiles are exploiting our children by intentionally using unbreakable encrypted phones to shield their illegal activities from law enforcement. We have a responsibility to keep our children safe and to combat human trafficking.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

One party heard from on the question of explicit permission for the genetic modification of donated embryos

The question posed earlier by both the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority HFEA) of the U.K. about the proper procedure for getting informed consent in cases of embryos being donated for research that will involve their genetic modification, in particular, through the use of the CRISPR/Cas9 technique, has received one answer today.

Amander Clark, an embryologist who is a Professor of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Principal Investigator at the eponymous Clark Lab ("Discovery Lab for Reproductive and Child Health") at UCLA, told Etopia News that in the consent process, the donor should know exactly what kind of research is going to be done on the embryo and that such research shouldn’t be done without the donor’s explicit consent to the procedure.

She said that the consent form needn’t specify “CRISPR/Cas9.”  It would be sufficient to simply say that the embryos would be “genetically modified.”

This would mean that previously-donated embryos whose donors had not explicitly given permission for these embryos to be genetically modified couldn't be used in any procedures that involved CRISPR/Cas9-mediated changes to their DNA.

She also said that a scenario in which CRISPR/Cas9 editing was done on an embryo in the earliest stages of its development in order to genetically program the stem cells that could be harvested once the embryo reaches the blastocyst stage was feasible.

On the subject of using CRISPR/Cas9 to create a “designer human,” Clark said, “Nobody wants to make a baby.  We don’t know how to do it.”