Tag Archives: STOCK Act

How the Federal Government Has Gone “Animal Farm” on the Right to Privacy

by Whitney Pitcher

animal farm

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, two young pigs–Napoleon and Snowball– take control of the farm when  Old Major, a boar, dies. As part of their “revolution”, the pigs create a series of laws for all the animals of the manor. One of these laws is “all animals are equal”. As the pigs gain more and more control and manipulate their fellow animals even further, the series of laws devolve into a single law–all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. In some ways, this seems to be the law written by our governmental leaders today. Looking at the events of the month of April alone, our government seems to have written an overarching law– “all people deserve privacy, but some people deserve privacy more than others”.

Last Friday, President Obama became the first sitting president to speak at a Planned Parenthood event. In his demagogic speech, the President highlighted the Roe v. Wade decision and its affirmation of a woman’s  “right to privacy”. Later in his speech, he tried to characterize pro-life legislation as wanting to come between a woman and her doctor. However, when it comes to the privacy of gun owners, the President and some members of the Senate of both parties believe that the government could come between a woman or man and her or his doctor when it comes to asking questions about guns in the home. The gun control legislation that was ultimately defeated earlier this month would have made exceptions to HIPPA laws (laws that were made to protect patients’ privacy) allowing for more mental health information to be entered the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  Why is it OK for a woman’s right to privacy to be respected when it comes to abortion, but not when it comes to the second amendment?

When Boston police and federal officials were searching for Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev earlier this month following the horrific bombing at the Boston marathon, they went house-to-house searching for the suspected bomber, as depicted in this video:

As my friend Stacy Drake at Conservatives4Palin wrote in a post last week:

The images of what happened in Boston last Friday should disturb any Constitution-loving American. The very reason the Fourth Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights was to protect Americans from overly broad search and seizures. The Amendment states that authorities must have “probable cause” before searching “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” As in, they or another witness saw the suspect run into a house, or they had good intelligence that suspect was hiding in a specific location. That wasn’t the case and the FBI and police over-stepped their legal boundaries, according to the Fourth Amendment.

She is absolutely right. While, yes, officials were looking for a terror suspect, there were no search warrants issued. There was not “probable cause” that the folks who were led out of their homes at gunpoint were guilty of anything . Meanwhile, as more information has come out about the Tsarnaev brothers, it is unknown whether or not they had taxpayer funded cell phones, These cell phones may have been used to help coordinate and communicate the attack. The reason given? The FCC said that answering such questions would violate privacy laws. Why were the Tsarnaev brothers’ privacy seen as more important than that of other Bostonians? Why was the innocents’ privacy violated while the privacy of the accused was protected?

Additionally, the House passed a cybersecurity bill (CISPA) on April 18th, which would allow the federal government to collect information from corporations without a warrant and essentially nullify whatever privacy policies those companies had in place. Supporters of the bill believe this would help ward off hackers, but its vague language could very easily lead to an abuse of power. The bill is essentially dead in the Senate, but this is not the first time that members of the federal government have tried to usurp the fourth amendment when it comes to the internet, nor will it be the last. Additionally, the bill is rife with potential cronyism. Congress is trying to infringe on constitutional rights to pad their own pocketbooks.

Again, the federal government has a privacy double standard. Earlier this month, with unanimous support from both chambers of Congress and the president, a key portion of the STOCK Act was repealed. This means that legislative and executive staffers do not have to disclose their potential conflicts of interests, such as stock holdings, online. Congress, the President, the Vice president, and candidates would have the option of putting such information online, but it would no longer be mandatory. While Congress is trying to push legislation that could potential make private information available to the government, the government has decreased the amount of information–information that allows constituents to hold their leaders accountable–accessible to the public.

Those who write the laws should not be above the laws, but what should we expect from people who think they are “more equal” than the rest of us?

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Congress Clouds the Already Weak Transparency of the STOCK Act;Updated

by Whitney Pitcher
CapitolBuilding
At the end of last week without even a vote, both the House and the Senate approved a repeal of a portion of the STOCK Act.  The STOCK Act, signed into law last Spring, is a transparency and ethics law aimed primarily at Congress and their staff. The law requires those individuals to disclose their conflicts of interests (such as stock purchases) and  prohibits the use of non-public information for private profit. However, the bill also applies to many higher ranking federal employees as well. With the repeal of the portion of this bill (if signed by the President),  two components of transparency will become opaque, as detailed by the Sunshine Foundation (emphasis added):

The bill enacted last year would require already public financial disclosures of senior congressional and executive branch officials to be put online in order to prevent or root out insider trading. There were concerns that some provisions of the bill were overbroad and would put some government employees at risk. Rather than craft narrow exemptions, or even delay implementation until proper protections could be created, the Senate decided instead to exclude legislative and executive staffers from the online disclosure requirements.  

The sweeping exemption goes even farther than critics of the disclosure requirements requested. For those to whom online disclosure would still apply (the president, vice president, members of Congress, congressional candidates and individuals subject to Senate confirmation) the Senate bill made electronic filing of the information optional and struck the requirement that online information be searchable, sortable and downloadable, making even the disclosures that remain in the bill tepid and relatively unusable.

Even prior to the aforementioned legislation, implementation of the STOCK Act had already been delayed multiple times. Additionally, the bill was not even available for public consumption on the  Library of Congress website until after the measure was approved by Congress. Imagine that–a bill that would repeal transparency passed through Congress in a non-transparent manner.

In today’s data-driven, information age, if such government information is not online, it is essentially useless to the American public. How will constituents be able to hold their leaders and their leaders’ staff accountable if such information in not available online? If such online disclosure is merely optional, there is little motivation for politicians to be voluntarily transparent.

The STOCK Act was the ultimately a hybrid of two bills proposed by Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. When the STOCK Act was being discussed in Congress, Governor Sarah Palin called the bill ” particularly weak” because they did not require Congress to disclose their stock purchase or trades immediately. Governor Palin supported a more stringent bill from Congressman Sean Duffy,which would have required all Congressmen to create blind trusts or disclose stock trades within three days. Duffy’s bill never made it out of committee.

The research and work of Peter Schweizer led to such legislation being seriously considered at all. Legislation banning insider trading never got any traction until Schweizer’s book Throw Them All Out was released in 2011. Schweizer called the passage of the STOCK Act a “victory”, but noted that the bill did not go “nearly far enough to deal with the problems of cronyism and corruption that we face.”

What must Governor Palin and Peter Schweizer think of the non-transparent weakening of an already weak bill?

The STOCK Act only received 5 “nay” votes total between the House and the Senate when it passed in early 2012. Why did a bill that received overwhelming support now engender such an overwhelming response for its weakening? Why didn’t the co-author of the original bill, Senator Gillibrand, call for at least a legitimate vote on the weakening of her bill? Why did Congressman Duffy, who proposed a stronger piece of legislation, not reject such a bill?

It seems that the political forecast in Washington D.C. remains cloudy with little chance of sunlight and transparency.

Updated:President Obama has now signed this bill only further confirming that the “most transparent  administration” is nothing but.

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