civil liberties

Apr 182013

Eric SwalwelFor the last few months, Congressman Eric Swalwell has been working hard at painting himself as a progressive (or, at least, as not the Blue Dog Democrat he is said to be at heart). He has advocated in favor of gun control, co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Act, joined the Pro-Choice Caucus and even told constituents that the only thing that kept him from joining the Progressive Caucus were the caucus fees (which, it turns out, are both modest and voluntary).

But his flirtation with the progressive wing of the party seems to have ended. He celebrated his 100 days in office today by being the sole member of the Bay Area Congressional delegation (unless you count Napa Congressman Mike Thompson, himself a Blue Dog) to cast a vote in favor of CISPA. This so-called cybersecurity law will do little to secure computer systems, but it will provide even ampler powers both to the government and to private entities to monitor and share information about the private activities of regular citizens in the internet. The privacy holes are so egregious that even President Obama, who whole-heartedly supported the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, has threatened to veto it.

Politically, this move doesn’t make too much sense. His Republican and independent supporters in the Tri-Valley tend to display a libertarian streak and this vote is unlikely to please them. However, it may bring him a check or two and it should reassure his cronies in law enforcement that he won’t be an advocate for civil liberties any time soon.

The move, however, does provide an opening for his 2014 challenger, State Senator Ellen Corbett to publicly reassert her own commitment to due process and civil liberties. It’s also a silent “told you so” to anyone in the local party (me included) who might have thought Swalwell could be redeemable. If nothing else, this vote makes Corbett’s case that Swalwell needs to be taken out sooner rather than later.

Mar 112013


Last Saturday, delegates to the California Democrats Convention from Region 5 (encompassing most of Alameda County, as well as western Contra Costa and northeastern Santa Clara counties) had a pre-convention meeting.  At the meeting, I introduced a resolution to have the California Democratic Party  urge Congress and the California Legislature to pass legislation requiring police to obtain a warrant before using drones for law enforcement purposes.  The resolution (see below for the text) was overwhelmingly approved by the delegates present at the meeting.  It now goes up to the state party’s Resolutions Committee for consideration – along with potentially hundreds of other resolutions passed by county committees, charted organizations and regional meetings or signed by multiple delegates throughout California.

The Resolutions Committee will bring a handful of the resolutions submitted to the floor at the Democratic Convention in April, where delegates to the Convention will vote on them (often by a voice vote, which gives those with louder, deeper voices and advantage!).  But if it passes, it will be a clear message to Democrats both in Sacramento and in Washington that people are concerned about the invasion of privacy that drones represent.

If the Resolutions Committee doesn’t bring this resolution to the floor, then we will need the signatures of 300 delegates present in Sacramento to bring it to the floor ourselves.  If you will be a delegate to the convention and want this resolution passed, please contact me so that I can get your signature if need be.   Please let other delegates to the convention know about this resolution as well!

Restricting the use of drones in law enforcement has become a particularly urgent matter for residents of Alameda County, as the county Sheriff is planning to acquire them and does not accept any privacy restrictions as to how to utilize them.  Absent a state law, law enforcement could use drones to monitor demonstrations, peek into people’s windows or take infrared pictures of homes through walls – among even more nefarious things.

Sadly, it’s been the libertarian branch of the Republican Party that has been most concerned about the unconstitutional use of drones.  But Democratic leaders are starting to see the dangers of this technology.  Earlier this year, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Silicon Valley) introduced legislation that would require warrants for the use of drones in law enforcement while state Senator Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley) introduced a spot bill to provide some state regulation on the use of drones.

Unfortunately, not all efforts to regulate drones are in good faith.  In Arizona, Republican lawmakers introduced legislation to both promote Arizona as a test-ground for drones and to require police to get warrants before using the drones, but almost immediately gutted the privacy aspects of the bill.   Assembly members  Jeff Gorell (R-Thousand Oaks) and Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles) may have a similar plan for California.  They’ve co-sponsored one bill that would provide financial incentives to drone-building companies locate in California and another that would place privacy limits in the use of drones both by public and private actors.   Both assemblymembers have taken contributions from drone manufacturers and Gorell is a former District Attorney and Navy Intelligence officer, so it seems unlikely they are actually concerned about the misuse of drones.

Find more information on drones at the websites of the ACLU and Alameda County Against Drones

Resolution Restricting Use of Drones for Domestic Surveillance

WHEREAS the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directs the FAA to create regulations that will enable drones to fly throughout U.S. airspace by September 2015 and small drones, 25 pounds or under, are now permitted to fly in general airspace below 400 feet for the use of police and first responders, with FAA permission; and

WHEREAS drones can be used for surveillance of individuals or groups in public spaces and in their homes, and police departments throughout the country have begun implementing drone technology; and

WHEREAS the California Constitution explicitly guarantees the right to privacy and the California and United States Constitutions guarantee the right to be free from unreasonable searches, and the rapid implementation of drone technology throughout the United States poses a potential threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people, including California residents;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the California Democratic Party calls on the United States Congress and the Legislature of California to adopt legislation restricting the use of drones for law enforcement purposes without a warrant.

CA previous version of this posting featured the resolution I originally proposed, before it was amended and voted upon by Region 5. This has now been corrected to show the resolution that was passed by Region 5 and submitted to the State Convention. I apologize for the error.

Margarita Lacabe, the author of San Leandro Talk, is a human rights activist, a member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee and a delegate to the California Democrats Convention.

Mar 052012

Just a quick note to let you know that I am now an official candidate for the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee.  I’ve served one term there and I’d like to serve another.  If you are a dem, I’d love you to vote for me in June.

I see my role in the Committee as being the voice for civil liberties and accountability.  While Democrats are quite committed to labor issues, education and social justice, there seems to be a reluctance to push for civil liberties head on.  Part of the problem, I think, is that the people who run for the Committee usually come from unions or grassroot organizing.  A larger part, however, is the current political situation.

Our Democratic President may very well have the worst record on human rights of any administration in the history of this country.  As a human rights activist, I find this outrageous.   Obama has ordered the assassination of American citizens  and their indefinite detention and torture.  He has kept Guantanamo open, widened spying on American citizens and tried to silence whistle blowers.  Unfortunately, the list of his repressive policies could go on and on.

And yet, the Republican party is pushing so hard to destroy the social covenant, our right to privacy and freedom of religion and our economic welfare, that the possibility of one of their presidential candidates winning the election is terrifying.  For that reason, the Democratic establishment is very wary of criticizing Obama’s actions or questioning his agenda (at least in non-economic or labor issues).

As a member of a local Committee my reach is, of course, very limited – but I think my voice is still necessary, specially now.

I understand that these positions will lose me as many votes as they may win them (one of my neighbors refused to sign my nomination papers because of  of my criticism of Obama) – but I do believe in democracy, and that means being as open and honest with the electorate as possible so that you can make an educated choice of who will represent you best.  I hope I will.

I’m running for the 18th Assembly district, which includes San Leandro, the city of Alameda and most of Oakland (except for the hills).  You get to vote for six candidates, so far there are ten candidates on the ballot though more may file before the March 9th deadline.

My husband, Mike Katz-Lacabe, who is more moderate than I is also running and I will ask you to vote for him.  Ditto for Robin Torello, who chairs the party in Alameda County.  She is truly indispensable for the smooth running of the Committee and we’d be lost without her.