Obama and Congress just boosted the surveillance state into warp drive

Negotiated in secret and tucked in legislation thousands of pages long, Congress is about to pass an awful surveillance bill under the guise of “cybersecurity” that could open the door to the NSA acquiring much more private information of Americans.

…Congress already passed the “Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act” (CISA) last fall – a surveillance bill in cybersecurity’s clothing. It essentially carved a giant hole in all our privacy laws and gave technology and telecommunications companies a free hand to give all sorts of private information – including our emails – to the government without any court process whatsoever, as long as there was some sort of vague rationale involving “cybersecurity”.

But now the legislation has gotten even worse. Because the House and Senate passed slightly different versions, they had to be combined and voted on one more time – and, in negotiations, the bill’s most fervent supporters decided to strip away the (already really weak) privacy provisions from both the House and Senate versions. These protections, while wholly inadequate, were the only reasons that many members of Congress who would’ve otherwise opposed CISA voted for it.

The latest version of the bill gives even more immunity from privacy lawsuits to companies like Google or Facebook or AT&T when they hand over your private information as long as there’s some vague “cybersecurity” reason – even if they commit gross negligence in handing it over. The bill also makes it much more likely that companies will hand any and all information directly to intelligence agencies like the NSA.

Not that we’ll know anything about what the companies do hand over: the new version also carves out an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act that prevents anyone from requesting data on the type of information requested or the amount that’s being handed over…

So remember this moment the next time we have another mass surveillance scandal that is only exposed – many years from now – through another leak. It’s quite likely it will have started with tech companies “voluntarily” handing over large swaths of private information to the government, on a rolling basis, until it becomes a regular occurrence and morphs into its own domestic spying program. That reckoning may be months or years away, but this legislation has started us down that path.

I added the emphasis above. Frankly, I think Trevor Timm is being too nice. I doubt we’ll have to wait long for the NSA/FBI to throw the switch and ramp up snooping on every American to levels well above anything George W Bush ever did. I’ve been confronting creeps like this for over a half-century. Once in a while our government gets up on their hind legs and forces a cutback on snooping. That lasts as long as anyone in authority keeps an eye on the spies.

You needn’t look over your shoulder or pry open your cellphone to know if Uncle Sugar is there. He is. Encryption, encryption, encryption is our only faint chance at privacy and the bastards are trying their best to take that away, as well.

Global weapons sales continue decline — US still Number One

Global sales of weapons of war declined for a fourth consecutive year in 2014, with sales by the top 100 arms-manufacturing countries amounting to $401 billion, a decrease of 1.5 percent over 2013…

U.S. companies remained the biggest sellers of weaponry, with 54 percent of the world’s arms sales revenue. The top 10 arms sellers are based in the U.S. and Western Europe…

The world’s two biggest weapons manufacturers are U.S. companies: Boeing and Lockheed Martin, at second and first place respectively. Lockheed Martin’s sales increased by 3.9 percent to $37.5 billion in 2014, according to the report…

“With the acquisition of helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in 2015, the gap between Lockheed Martin and other companies ranked in the Top 10 will widen even further next year,” said Aude Fleurant, the director of Arms and Military Expenditure program at SIPRI.

We’re number one! We’re number one!

Flavors in E-cigarettes lead to to lung disease

Artificial flavors added to some electronic cigarettes to give them a fruit- or candy-laced taste contain a chemical that has been linked to a lung ailment when inhaled, according to a study published Tuesday of more than 50 types of e-cigarettes.

Scientists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health tested the contents of 51 different types of e-cigarettes for a chemical called diacetyl, which is commonly found in artificial flavorings in foods and drinks, as well as two other chemically similar flavoring compounds, 2,3-pentanedione and acetoin.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined that diacetyl is safe to eat, it can be extremely harmful when inhaled. In the early 2000s, after several workers at a microwave popcorn factory developed a lung disease, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) ran tests at the factory. They discovered that inhaling the heated diacetyl found in the popcorn’s butter flavoring was linked to a condition called “bronchiolitis obliterans,” an irreversible loss of pulmonary function that can require a lung transplant if severe.

The phenomenon was dubbed “popcorn lung,” and NIOSH and OSHA discovered a strong relationship between inhaled exposure to the chemicals and obstructed airways in further testing. As a result, they set limits for how much of the flavor chemicals workers can be exposed to. The Flavoring and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States, an industry group, released a report in 2012 that warned workers about the potential risks of exposure to the chemicals…

❝“Workers are getting warnings about potential hazards of working with these chemicals, but we’re not seeing these warnings reaching consumers of flavored e-cigarettes,” said Joseph G. Allen, a professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the study…

The authors of the study noted that in a review of the website and packaging for the e-cigarettes they had tested, none had offered any warnings about diacetyl or other flavor chemicals. In fact, they said, two companies stated in their branding literature that their products didn’t contain diacetyl, “yet in our testing we did find diacetyl in their product…”

The e-cigarette industry is not regulated the way tobacco products are. In 2011, the FDA announced its intent to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way tobacco products are regulated; in 2014, it issued a proposed rule to do so.

But as of now, the companies that make e-cigarettes don’t have to follow quality control standards, or even disclose all of the ingredients their products contain.

Yup. I see the FDA is as ready as ever to act quickly and decisively to preserve the health of American consumers.