Marijuana advocates worried that President Donald Trump’s administration will crack down on state weed laws used the unofficial holiday celebrating the drug to call for a “joint session” of Congress — pun intended.
The pro-cannabis rights group DCMJ used April 20th — or 4/20 — to organize a free joint giveaway just steps from the Capitol in an effort to encourage Congress to reauthorize an expiring provision preventing the federal government from meddling in medicinal marijuana programs.
Even as approval ratings for legalized marijuana reach new highs, the new administration is pushing for pro-pot policies to go up in smoke.
Marijuana Legalization Has Record-High Support in New Poll
A CBS News poll released Thursday found 61 percent of Americans support legal marijuana use, up five points from one year ago. More than 70 percent of Americans said they do not think the federal government should block marijuana sales in states that have legalized the drug.
Eighty-eight percent of Americans favor medical marijuana, the poll found.
“Its use and possession is against federal law and until the law is changed by the United States Congress, we in DHS, along with the rest of the federal government, are sworn to uphold all the laws that are on the books,” he said.
Many states, however, have legalized some form of marijuana use. And its acceptance has increasingly become a bipartisan issue.
Four members of the House of Representatives, two Democrats and two Republicans, announced the formation of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus in February to help integrate federal and state laws governing weed.
Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a co-founder of the caucus, said in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” on Thursday said he has issued clear warnings to the White House not to impede on what Oregon and other states have done to legalize the drug.
“We’ve pointed out repeatedly in the press and with advocate groups that marijuana got more votes than Donald Trump last November and that the American people are on our side,” Blumenauer wrote.
Support has come from even the opposite side of the political spectrum, like longtime Trump ally Roger Stone. “Don’t let Jeff Sessions’ draconian views on 420 run roughshod over states,” he tweeted to Trump Thursday.
Though recreational marijuana use is legal in the nation’s capital, it is not legal to consume it in public or to possess more than two ounces. And under federal law it is illegal to possess pot. Capitol Police said they arrested seven volunteers with DCMJ on Thursday, four for possession and two for possession with intent to distribute.
More arrests are expected on Monday when another demonstration is planned on the Capitol.
“Possession of cannabis on the Capitol grounds is not legal. Consuming cannabis anywhere in DC outside of a home is not legal either,” organizers warned in a statement announcing the protest. “But sitting quietly while the Trump administration rolls back our freedoms is not something we plan to do. We need to be loud and proud!”
Twitter filed a lawsuit Thursday to block an order from the Department of Homeland Security that seeks to reveal the user of an account who has been critical of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Tweets from the account — @ALT_uscis — indicate that it is run by someone who is an employee of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services division of Homeland Security.
Free speech advocates said the DHS order appeared to be the first time the government has attempted to use its powers to expose an anonymous critic — a development that, if successful, would have a “grave chilling effect on the speech of that account” as well as other accounts critical of the U.S. government, Twitter said.
DHS is “unlawfully abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool” to find out who is behind the @ALT_uscis account, according to Twitter’s court filings.
DHS spokeswoman Jenny Burke declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
The case sets up a potential showdown over free speech between Silicon Valley and Washington, which has tussled over whether tech firms can resist government orders seeking the identity or personal information from criminals and suspected terrorists.
Apple, for instance, declined in early 2016 to unlock the phone of the shooter in San Bernardino, Calif., and has refused to build “back doors” that would enable law enforcement to break into smartphones. The move sparked a pitched battle between the company and the FBI, which eventually paid a private expert to unlock the device.
But the Homeland Security case struck free speech advocates as more remarkable because the information request was about the identity of a government critic, rather than public safety.
“Twitter has a pretty strong argument,” said Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It does look and smell like the government is going after a critic. There’s nothing in the summons that CBP [Customs and Border Protection] sent to Twitter that authorizes this request under the power that they have.”
The @ALT_uscis account, which was created in January, has not held back in firing attacks against the Trump administration.
In a Jan. 26 tweet, the @ALT_uscis account tweeted: “Fact: More than 40% of illegal aliens in the US are Visa overstays from other developed countries not sounding like MEXICO #TheResistance.”
The account has also called attention to mismanagement in agency operations. In a March 12 tweet, it said that “USCIS turns down regularly private companies who propose collaboration to streamline the intake process, reducing costs and processing time.”
The account’s description stresses that its views are “Not the views of DHS or USCIS.” As of the time of the court filing, the account had been active for two months and amassed more than 32,000 followers. By 8:15 p.m., that figure had grown to more than 86,000.
In its court filing with the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, Twitter said that DHS officials delivered an administrative summons to the social-networking site on March 14, via a CBP agent, demanding that the company provide records that would “unmask or likely lead to the unmasking” of the person or people behind the account.
Twitter maintains that CBP does not have jurisdiction to demand such information, which includes “names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and I.P. addresses,” associated with the account.
But its primary objection, the company said, is that allowing the government to unmask Twitter critics violates the Constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech. Twitter has defended its users’ rights to free expression — a position it has held for years, notably during the widespread Arab Spring protests in 2011. That right, the company said, is particularly important when discussing political speech.
“First Amendment interests are at their zenith when, as here, the speech at issue touches on matters of public political life,” the filing said.
Twitter added that it feared the government wants to punish the person or people responsible for the account. The summons, Twitter said, “may reflect the very sort of official retaliation that can result from speech that criticizes government officials and agencies.”
The company also has a lot at stake for its business, which could see a huge hit if anonymous users could suddenly be unmasked by the government. Unlike other social networks, Twitter allows its users to create accounts without publicly revealing their true identity.
This isn’t the first time Twitter has tangled with officials over its users’ personal information.
The company in 2012 appealed an order from the state of New York to reveal the identity of Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris. It lost that appeal. Twitter sued the Justice Department in 2014 for the right to make federal information requests for user data public. And it has lent its support to other companies’ fights against the government, including Apple’s opposition to the FBI order.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the user in the DHS case, expressed concern that the order is an attempt to curb free speech. “To unmask an anonymous speaker online, the government must have a strong justification,” ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler said in a statement. “But in this case the government has given no reason at all, leading to concerns that it is simply trying to stifle dissent.”
ACLU said it plans to make its own filing in the court on behalf of the user in the next few days.
“It’s about the broader right to speak anonymously on the Internet,” said Esha Bhandari, an ACLU staff attorney.
The @ALT_uscis account is one of many “alternative government” accounts that have popped up since Donald Trump’s election. Accounts apparently run by employees (or former employees) of the National Park Service, the National Weather Service, the Labor Department and other agencies have appeared to question the Trump administration’s policies and fact-check its assertions
on a variety of topics.
American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone
byCYNTHIA MCFADDEN, E.D. CAUCHI, WILLIAM M. ARKINandKEVIN MONAHAN
When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords.
“It just felt like a gross violation of our rights,” said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.
Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP.
“One of the officers calls out to me and says, ‘Hey, give me your phone,'” recalled Shibly. “And I said, ‘No, because I already went through this.'”
The officer asked a second time.
Watch Cynthia McFadden on Nightly News for More
Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend’s face turn red as the officer’s chokehold tightened.
Then they asked McCormick for her phone.
“I was not about to get tackled,” she said. She handed it over.
Shibly and McCormick’s experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them.
The travelers came from across the nation, naturalized citizens and people born and raised on American soil. They traveled by plane and by car at different times through different states. Businessmen, couples, senior citizens, and families with young kids, questioned, searched, and detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the U.S. None were on terror watchlists. One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned
What most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim, like Shibly, whose parents are from Syria.
Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.
According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.
“That’s shocking,” said Mary Ellen Callahan, former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. She wrote the rules and restrictions on how CBP should conduct electronic searches back in 2009. “That [increase] was clearly a conscious strategy, that’s not happenstance.”
“This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people,” said Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. “Law abiding Americans are being caught up in this digital dragnet.”
“This is just going to grow and grow and grow,” said Senator Wyden. “There’s tremendous potential for abuse here.”
What CBP agents call “detaining” cellphones didn’t start after Donald Trump’s election. The practice began a decade ago, late in the George W. Bush administration, but was highly focused on specific individuals.
The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks. The searches also reflect new abilities to extract contact lists, travel patterns and other data from phones very quickly.
But the officials caution that rhetoric about a Muslim registry and ban during the presidential campaign also seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully.
“The shackles are off,” said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people’s rights.”
And multiple sources told NBC News that law enforcement and the Intelligence Community are exploiting a loophole to collect intelligence.
Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs at least reasonable suspicion if they want to search people or their possessions within the United States. But not at border crossings, and not at airport terminals.
“The Fourth Amendment, even for U.S. citizens, doesn’t apply at the border,” said Callahan. “That’s under case law that goes back 150 years.”
Customs and Border officers can search travelers without any level of suspicion. They have the legal authority to go through any object crossing the border within 100 miles, including smartphones and laptops. They have the right to take devices away from travelers for five days without providing justification. In the absence of probable cause, however, they have to give the devices back.
CBP also searches people on behalf of other federal law enforcement agencies, sending its findings back to partners in the DEA, FBI, Treasury and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others.
Callahan thinks that CBP’s spike in searches means it is exploiting the loophole “in order to get information they otherwise might hot have been able to.”
On January 31, an engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was pulled into additional screening upon his return to the U.S. after a two-week vacation in Chile. Despite being cleared by the Global Entry program, Sidd Bikkannavar received an “X” on his customs form. He is not Muslim, and he is not from any of the seven countries named in President Trump’s original “travel ban” executive order. Half his family comes from India but he was born and raised in California.
Bikkannavar was brought into a closed room and told to hand over his phone and passcode. He paid particular notice to the form CBP handed him which explained it had the right to copy the contents of the phone, and that the penalty for refusal was “detention.”
“I didn’t know if that meant detention of the phone or me and I didn’t want to find out,” said Bikkannavar. He tried to refuse but the officer repeatedly demanded the PIN. Eventually he acquiesced.
“Once they had that, they had everything,” Bikkannavar said. That access allowed CBP officers to review the backend of his social media accounts, work emails, call and text history, photos and other apps. He had expected security might physically search any travelers for potential weapons but accessing his digital data felt different. “Your whole digital life is on your phone.”
The officers disappeared with his phone and PIN. They returned 30 minutes later and let him go home.Sidd Bikkannavar poses for a portrait in 2014. Takashi Akaishi
CBP also regularly searches people leaving the country.
On February 9, Haisam Elsharkawi was stopped by security while trying to board his flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. He said that six Customs officers told him he was randomly selected. They demanded access to his phone and when he refused, Elsharkawi said they handcuffed him, locked him in the airport’s lower level and asked questions including how he became a citizen. Elsharkawi thought he knew his rights and demanded access to legal counsel.
“They said if I need a lawyer, then I must be guilty of something,” said Elsharkawi, and Egyptian-born Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen. After four hours of questioning in detention, he unlocked his smartphone and, after a search, was eventually released. Elsharkawi said he intends to sue the Department of Homeland Security.
The current policy has not been updated since 2009. Jayson Ahern, who served in CBP under both Bush and Obama, signed off on the current policy. He said the electronic searches are supposed to be based on specific, articulable facts that raise security concerns. They are not meant to be random or routine or applied liberally to border crossers. “That’s reckless and that’s how you would lose the authority, never mind the policy.”
The Customs & Border Patrol policy manual says that electronic devices fall under the same extended search doctrine that allows them to scan bags in the typical security line.
“As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP,” a spokesperson told NBC News.
Since the policy was written in 2009, legal advocates argue, several court cases have set new precedents that could make some CBP electronic searches illegal.
Several former DHS officials pointed to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Riley v California that determined law enforcement needed a warrant to search electronic devices when a person is being arrested. The court ruled unanimously, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.
“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,'” wrote Roberts. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”
Because that case happened outside of the border context, however, CBP lawyers have repeatedly asserted in court that the ruling does not apply to border searches.
For now a Department of Justice internal bulletin has instructed that, unless border officers have a search warrant, they need to take protective measures to limit intrusions, and make sure their searches do not access travelers’ digital cloud data. The ‘cloud’ is all content not directly stored on a device, which includes anything requiring internet to access, like email and social media.
Former DHS officials who helped design and implement the search policy said they agreed with that guidance.
Wyden Pushes to Change the Policy
On February 20, Sen. Wyden wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly demanding details on electronic search-practices used on U.S. citizens, and referred to the extent of electronic searches as government “overreach”. As of publication, he had yet to receive an answer.
Now Sen. Wyden says that as early as next week he plans to propose a bill that would require CBP to at least obtain a warrant to search electronics of U.S. citizens, and explicitly prevent officers from demanding passwords.
“The old rules … seem to be on the way to being tossed in the garbage can,” said Senator Wyden. “I think it is time to update the law.”
Asked about the Shibly case, a CBP spokesperson declined to comment, but said the Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating. The spokesperson said the agency can’t comment on open investigations or particular travelers, but that it “firmly denies any accusations of racially profiling travelers based on nationality, race, sex, religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs.”
Explaining the sharp increase in electronic searches, a department spokesperson told NBC News: “CBP has adapted and adjusted to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence.” A spokesman also noted that searches of citizens leaving the U.S. protect against the theft of American industrial and national security secrets.
After repeated communications, the Department of Homeland Security never responded to NBC News’ requests for comments. Nonetheless, the Homeland Security Inspector General is currently auditing CBP’s electronic search practices.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also has filed two dozen complaints against CBP this year for issues profiling Muslim Americans. CAIR and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are considering legal action against the government for what they consider to be unconstitutional searches at the border.
A sweeping set of memos released Tuesday make clear that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States are at risk of deportation.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly unveiled a set of memos directed at each of the department’s agencies which instruct agents to detain and deport every undocumented immigrant they come across, with few exceptions.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement “will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement,” notes a DHS fact sheet. “All of those present in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
The memos are essentially instruction manuals for the sweeping executive orders issued by President Trump in late January. The orders themselves call for the hiring of more immigration enforcement officials, empowering local officers to act as immigration enforcement and expediting the deportation of the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
An early draft of the memos reported by the Associated Press called for the mobilization of up to 100,000 National Guard troops for immigration enforcement, though that was not included in these memos.
But the memos do make clear that the Department considers any and every undocumented immigrant that crosses paths with enforcement officials to be eligible for removal, a vast shift from Obama Administration policy, which prioritized the removal of criminals and threats to national security. Homeland Security will also expand the list of immigrants who are subject to speedy removal from the U.S. when caught crossing the border illegally. The memos also allow agents to send people who cross from Mexico and Canada back to either nation, regardless of their home country.
While the Trump Administration has made clear it will be tough on immigrants caught in the U.S., it has yet to take action against the class of migrants known as “dreamers” or those who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. The memos do not apply to children who received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, under the Obama Administration.
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