Federal civil rights official calls Houston pastor subpoenas ‘abuse of government power’ – By Valerie Richardson – The Washington Times – Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Houston Mayor Annise Parker. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Houston Mayor Annise Parker. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

A member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in a letter Wednesday called Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s subpoena of church pastors “an abuse of government power” and urged the mayor to withdraw the court documents.

Commissioner Peter Kirsanow said that the subpoenas, even after being amended to remove a request for church sermons, still appear to be “a blatant attempt to punish these pastors for expressing their religiously based political views.”

“It punishes them by subjecting them to the stress of a subpoena (though they are not parties to the litigation), impairing their right to petition the government, forcing them to comply with a patently overbroad discovery request, and singling them out for opprobrium — thus chilling future religiously informed speech,” said Mr. Kirsanow, writing on behalf of himself and not the commission.

SEE ALSO: Ted Cruz, Houston pastors rally as sermon subpoena outcry intensifies

The subpoenas were issued after the city was sued in August for ruling that a pastor-led coalition had failed to gather enough signatures to place a referendum on an opposite-sex “bathroom” ordinance on the ballot. As a result, said Mr. Kirsanow, “the validity of the signatures is the only legitimate issue.”

The commissioner’s letter came as local and national religious leaders announced Wednesday an event in support of the five Houston pastors who were served with subpoenas, called I Stand Sunday.

The gathering, scheduled for Nov. 2 at Grace Community Church in Houston and available on webcast for other venues, is billed as a rally on behalf of the pastors and “the freedom to live out our faith free of government intrusion or monitoring.”

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Chris Christie pushes back hard – By KATIE GLUECK | 2/3/14 7:38 PM EST Updated: 2/3/14 9:47 PM EST

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks. | AP Photo

Christie sticks to his timeline during a Monday radio interview. | AP Photo

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie acknowledged Monday that his office received a subpoena from the U.S. attorney, even as he pushed back at new allegations concerning his involvement in the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal.

When asked whether his office had directly received such an order, he replied, “Yes.”

“They did that, and I understand why they did it,” he said of the subpoena. “We had already communicated to them that we’d cooperate voluntarily. They decided to send a subpoena, and that’s fine. We are complying with that in the same way we are complying with legislative subpoenas.”

(PHOTOS: Who’s who in the Chris Christie bridge scandal?)

The remarks came during an “Ask the Governor” radio segment on New Jersey 101.5 FM. He didn’t provide a subpoena due date, but said his office would provide the needed documents, as they are doing for other ongoing investigations tied to the allegedly politically motivated lane closures at the center of the “Bridgegate” scandal.

He stressed several times that while he may have heard bits and pieces about the traffic problems last fall, they didn’t initially trigger alarm bells — and said that when it did register, he told his staff to explore the issue.

“There’s traffic every day,” he said, adding, “That’s not something that rises to the gubernatorial level.”

As Christie spoke, New Jersey newspapers reported that a top former aide to the governor, who was fired in the wake of the scandal, wouldn’t offer documents in response to a legislative subpoena.

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Thanks to an outdated law, anything stored online for more than 180 days doesn’t get the protections of the Fourth Amendment. Congress has the chance to fix the problem, but will it?

Why Congress Should Pass the ECPA Amendment Act
by Ben Jacobs Jul 30, 2013 3:06 PM EDT

Is Congress about to pass the first significant privacy-protection legislation since 9/11?

Right now if you store any information in “the cloud” for longer than 180 days, the government does not need a warrant to search it, only a subpoena, which does not require judicial approval. This means all those emails in your inbox from last year, the Google Docs that you’ve been working on for a while, and everything you have saved in your Dropbox are essentially not covered by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

How this is possible? It’s because when the law governing this, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), was written in 1986, five years before Tim Berners-Lee had even invented the Internet, and has not been updated since. It was written at a time when no one ever conceived that email or data would be stored online; after all you had to connect via a dial-up modem to get information displayed in one of 16 colors available on your computer monitor. If information was left online for an extended period, it had likely been forgotten or abandoned. But today, the ECPA allows that, in theory, law enforcement need not go through a judge in order to go through your inbox.

The disconnect between statute books and modern life has led to a bipartisan push to update the law. The ECPA Amendment Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT), would extend the warrant requirement to communications stored online for more than 180 days. The bill is not perceived to be terribly controversial—after all, as one Senate aide points out, it is not intended to radically change the law, but simply to restore the balance that Congress originally intended when it passed ECPA in 1986.

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