Amidst all the justified outrage over the apparent targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups by the IRS, not to mention the Associated Press phone tapping brouhaha, an important point is being lost: this is nothing new. The Tea Partiers may be shocked – shocked! – that the Big Government they have spent the last few years complaining about really is a threat to our liberties, but the government targeting certain political groups wholly on account of their views is hardly breaking news. …
The Tea Partiers’ problem is that their protests come far too late – because the legal and political precedents targeting dissident groups were established long ago, with the full complicity and even enthusiastic support of most of those who call themselves “conservatives” these days. The“Patriot” Act – passed with conservative support – gives the government the “right” to not only spy on such groups, it also gives them the means to spy on anyone, for any reason, as well as the prosecutorial “tools” to put them away forever. Law enforcement agencies have set up “fusion centers” in order to collect information on American citizens who might be considered a “threat.” A recent report on “right-wing extremism” issued by the Department of Homeland Security” listed groups local law enforcement should keep tabs on, including members of the Libertarian and Constitution parties, as well as Ron Paul supporters. Efforts by the FBI and local police to infiltrate and set up members of the “Occupy” movement have been widespread. …
This is the way our civil liberties are continually eroded, with virtually no pushback when the government singles out, demonizes, and tries to destroy a targeted group. When the government went after David Koresh and his followers at Waco, liberals were either silent or else actively cheerleading the slaughter. When the headquarters of MOVE, a Philadelphia black nationalist group, was bombed, and the entire neighborhood decimated, not a peep of protest was heard on the right. When the Tea Partiers complain about being targeted, and Rand Paul launches a filibuster conjuring up images of Americans being targeted by drones on American soil, liberals and their media megaphones descry the “black helicopters crowd” and talk about the “paranoia” of the “far right.” When it’s the liberals and the left warning about the dangers of an encroaching police state in the age of terrorism, conservatives start ranting about how “terrorist-loving” liberals and the ACLU are out to destroy America.
While right and left go at each other, the machinery of repression is being readied. The most recent – and chilling – example: a recent Pentagon-initiated change to the US Code would give military commanders powers equal to the President in wartime. As the revised language of the Code puts it:
“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”
When is it “impossible” for the President to duly authorize military action? This is never defined. What is “temporary”? This, too, goes undefined. And what about the Insurrection and Posse Comitatus Acts which limit and regulate the manner in which the military may intervene in domestic affairs? The revised regulations eviscerate both acts, and throw the door wide open to rule by the military in an ill-defined “emergency.” And hardly anybody notices!
That’s the state of civil liberties in the US these days: the government is spying on reporters, IRS agents are harassing political activists, FBI agents are raiding antiwar organizations, and the Pentagon is busy getting the legal machinery up and running in the event they feel the need to impose martial law. The reason they can get away with this, politically, is because the right doesn’t care if the government comes down hard on the left, while the left openly agitates for the instruments of repression to be used against the right. There is no sense that we’re all in this together: that if the government can move against the Tea Partiers, then the antiwar activists are next. It’s all about whose ox is being gored – not whether our liberties are endangered by a regime emboldened by unaccountable power.
[I]t is remarkable how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as “cruel and inhuman”.
But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration’s true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as “regular Americans”. Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman - once the most vocal defender of Bush’s vast warrantless eavesdropping programs - suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.
Leave to the side how morally grotesque it is to oppose rights assaults only when they affect you. The pragmatic point is that it is vital to oppose such assaults in the first instance no matter who is targeted because such assaults, when unopposed, become institutionalized. Once that happens, they are impossible to stop when - as inevitably occurs - they expand beyond the group originally targeted. We should have been seeing this type of media outrage over the last four years as the Obama administration targeted non-media groups with these kinds of abuses (to say nothing of the conduct of the Bush administration before that). It shouldn’t take an attack on media outlets for them to start caring this much.
New documents from the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ offices paint a troubling picture of the government’s email surveillance practices. Not only does the FBI claim it can read emails and other electronic communications without a warrant—even after a federal appeals court ruled that doing so violates the Fourth Amendment—but the documents strongly suggest that different U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country are applying conflicting standards to access communications content (you can see the documents here).
The city of Watertown, Mass., has been effectively shut down as a manhunt is underway for the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. …
“Residents of Watertown asked to stay indoors,” the Boston Police Department tweeted. “Do not answer door unless instructed by a police officer.”
Public transportation has been suspended and authorities told people at closed stops and stations to go home. No vehicle traffic is allowed in Watertown. A no-fly zone is in place over the city.
“We are asking you to stay home, stay indoors,” police said at a news conference this morning. “We are asking businesses not to open. We are asking people not to congregate outside. We’re asking people not to go to mass transit.”
We saw the same police state tactics during the Christopher Dorner manhunt a few months ago. Any excuse to expand government power is always taken… if the public allows it.
Here, many in the Boston area - the birthplace of a revolution against a leviathan state that levied taxes and whose military entered homes at will - seem to welcome the police state tactics that leave them cowering in their homes. Others around the country who foolishly view government as our servant protectors also come to the same erroneous conclusion.
But as Ricardo notes, who should engender more fear: a lone, disorganized “kid suspected of being armed with a homemade pipe bomb, or thousands upon thousands of thugs armed with military weapons and tanks, patrolling the streets, rounding people up, breaking into homes, and ready to shoot anything that moves”? After all, that latter entity is responsible for far more deaths, bombings, and injustice than the deranged individuals who killed innocents at the Boston Marathon.
The area is shut down to hunt for one man. Homes are searched and people are harassed for one man. Rights are “suspended” for one man.
But worse of all, other government thugs around the country will learn that people will accept martial law and militarized totalitarian tactics under the right pretense. As such, depending on how the public ultimately reacts to the state’s predictable over-reaction, Watertown will not be the last place we see American streets populated with armored vehicles and men in black wielding those scary rifles (fully automatic and with high-capacity magazines, no less) that statists usually find so abhorrent.
Just four or five years ago, objections to warrantless eavesdropping were a prime grievance of Democrats against Bush. The controversies that arose from it were protracted, intense, and often ugly. Progressives loved to depict themselves as stalwartly opposing right-wing radicalism in defense of Our Values and the Constitution. Fast forward to 2012 and all of that, literally, has changed. Now it’s a Democratic President demanding reform-free renewal of his warrantless eavesdropping powers. He joins with the Republican Party to codify them. A beloved Democratic Senator from a solidly blue state leads the fear-mongering campaign and Terrorist-enabling slurs against anyone who opposes it. And it now all happens with virtually no media attention or controversy because the two parties collaborate so harmoniously to make it happen. And thus does a core guarantee of the founding - the search warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment - blissfully disappear into nothingness.
Just four or five years ago, objections to warrantless eavesdropping were a prime grievance of Democrats against Bush. The controversies that arose from it were protracted, intense, and often ugly. Progressives loved to depict themselves as stalwartly opposing right-wing radicalism in defense of Our Values and the Constitution.
Fast forward to 2012 and all of that, literally, has changed. Now it’s a Democratic President demanding reform-free renewal of his warrantless eavesdropping powers. He joins with the Republican Party to codify them. A beloved Democratic Senator from a solidly blue state leads the fear-mongering campaign and Terrorist-enabling slurs against anyone who opposes it. And it now all happens with virtually no media attention or controversy because the two parties collaborate so harmoniously to make it happen. And thus does a core guarantee of the founding - the search warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment - blissfully disappear into nothingness.
In a free society, those who wield political power fear those over whom the power is wielded: specifically, they harbor a healthy fear of what will happen to them if they abuse that power. But the hallmark of tyranny is that the opposite dynamic prevails: the citizenry fears its government because citizens know that there are no actual, meaningful limits on how power can be exercised. A nation in which liberties are systematically abused - in which limitations on state power are ignored without consequence - is one which gives rise to a climate of fear.
This climate of fear, in turn, leads citizens to refrain from exercising their political rights, especially to refrain from posing meaningful challenges to government authority, because they know the government can act against them without real constraints. This is a more insidious and more effective form of tyranny than overt abridgment of rights: by inducing - intimidating - a citizenry into relinquishing their own rights out of fear, a state can maintain the illusion of freedom while barring any meaningful dissent from or challenge to its power. Here’s one four-minute video clipwhere I describe a personal example to illustrate how this pernicious fear climate operates; here’s another slightly longer video clip where I elaborate on this point more.
This morning, the New York Times reports on the US government’s practice of targeting US dissidents - or those whom it believes to be engaging in dissent - with extremely invasive border searches, including seizing (and sometimes keeping for months) their laptops and other electronic data, all without any warrants. …
Laptop seizures are far from the only tactic employed by the US government to put government opponents in a state of fear and thus deter others from engaging in similar dissident conduct. That is also the aim of measures such as the unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers; the prosecution of Muslim critics of US foreign policy for “material support of terrorism”, the targeted FBI entrapment and “preemptive prosecution” of US Muslims, NATO protesters, anarchist activists, and others with ideologies the US government dislikes; and - most of all - the ubiquitous surveillance state.
What makes this tactic particularly effective is that it will not affect those who have no interest in engaging in real dissent against the government. If you’re not a filmmaker who challenges the prevailing government narrative (Poitras), or a scholar trying to understand rather than demonize currents in the Muslim world (Abidor), or a lawyer involved in groups suing the US government for unconstitutional behavior (Wayne), or an activist advocating for WikiLeaks and working to protect online anonymity and thus thwart government spying and control of the internet (Jacob Appelbaum), or someone who supports Bradley Manning’s legal defense (David House), then you’re not going to be subjected to this sort of intimidation and rights-invasions, and it’s thus easy for you to simply assume that it does not exist.
In essence, the bargain offered by the state is as follows: if you meaningfully challenge what we’re doing, then we will subject you to harsh recriminations. But if you passively comply with what we want, refrain from challenging us, and acquiesce to our prevailing order, then you are “free” and will be left alone. The genius is that those who accept this bargain are easily convinced that repression does not exist in the US, that it only takes place in those Other Bad countries, because, as a reward for their compliant posture, they are not subjected to it.
But even in most of the worst tyrannies, those who are content with the status quo and who refrain from meaningfully challenging prevailing power systems are free of punishment. Rights exist to protect dissidents and those who challenge orthodoxies, not those who acquiesce to those orthodoxies or support state power; the latter group rarely needs any such protections. The effect, and intent, of this climate of fear is to force as many citizens as possible into the latter group.
The true measure of how free a society is how its dissidents are treated, not those who refrain from meaningful anti-government activism and dissent. To apply that metric to the US, just look at what the American citizens quoted in this Times article this morning are saying and doing.
When FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents raided multiple activist homes in the Northwest last week, they were in search of “anti-government or anarchist literature.”
The raids were part of a multi-state operation that targeted activists in Portland, Olympia, and Seattle. Five people were served subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury on August 2nd in Seattle.
In addition to anarchist literature, the warrants also authorize agents to seize flags, flag-making material, cell phones, hard drives, address books, and black clothing.
The listing of black clothing and flags, along with comments made by police, indicates that the FBI may ostensibly be investigating “black bloc” tactics used during May Day protests in Seattle, which destroyed corporate property.
If that is true, how are books and literature evidence of criminal activity?
The land of the free…
Like the Bush administration before it – whose top security officials issued a letter before the judge’s decision, arguing that to strike down the “homeland battlefield” provisions would be “unconstitutional” – this liberal White House is committed to the legal doctrine of presidential supremacism, which argues that the chief executive’s role as commander-in-chief trumps all constitutional checks and balances, including the Bill of Rights.
This would have shocked an earlier age, but in the long senescence of our decaying republic hardly anyone can be roused to even a semblance of outrage. Given the stakes, the legal and political battle over this fateful legislation is getting almost no attention: certainly it will never be an issue in the presidential election, and the media coverage is perfunctory, with stories relegated to the back pages. Particularly worrying is the political fight over efforts to amend the offending portions of the NDAA, led by Reps. Adam Smith, a Democrat, and Justin Amash, a Republican of the Paulian persuasion. Their amendment was smashed in the House, 238 to 182, with the leadership of both parties uniting behind the drive to crush the Constitution underfoot.
Americans stupidly believe none of this applies to them: it’s all about detaining foreigners, and “terrorists,” and is therefore okay. No President would use the provisions of the law to target and detain American political dissidents – would he?
The average American’s ignorance of basic history is so scant that they don’t realize there is ample precedent. If you ask them what they know about the Alien and Sedition Acts, you’re apt to get a blank look. As for Abraham Lincoln shutting down newspapers and imprisoning his political opponents – bringing up such inconvenient facts is heresy as far as the Lincoln cult is concerned. We aren’t supposed to talk about it, or, if we do, we’re only allowed to say something vague about how it was necessary to free the slaves. The outright repression of political opposition during both world wars, the extended assault on civil liberties that characterized the cold war era – these less than proud chapters in American history aren’t taught in the schools. If mentioned at all, they’re whitewashed and rationalized away.
Over the years, these partially successful attempts to overthrow the rule of law and invalidate the Constitution have accumulated to the point where a coup is unnecessary. The President needn’t declare martial law and surround Congress with troops, because the people’s representatives have consented to the coup in advance – and are strewing the tyrant’s path with rose petals.
As Congress was rejecting the Smith-Amash amendment, what we were hearing was the death agony of our old republic. The American Revolution stands repealed without a shot being fired. What was required in order to pull it off wasn’t the sight of armed men swarming over Capitol Hill: it took only the greasy evasions of government lawyers and the heavy indifference of the public. The courts are the last recourse of those who seek to salvage the heritage of the Founders: beyond that, there is nothing but the certain prospect of tyranny.
As our drones hunt the world, striking at will, the skies over America will inevitably be darkened. With local law enforcement buying up drones and increasingly using them in routine police operations, we aren’t far from the day when the President can zap his enemies on command. And it will all be perfectly “legal.”
A federal judge has estimated that at least 30,000 secret electronic surveillance orders are made every year in the US, and those who are found to be innocent will probably never know that they’ve been the target of such snooping.
You and I both know how hard it would have been for the incredible growth the liberty movement has seen in recent years to have taken place without the Internet.
So right now, the big government statists in Congress are scheming to suffocate the technological revolution in a ball of bureaucratic red tape.
Our well-meaning government overlords are going to “protect consumers” like you and me with “net neutrality,” “open access,” and, of course, their favorite – “cybersecurity.”
But dig a little deeper, and you will find all we’ll get is higher costs, new taxes, lost or slower access - and government snoops expanding their “data mining” capabilities to spy on our every move.
In fact, just recently, we’ve seen a torrent of massive new regulatory schemes rearing their ugly heads in Congress, including:
*** Internet Sales Taxes designed to hike the price of goods sold over the Internet;
*** The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would give the government the power to shut down any website simply because someone made the “allegation” there was a copyright violation;
*** The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which would gut privacy laws and allow Internet providers and websites to hand over personal data to ANY agency in the federal government;
*** The Internet “Kill Switch,” which would allow the President to shut down the entire Internet at a moment’s notice.
And this December, the United Nations is meeting to come up with even MORE recommendations for international Internet regulations!
The Wall Street Journal called it “a wake-up call for the world’s two billion web users, who take for granted the light regulation of the Internet.”
Please remind me, what exactly is it about the government that represents your views?
CISPA is for you.
You’ve set the stage for individual rights to be subject to the “changing times.”
As you’ve argued, the Constitution (which includes the “Bill of Rights”) is a “living document.” It’s malleable. There was no internet in the 1770’s! They couldn’t know the dangers of cyber-attacks and the interconnectivity of digital systems. Of course the founders would expect the 4th Amendment to be an anachronism of a bygone day inapplicable to things like the internet and airports and anything else our overlords decree as too dangerous!
I’ve already expressed my reservations with the Constitution, and how it has failed in its ostensible purpose, but the “living Constitution” argument makes a bad situation worse by wishing to grant ever-more power to an ever-expanding state.
Despite growing resistance to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, CISPA has cleared its first legislative hurdle. But the battle over the widely-criticized information-sharing bill is just heating up.
In an earlier-than-expected vote Thursday evening, the House of Representatives voted 248 to 168 in favor of the bill, which was originally designed to allow more sharing of cybersecurity threat information with government agencies.
The legislation has drawn the ire of legislators, civil liberties groups, security practitioners and professors, and hundreds of thousands of petitioners, who say the bill tramples over users’ privacy rights as it allows Web firms like Google and Facebook to give private users’ information to government agencies irrespective of other laws that protect users’ privacy. “It’s basically a privacy nightmare,” says Trevor Timm, a lawyer and activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “CISPA would allow companies to hand over private data to the government without a warrant, without anonymity, with no judicial review.”
But even before it passed, the House voted to amend the bill to actually allow even more types of private sector information to be shared with government agencies, not merely in matters of cybersecurity or national security, but in the investigation of vaguely defined cybersecurity “crimes,” “protection of individuals from the danger of death or serious bodily harm,” and cases that involve the protection of minors from exploitation.
That statute, which in effect widened the most controversial portion of the bill just hours before it came to a vote, is sure to draw even more heat as the bill works its way through the legislative branch and reaches President Obama’s desk. The president currently backs a bill in the Senate put forward by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, designed to increase the cybersecurity regulatory powers of the Department of Homeland security, which has been opposed by the GOP and stalled in the legislature.
The White House came out Wednesday with a strongly-worded statement slamming CISPA and pushing its regulatory approach in a threat to veto CISPA, writing that “cybersecurity and privacy are not mutually exclusive” and calling CISPA an intelligence bill rather than a security bill that treats civilians as subjects of surveillance. (White House watchers have observed, however, that the president’s advisors similarly recommended that he veto the National Defense Authorization Act, which he instead signed into law.)
Regardless, reconciling the House bill in its new, even more controversial form with a Senate version, even as the White House opposes the central thrust of the legislation, will only rekindle the controversy that has grown around CISPA in the last week.
The EFF’s Timm says he sees the House’s early vote on CISPA as an attempt by its author, representative Mike Rogers, to squeeze the bill through before its opposition grew any stronger. “We’ve seen an explosion of a variety of groups and congressmen coming out against the bill,” he says. “As the Senate debates this, it’s good that privacy and civil liberties will be front and center.”
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Apparently the TSA Can’t Decide:
A 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy was targeted by the TSA this week when her crutches and leg braces set off the airport screeners at JFK. Dina Frank’s parents claim the screening agents were particularly aggressive during an initial patdown of their daughter. They say the TSA then caused the family to miss their flight by requiring Dina to return to the screening area for additional inspection after they’d already been released to their gate.
“They’re harassing people,” said Dina’s father, Dr. Johsua Frank. “This is totally misguided policy. Yes, I understand that TSA is in charge of national security and there’s all these threats. For her to be singled out, it’s crazy.”
TSA Cares, a program specifically designed to assist airline passengers with disabilities, was launched in December.
To be serious for a moment: this is the problem with the TSA. The mission of the TSA is such that they have to treat even the most unlikely, sympathetic passengers as potential threats. So-called terrorists in Iraq have gone so far as to plant remote-controlled explosives on mentally disabled suicide bombers. Is it really such a stretch to believe that they would do the same with a physically disabled individual, adult or child, to accomplish the same task? When TSA performs these kinds of searches, it is doing exactly what it is designed to do.
This is the choice that America is faced with: we can either to choose to live free of these invasive procedures, and live with the risk of a terrorist attack succeeding, or live prostrate and humiliated by our own government everyday so that we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re safe. And make no mistake: we are fooling ourselves if we think this form of security theater makes us safe.
So one must ask themselves: do you want to live in an America where strangers feel up disabled 7-year old girls to check them for bombs? Or are you willing to live with the relatively low probability threat of another terrorist attack occurring? I’ll take my chances with the lightning, thank you.
False choice. Just because there isn’t a government agency performing security duties doesn’t mean we’d be less safe. In fact, in many ways we’d be more safe. Plus, airlines would be able to cater to both the most paranoid and least willing to be violated alike.
None of us are any safer because my 19-month old daughter’s diaper was checked for explosives.
The TSA must be abolished, and responsibility of security must be returned to the airlines and airports, where there is greater accountability and incentive for safety, efficiency, and customer service. An airline that fails to take appropriate safety precautions to the satisfaction of customers will not do well. Same with airlines that treat their customers like cattle to be groped and ogled.