If you’ve sought treatment at a VA hospital, applied for a government-backed mortgage, or gotten on a plane recently, be warned: The little-known National Counterterrorism Center may be analyzing you. The Wall Street Journal used documents accessed through Freedom of Information Act requests to report on counterterrorism rules that were approved in March that upend the way the government is permitted to dig into the lives of ordinary citizens. Previously, the NCTC could only store info on citizens suspected of terror or somehow tied to a terror case; now, it can copy almost any government database and both store the data for up to five years and scrutinize it in an attempt to pinpoint suspicious patterns—even if the Americans it’s tracking are innocent ones.
A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that federal law didn’t protect text messages and pictures stored on a Texas woman’s personal phone from the preying eyes of her employers, reports The Wall Street Journal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the Stored Communications Act, a federal law aimed at guarding against intrusions on individual privacy, doesn’t apply to data stored on a cell phone. In doing so, the three-judge panel spiked a 2010 lawsuit filed by a former police dispatcher in Laredo, Texas, who was fired after her superiors reviewed text messages and images on her phone that revealed an extramarital affair with a police officer. The phone had been removed from a locker without her permission before finding its way to police and city officials. The former dispatcher, Fannie Garcia, alleged in her lawsuit that city and police officials violated the Stored Communications Act, which prohibits accessing “a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided” without authorization. The lawsuit sought $50 million in damages.
A top Florida lawmaker is demanding that the federal government help “get to the bottom” of dozens of deaths at a now defunct boys’ reform school, CNN reports. ”For the sake of those who died and the family members still living, we’ve got to find out what happened at the school,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said in a letter dated Wednesday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. His demand follows a report this week by state forensic investigators who say they’ve discovered evidence that there are 19 more grave sites than previously thought at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in the Florida panhandle town of Marianna. For years, stories and allegations of beatings, torture and murder have surrounded the century-old school. State authorities have previously said there were 31 burial sites at the school, and a 2009 state investigation found no allegations of wrongdoing in connection with those deaths.
TV viewing could soon sound a little calmer. The CALM Act, which limits the volume of TV commercials, goes into effect on Thursday. CALM stands for Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation. The act is designed to prevent TV commercials from blaring at louder volumes than the program content they accompany. The rules govern broadcasters as well as cable and satellite operators. The rules are meant to protect viewers from excessively loud commercials. The Federal Communications Commission adopted the rules a year ago, but gave the industry a one-year grace period to adopt them. Suspected violations can be reported by the public to the FCC on its website. Suspected violations can be reported at FCC.gov.
Criminal defendants who pose as attorneys and cost their victims more than $1,000 in damages will face felony, rather than misdemeanor, charges under a bill signed into law on Wednesday by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Reuters reports. Previously, impersonating an attorney was treated as a misdemeanor, regardless of the extent of the damage caused to victims. State law already makes it a felony to pose as a member of numerous other licensed professions, including doctors, accountants and social workers. The new law creates a Class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, for those who impersonate attorneys and “causes another person to suffer monetary loss or damages exceeding one thousand dollars or other material damage resulting from impairment of a legal right.” Fraudsters who pose as attorneys often prey upon New York’s immigrant communities, where there is no shortage of potential victims who need to apply for legal documents but find it challenging to navigate governmental red tape without professional assistance.