Month: January 2009

Court: Ballot Measure Donors' Names Not Private

PUBLIC INFORMATION — The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Proposition 8 proponents' complaint that a California campaign-finance disclosure law has led to harassment of same-sex marriage opponents failed today to sway a federal judge, who refused to throw out the law or shield donors' names. Lawyers for Protect Marriage, sponsor of the constitutional amendment that won voter approval Nov. 4, said contributors have already faced consumer boycotts, picketing and even death threats after the state posted their names and other information in mandatory campaign reports.    They argued that the law requiring disclosure of all donors of $100 or more interfered with the campaign's right to participate in the political process and should be struck down, modified to raise the dollar limits, or at least not applied to contributors to the measure outlawing same-sex marriage.*****    But U.S. District Judge Morrison England, after a one-hour hearing in Sacramento, said California's $100 reporting requirement – adopted by the voters in 1974 – is a valid means of informing the public about the financing of ballot measure campaigns.    "If there ever needs to be sunshine on a particular issue, it's a ballot measure," England said, observing that initiatives are often sponsored by committees with misleading...

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Court: No Right to Post Kids' Pix as Sex Focus

FREE SPEECH — CNET News reports that the California Court of Appeal has upheld a court order to a self-described girl lover with no criminal record to cease posting images of young girls on a website, even if the photographs were taken in public places. Concluding that Jack McClellan had no First Amendment right to place the photos as exhibits in his own pedophilic fantasies, the court's January 15 opinion stated in part: Publications, even if true, may constitute an invasion of privacy if they are presented in a lurid or indecent manner. Even if photographs are accurate and taken in public places, there can be a cause of action for invasion of privacy when they are exploitative . . .    For example, in Gill v. Curtis Publishing Co., a happily married couple was photographed in an affectionate pose when they were at their place of business. A magazine used the photograph in an article on different types of love as an example of mere sexual attraction. The California Supreme Court examined the context in which the article was used. The Court held that even though the couple had been in a public place when the photograph was taken, the plaintiffs had stated a cause of action because the use of the photograph could be actionable as an invasion of privacy . . .     McClellan states that his...

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Obama Stance on 'State Secrets' to Be Seen Soon

OPEN GOVERNMENT — The Washington Inependent reports that President Obama’s sweeping reversals of torture and state secret policies are about to face an early test. The test of those commitments will come soon in key court cases involving CIA “black sites” and torture that the Bush administration had quashed by claiming they would reveal state secrets and endanger national security. Legal experts say that the Bush Department of Justice used what’s known as the “state secrets privilege” – created originally as a narrow evidentiary privilege for sensitive national security information — as a broad shield to protect the government from exposure of its own misconduct.    One such case, dealing with the gruesome realities of the CIA’s so-called “extraordinary rendition” program, is scheduled for oral argument before a federal appeals court in early February. The position the Obama administration takes in this case may be the first major test of its new policies on transparency in...

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Judge Seals Search Warrant for Assessor's Home

PUBLIC INFORMATION — The Press-Enterprise in Riverside reports that a  judge may have violated the First Amendment when he sealed a search warrant involving the San Bernardino County assessor without any explanation, an attorney for a free-speech advocacy group said Monday. "You need to provide a reason," said Rachel Matteo-Boehm, an attorney for the California First Amendment Coalition, of which The Press-Enterprise is a member.    On Jan. 14, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Douglas Elwell signed a search warrant authorizing authorities to raid 10 locations, including Assessor Bill Postmus' apartment in Rancho Cucamonga.    Postmus, 37, a former San Bernardino County supervisor, was arrested the next day after investigators said they found suspected methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in his home. He posted bail the same day and no charges have been filed.    In his order to seal the document, Elwell stated only that good cause had been shown. The Press-Enterprise obtained a portion of Elwell's order that included that...

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Comments on Pluses, Minuses of Obama Policies

OPEN GOVERNMENT — Enthusiasm and relief tempered by dry-eyed realism marked the reactions of some experienced observers reacting to President Obama's 'Day One" announcement of pro-transparency policies for the executive branch. Steven Aftergood of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy noted that much of the problem lies outside the Freedom of Informatin Act. Inevitably, several caveats are in order.  A "presumption of disclosure" really only applies to records that are potentially subject to discretionary release, which is a finite subset of secret government information.  Vast realms of information are sequestered behind classification barriers or statutory protections that remain unaffected by the new policy statements.  "In the face of doubt, openness prevails," the President said.  But throughout the government secrecy system, there is not a lot of doubt or soul-searching about the application of secrecy.*****    Unfortunately President Obama's new directives do not yet encompass the needed overhaul of the national security classification system.  That may have to wait another day or two. Investigative journalist Robert Parry welcomed the reversal of the Bush executive order on the Presidential Papers. When authoritarian forces seize control of a government, they typically move first against the public’s access to information, under the theory that a confused populace can be more easily manipulated. They take aim at the radio stations, TV and newspapers.        In the case of George W. Bush in 2001, he also...

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