LOS ANGELES (AP) — A battle over massive systems that use cameras to monitor license plates and track drivers' comings and goings across the country has raised the ire of those who are being rebuffed in their attempts to find out how the information is being used.
The license plate scanning systems have multiplied across the U.S. over the last decade, funded largely by Homeland Security grants. But judges — including one weighing in Friday — have said people don't have the right to know.
In that case, a tech entrepreneur fighting for access to his own files is trying to make the point that people can't find out what kind of information is being collected about them and how it's being used.
"If I'm not being investigated for a crime, there shouldn't be a secret police file on me" that details "where I go, where I shop, where I visit," Michael Robertson, 47, told The Associated Press. "That's crazy, Nazi police-type stuff."
But a San Diego judge Thursday tentatively denied his request. The judge said San Diego's regional planning agency doesn't have to honor the request under California's open records law because the information captured in every scan is part of a law enforcement investigation.
Robertson's attorney said his client, who founded and later sold the MP3.com digital musical service, will appeal if Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal makes her decision final after hearing arguments Friday.
The decision comes less than a month after another state judge denied a request by the ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation for one week of records on all vehicles collected by the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
The systems in use around the U.S. are governed by a patchwork of local laws and regulations that have not standardized how they're used and who has access to the information they collect.
About 7 in 10 law enforcement agencies used license plate scanners in 2012 and an overwhelming majority planned to acquire such systems or expand their use, according to a study by the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy group.
Civil liberties advocates say these files need to be open to public scrutiny to prevent government overreach and unconstitutional privacy invasions.
On the other side are government and law enforcement officials who say they're not misusing the systems and that tracking and storing the data can help with criminal investigations, either to incriminate or exonerate a suspect.
"At some point, you have to trust and believe that the agencies that you utilize for law enforcement are doing what's right and what's best for the community, and they're not targeting your community," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. John Gaw said.
In San Diego's case, records are kept for up to two years, but other agencies keep them five years or more and are limited mainly by server space.
"If that information is deleted or purged too quickly, then we lost that, and we can never go back," said Lt. Karen Stubkjaer of the San Diego Sheriff's Department.
In Robertson's case against the San Diego Association of Governments, he was seeking access to a sweeping system that links the San Diego Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff's Department and eight other law enforcement agencies. The sheriff's department alone has made 9.8 million scans since the system was introduced in 2009, Stubkjaer said.
Robertson has no problem with officials using the technology for legitimate purposes like tracking down stolen cars. But he says license plate readers are ripe for abuse, and there's no reason for long-term storage of data on innocent people.
"I want a strong police force," he said. "But I also want my personal freedom."
Neither ruling set legal precedent, but are part of a growing debate.
"License plate readers are part of a larger conversation," said Chuck Wexler, head of the Police Executive Research Forum. "Technology is changing how the police view crime, and it is raising a number of public policy issues: How long do you hold on to this information? And what part of this information should the public have access to?"
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Sierra Leone confined its 6 million people to their homes Friday for the next three days as the Ebola-ravaged West African country began what was believed to be the most sweeping lockdown against disease since the Middle Ages.
In a desperate effort to bring the outbreak under control, thousands of health care workers began going house to house in crowded urban neighborhoods and remote villages, hoping to find and isolate infected people.
President Ernest Bai Koroma urged his countrymen to cooperate.
"The survival and dignity of each and every Sierra Leonean is at stake," he said Thursday night in an address to the nation.
Health officials said they planned to urge the sick to leave their homes and seek treatment. There was no immediate word on whether people would be forcibly removed, though authorities warned that anyone on the streets during the lockdown without an emergency pass would be subject to arrest.
More than 2,600 people have died in West Africa over the past nine months in the biggest outbreak of the virus ever recorded, with Sierra Leone accounting for more than 560 of those deaths.
Many fear the crisis will grow far worse, in part because sick people afraid of dying at treatment centers are hiding in their homes, potentially infecting others.
However, international experts warned there might not be enough beds for new patients found during the lockdown, which runs through Sunday.
Most people seemed to be taking the order seriously, and there were no immediate reports of resistance.
"It will protect our country from this dangerous virus," said Ishmail Bangura, a Freetown resident. "Many of our people have died — nurses and doctors, too — so if they ask us to stay home for three days, for me it is not bad."
Across West Africa, health care workers have been attacked by villagers who accused them of spreading Ebola. Some citizens have also violently resisted efforts to quarantine them.
As the lockdown took effect, wooden tables lay empty at the capital's usually vibrant markets, and only a dog scrounging for food could be seen on one normally crowded street in Freetown.
Amid the heat and frequent power cuts, many residents sat on their front porches, chatting with neighbors.
Ambulances were on standby to bring any sick people to the hospital for isolation. The health care workers also planned to hand out 1.5 million bars of soap and dispense advice on Ebola.
"We hope and pray that when we talk to people they will take it as counseling," said Rebecca Sesay, a community Ebola education team leader. "That is why we are all out here."
The World Health Organization said it has no record of any previous nationwide shutdown of this scale and suggested it has not happened since the plague devastated Europe during the Middle Ages.
The closest parallel seems to have been a plague scare in India in 1994, when officials closed off a region around the city of Surat, shutting down schools, offices, movie theaters and banks.
UNICEF said the government campaign provides an opportunity to tell people how to protect themselves.
"If people don't have access to the right information, we need to bring lifesaving messages to them, where they live, at their doorsteps," said Roeland Monasch, UNICEF representative in Sierra Leone.
In a statement, the U.N. children's agency said the operation needs to be carried out "in a sensitive and respectful manner."
In the latest case of violence against health care workers, six suspects have been arrested in the killings of eight people in Guinea who were on an Ebola education campaign, the Guinean government said Friday.
The victims were attacked by villagers armed with rocks and knives. The dead included three local journalists.
Associated Press writers Kabba Kargbo in Freetown, Sierra Leone; Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia; Maria Cheng in London; and Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea, contributed to this report.
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Nearly 70 years after they died when their crippled bomber slammed into a northern Italian mountain, the two Americans at the controls of the ill-fated warplane are being honored by residents of a village near the crash site.
The B-25 Mitchell dubbed "Maybe" was damaged during a bombing run near Trento during World War II. Pilot Earl Remmel of Hooker, Oklahoma, and co-pilot Leslie Speer of Jeffersontown, Kentucky, kept the plane steady long enough for the other five crew members to bail out. The plane crashed into a mountain moments later.
"There's no question that Remmel and Speer were heroes," said Silas Barrett of Norfolk, Massachusetts, who was a 19-year-old gunner when he safely parachuted to the ground along with the other crewmen on Feb. 6, 1945. All five were captured by the Italian police and handed over to the Germans.
In the alpine village of Ronzo di Chienis, the two pilots are remembered as heroes for another reason. With their airplane severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire before it could complete its bombing run over a rail yard, Remmel and Speer apparently decided not to jettison their bombs as they flew over the nearby village during a desperate effort to gain altitude so the crew could bail out.
"From reports I've heard from the town, they consider my dad a hero also because it saved the town," said Barbara Nash, Remmel's daughter, who was only 1½ when her father died.
Nash, of Troup, Texas, will be in Ronzo di Chienis on Sunday for the dedication of the memorial to her father and Speer. Her husband, their three daughters, a son-in-law and a granddaughter also are making the trip, which includes a visit to Remmel's grave in the American military cemetery in Florence.
Nash said she's overwhelmed by the tribute the Italians are paying to the two pilots. "It's a great honor," she said.
Also planning on attending are the two daughters of Bronx native Isidore Ifshin, the only other of the five crew members still living. Health problems are keeping the 90-year-old retired postmaster at home in Boca Raton, Florida.
Remmel was on his 70th mission when his plane was shot down, according to Ben Appleby, an organizer of Sunday's memorial ceremony and co-author of a book on the Maybe's last flight. For Ifshin, the plane's engineer and top turret gunner, it was his 60th and final mission.
"I got away with it 60 times. They got me in the end," Ifshin said. "Sooner or later, something's gotta give. That's the way it is."
The ceremony includes the unveiling of a memorial plaque bearing the pilots' names and placing it near the crash site, speeches by local officials, and the opening of an exhibit on the Maybe and the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, which fought the Germans in northern Italy at the end of the war. Organizers said a representative from the U.S. Air Force and soldiers from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Aviano, Italy, also are expected to attend.
The recent spate of high-profile domestic violence cases involving Ray Rice and other NFL players prompted Major League Baseball and the players' union to open talks about the way that sport should deal with such episodes.
Even though their collective bargaining agreement lasts through 2016, representatives of MLB and the MLBPA were scheduled to meet Friday to begin negotiations that could continue for several weeks, or even months, to establish new policies and punishments for domestic violence.
Like baseball, other top professional sports organizations surveyed by The Associated Press — including the NBA, NHL, NASCAR, PGA Tour and ATP — have rules covering inappropriate or criminal behavior away from arenas but do not address domestic violence on its own.
"Creating policies that are clear and consistent, and also provide support services, is what these leagues need to do. I was encouraged by Major League Baseball's (step)," said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence, a national group that works to prevent domestic and sexual violence and child abuse.
Soler said MLB reached out to her organization's San Francisco office this week.
"It's always better to be proactive than reactive, and some of the issues are coming out while we're having this public conversation because of what's happened in the NFL," Soler said. "It's much better to have clear guidelines, both in terms of whether somebody gets arrested and also, more importantly: How do you prevent domestic violence from happening to begin with?"
Attention to the issue rose considerably last week, when videos surfaced showing Ravens running back Rice knocking out his then-fiancee — and now wife — in a casino elevator; originally suspended in July for two games, he was cut by the team and indefinitely barred by the NFL. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted last week on felony child-abuse charges and deactivated by the team, then reinstated, then placed on a special list that allows him to get paid while not playing. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy also went on that list while appealing a domestic violence conviction. Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was deactivated after being arrested on aggravated assault charges. San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald, meanwhile, continues to practice and play while being investigated on suspicion of domestic violence.
"'You can play,' 'you cannot play' — it's so inconsistent," Soler said.
Baseball's CBA includes a voluntary treatment program for certain alcohol-related and off-field violent conduct. It also allows the commissioner or a team to impose discipline, but doesn't say of what sort, if a player is charged with a crime "involving the use of physical force or violence, including but not limited to, sexual assault, domestic violence, resisting arrest, battery, and assault."
"We view today's meeting as an important first step in working with the commissioner's office to address all of the issues connected to domestic violence," MLB Players' Association spokesman Greg Bouris wrote in an email Friday.
In a statement issued by his office this week, Commissioner Bud Selig said: "Domestic violence is one of the one worst forms of societal conduct. We understand the responsibility of baseball to quickly and firmly address off-field conduct by our players, even potentially in situations in which the criminal justice system does not do so."
The NBA's labor contract says a player convicted of a violent felony is subject to a minimum 10-game suspension for a first offense (which, in an 82-game season, is equivalent to a two-game ban in a 16-game NFL season). There is also a process for clinical evaluation and counseling if there is off-court "violent conduct," which includes domestic violence.
The NHL's commissioner can discipline players for actions "detrimental to or against the welfare of the league or the game of hockey" on a case-by-case basis.
Similarly, NASCAR's rule book has a section covering violations and disciplinary action, including penalties that can be determined "by the gravity of the violation and its effect on ... the interests of stock car racing and NASCAR."
In golf, PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said an act of domestic violence "would be treated as conduct unbecoming a professional golfer and would subject the player to our disciplinary process." Because the PGA Tour does not publicly announce when it disciplines players for any reason, it isn't known if any player has been penalized for domestic violence.
In men's tennis, the ATP rule book has a section on "major offenses" covering "aggravated behavior" and "conduct contrary to the integrity of the game," allowing for fines of up to $100,000 and/or suspensions of up to three years for "a player, or related person, charged with a violation of a criminal or civil law of any jurisdiction."
The governing body for college sports, the NCAA, lets individual schools determine domestic violence punishments. In one example from college football this week, West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley faces an indefinite suspension after being arrested and accused of grabbing a woman around the neck and shoving her to the ground at a nightclub.
WASHINGTON (AP) — It's a political rule of thumb that the public often rallies behind the president when the country faces peril from abroad. Sometimes, that can help candidates from his party in the next election.
So far, that doesn't seem to have happened for President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats as he ramps up a U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
Obama warned in a nationally broadcast speech last week that the militants present a menace to Americans in the Middle East and could pose "a growing threat" to the U.S. itself. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel amplified that theme Thursday, telling Congress that the group is capable of dispatching radicalized Americans back to the U.S. for attacks.
Yet with congressional elections less than seven weeks away, there's no sign yet that the confrontation with the militants has improved Obama's drab public approval ratings. Boosting his numbers could give Democrats an important lift as they battle to retain Senate control and limit potential House losses.
"I wish," Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said Thursday when asked if he detected signs of burgeoning support for Obama that might rub off on his own candidacy.
All this can change by Election Day. But Rahall, who faces a tough re-election battle, was among several candidates from both parties who said this week that the fight against the Islamic State militants seldom comes up on the campaign trail.
Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., favored to win his state's open Senate seat, said voters are concerned about the Islamic State and "the lack of a strategy that will effectively deal with this serious threat." But he said he hears more from people talking about a need for jobs and complaining about federal regulations.
If anything, it's Republicans who are starting to use the broader topic of national security as a campaign theme. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP's campaign arm, has started running TV ads against four Democratic candidates in Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota and New York accusing them of being lax on terror.
"Foreign policy is popping up as a bigger issue, and I think it relates to a sense of insecurity people are feeling," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who chairs the committee. "It's part of a bigger narrative that's unfolding about things not working right."
The ads drew criticism from Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who heads the House Democrats' campaign organization and accused the GOP of politicizing the issue.
"Politics used to end at the water's edge," he said in a written statement. "It is repugnant that Republicans would try to exploit this threat to divide Americans at a time when our nation should be united."
Democrats say the battle against the Islamic State militants is too fresh and complicated an issue for Obama to have marshaled public support and improved his image, and for Democratic candidates to have possibly benefited. Only this summer has the group topped the news with its seizure of territory in Syria and Iraq and its atrocities — including beheadings of two American journalists.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said that when Obama delivers a speech on the subject to the United Nations General Assembly next week, "it's going to start sinking in that it's more than just a nighttime speech from the White House, that there's a plan. And I think he will gain respect as a commander in chief leading our nation into a very challenging and difficult situation."
"It's difficult to navigate all the issues and players and permutations," Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said of the churning mix of warring factions in the Middle East. "And I don't think the sense of existential threat is the same" as it was after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Polls show that solid majorities favor U.S. military action against the Islamic State's fighters. But there's no evidence of that improving the public's view of Obama.
In a CBS News-New York Times poll conducted after Obama's Sept. 10 speech on his plan for battling the extremists, majorities said the president isn't tough enough against the militants and lacks a clear plan to counter them. And for the first time, more disapproved than approved of how he's dealing with terrorism. Nearly 6 in 10 disapproved of his handling of foreign policy.
That poll was among six major surveys this month showing that half or more of Americans disapprove of the overall job Obama is doing as president, compared to around 4 in 10 who approve. Those are dismal numbers that could make it harder on congressional Democrats in November.
Back in 2002 — the first election after 9/11 — President George W. Bush had a healthy 59 percent approval from a public jittery over terrorism, in polling by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
That was down from sky-high ratings exceeding 80 percent in the weeks following the terror strikes. Yet it was enough to help the GOP capture Senate control and gain a handful of House seats in the November 2002 voting.
"As a guy who ran in 2002, yeah, it helped," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "Back then, we were putting George Bush in the commercials."
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.
PLACERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Higher humidity Friday helped slow the growth of a massive Northern California wildfire that authorities say was set deliberately and has forced some 2,800 people to evacuate.
The wind-whipped wildfire 60 miles east of Sacramento has burned through nearly 120 square miles of timber and vegetation east of Sacramento and was just 10 percent contained.
Fire officials said Friday it had burned multiple structures in the White Meadow area of Pollock Pines. Crews were assessing the damage and might know later in the day how many structures were affected, fire information officer Mike McMillan said.
Some of the structures are likely homes and probably burned in the past day or two, he said.
The man suspected of starting the blaze, meanwhile, was set to be arraigned later in the day on an arson charge. Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, was jailed in El Dorado County on $10 million bail following his arrest on Wednesday.
The fire grew overnight but not nearly as substantially as it did Thursday, when it more than doubled in size. Higher humidity helped control the fire's growth, though winds could be a factor in the evening, fire officials said.
"Things are looking better as far as the fire activity and our containment," McMillan said.
Still, those near the fire said it was powerful and dangerous. Nearly 4,500 firefighters were battling the blaze, which was threatening 12,000 homes.
"There are a lot of firefighters saying that this fire is producing fire conditions unlike anything that they have ever seen," Cal Fire Battalion Chief Joe Tyler said at a community meeting Thursday night. "It's creating its own weather overhead."
Huntsman faces a forest arson charge, along with a special allegation of arson with aggravating factors because the blaze put a dozen firefighters in serious danger, forcing them to deploy their fire shields. They all escaped unharmed.
District Attorney Vern Pierson declined to say what led to Huntsman's arrest this week in Placerville.
"It's something that's evolving at this point," Pierson said of the investigation. He did not know whether Huntsman had an attorney.
Huntsman's sister, Tami Criswell, said she doubts her brother started the fire but if he did, it wasn't on purpose. Criswell said her brother, who has worked in construction and private security, loves being in the forest and always was cautious with campfires.
"He's a really good guy," Criswell said. "He would never do anything intentionally to hurt anybody."
Yet, Santa Cruz authorities have a $5,000 warrant out for Huntsman stemming from a February 2013 arrest for resisting or obstructing a public officer. Officials said he has missed several court dates.
His arrest record in Santa Cruz dates back to 1996, according to court records. That year he was convicted of tampering with a vehicle, auto theft, driving under the influence, grand theft and assault with a deadly weapon, which resulted in a three-year sentence. He was sent to San Quentin State Prison.
In 2003, he was convicted in Plumas County of receiving stolen property, according to the latest complaint.
The blaze, which started Saturday, has been fueled by heavy timber and grass that is extremely dry because the state is in its third year of drought.
Residents at an evacuation center said they were worried about their homes.
"We've been doing a lot of praying," said Sally Dykstra, who lives in the middle of the fire area with her husband, Garry, 74, and her daughter, Stacie, 46.
Farther north in the town of Weed, 143 homes and nine other buildings were destroyed, according to final damage assessments released Thursday. Residents were expected to be allowed to return to the burned areas once utility crews finished restoring power, water and telephone service.
Thanawala reported from San Francisco. Raquel Maria Dillion in Placerville, Scott Smith in Fresno, Calif., Judith Ausuebel in New York and Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore., contributed to this report.