STLR Link Roundup – August 15, 2013

California Environmental Laws Do Not Apply To Bullet Train Project

A brief was filed by the California state attorney general’s office in the Third District Court of Appeals arguing that the state’s high-speed rail project is no longer subject to the California Environmental Quality Act after the federal Surface Transportation Board ruled that it has jurisdiction over the project.  The state is asking the court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the San Francisco Bay Area cities of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto seeking to block the bullet train through the Pacheco Pass south of San Francisco on the grounds that it would harm the environment. If the court agrees with the state’s argument, the train would only have to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and any lawsuits would have to be filed in federal court.

Toyota Trial Over Fatal Crash is Underway

The wrongful death case against Toyota in which a woman died after losing control of her Camry in 2009 has begun. The plaintiffs contend that the accident occurred when the automobile suddenly accelerated and crashed despite the woman’s efforts to stop. They argue that the car company should be liable for her death because of Toyota’s failure to incorporate a brake override system. The family’s lawyer explained in his opening statement that the system, which deactivates the accelerator when the driver presses the brakes, was available in some of the automaker’s European vehicles, but Toyota did not install it in its American cars. The defense is arguing that the accident was caused by the driver, stating that the woman had diabetes and the accident resulted from a hypoglycemic episode. The lawyer for the plaintiffs told the jury that he is asking for $20 million in damages.

Obama Administration Sets Up An Intelligence Surveillance Technology Review Body

The Obama administration has decided to create a special committee charged with reviewing America’s high-tech spying programs, launching a formal review of its electronic intelligence gathering that has come under widespread criticism since leaks by ex-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, announced that the group would look for a solution that “optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.” Obama’s other measures include working with Congress to reform Section 215 of the Patriot Act that governs the collection of so-called “metadata” such as phone records, and reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which considers requests from law enforcement authorities on intelligence-gathering targets.

Warrantless Cellphone Tracking Is Upheld

Ruling 2 to 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that government authorities can extract historical location data directly from telecommunications carriers without a search warrant because location data was “clearly a business record” and therefore not protected by the Fourth Amendment. The key basis for the ruling was that the use of cellphones is entirely voluntary and therefore individuals who use them forfeit their right to constitutional protections revealing where they have been used, since the user understands that phones must send signals to cellphone towers. The ruling contrasts with the New Jersey State Supreme Court opinion saying that police require a warrant to track a suspect’s whereabouts in real time. The Supreme Court has not weighed in on whether cellphone location data is protected by the Constitution. Some states have begun to pass laws requiring warrants in order to collect cellphone data.

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