David Kirkpatrick

October 12, 2009

A sad day for civil liberties

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to extend the Patriot Act past the sunset provision slated to go into effect this year.

From the link:

Supporters of the Patriot Act say it gives law enforcement important powers to track down and investigate terrorists. Without the Patriot Act, U.S. law enforcement efforts to find terrorists would be significantly harmed, members of former President George Bush’s administration argued.

But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a digital rights group, both protested the Judiciary Committee’s decision to move the bill forward.

Click here to find out more!

Parts of the Patriot Act would expire at the end of the year if Congress doesn’t renew them. The Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 11-8 to approve the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act with a handful of amendments.

One of the most controversial portions of the bill allows the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain warrantless subpoenas to get personal information from Internet service providers, telephone carriers and other businesses.

The National Security Letter (NSL) program allows the FBI, and potentially other U.S. agencies, to issue letters to businesses or organizations demanding information about targeted users or customers. E-mail messages and phone records are among the information that the FBI can seek in an NSL.

July 2, 2009

How is Obama doing on civil liberties?

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:16 pm

Civil liberties are a major rock in the foundation of the United States and Obama ran on a group of issues that leaned heavily on civil liberties. Heading into this Fourth of July weekend, and given he’s been in office for over five months now, I think it’s a fair time to take a look at where the Obama administration is vis-a-vis civil liberties.

Not so great. This administration has been more about lip service than action on the civil liberty front. To be fair change in D.C. won’t happen overnight on any set of policies, but to date there doesn’t seem any urgency to many of the civil liberty concerns Obama ran on in the race for the Oval Office.

Here’s Cato’s Doug Bandow on Obama’s dissappointing performance:

It’s fair to say that civil liberties and limited government were not high on President George W. Bush’s priorities list.  Indeed, they probably weren’t even on the list.  Candidate Barack Obama promised “change” when he took office, and change we have gotten.  The name of the president is different.

Alas, the policies are much the same.  While it is true that President Obama has not made the same claims of unreviewable monarchical power for the chief executive–an important distinction–he has continued to sacrifice civil liberties for dubious security gains.

Reports the New York Times:

Civil libertarians recently accused President Obama of acting like former President George W. Bush, citing reports about Mr. Obama’s plans to detain terrorism suspects without trials on domestic soil after he closes the Guantánamo prison.

It was only the latest instance in which critics have argued that Mr. Obama has failed to live up to his campaign pledge “to restore our Constitution and the rule of law” and raised a pointed question: Has he, on issues related to fighting terrorism, turned out to be little different from his predecessor?

March 1, 2008

Obama, the civil libertarian

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:00 am

Jeffrey Rosen’s TRB column in the February 27, 2208, New Republic is about how Obama would be the first truly civil libertarian president. That column really sums up what I like about Obama. As a libertarian, civil and fiscal, I don’t agree with a lot of his ideas, but I love his honest and strong civil libertarian bent. After the Bush 43 years this approach to personal liberty and privacy would be a welcome change.

And as far as government spending goes, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess he’d be less “liberal” than Bush. Sure Obama’s spending will focus on different areas than Bush’s, but in pure government expansion it’s almost impossible for Obama, or any other “spend thrift liberal,” to match Bush’s woeful record. Plus an Obama presidency might push the GOP to look deep into the dark night and find a core that seems to be lost in Rovian factions and coalitions. The Rove gloat of creating a generation of GOP rule died, oh, about two or three years in.

All that being said, I sincerely hope Obama wins either Texas or Ohio and forces Clinton out of the Democratic nomination race. Of course that would also involve Clinton conceding with grace. An outcome still in serious doubt at this time.

Here is Rosen’s lede:

If Barack Obama were to win the Democratic nomination and the White House, he would be, among other things, our first civil libertarian president. This is clear not just from his lifetime rating on the ACLU’s scorecard (82 percent compared to John McCain’s 25 percent). It is clear from the fact that civil liberties have been among his most passionate interests–as a constitutional law professor, state legislator, and senator. On the campaign trail, he has been unapologetic about these enthusiasms. In New Hampshire, I heard him end a rousing stump speech by promising the cheering crowd, “We will close Guantánamo, we will restore habeas corpus, we will have a president who will respect and obey the Constitution.” Has a political consultant ever urged a candidate to brandish habeas corpus?

September 8, 2010

Department of Homeland Security sued for illegal search and seizure

This is a long overdue lawsuit. Unbeknownst to many United States citizens, if you leave the country with an electronic device — like a smartphone, cell phone, camera, or more likely, a laptop — your electronics can be seized, searched and contents archived by the Department of Homeland Security with no due process other than a field officer deciding you might be a threat to the nation.

I’ve blogged about this very topic a couple of times — first back in June 2008 and again in September 2009 — and my sense of outrage at the privacy and civil liberties violation hasn’t abated. Sure we need to protect the nation and monitor who comes and goes into and out of the country, but with the due process that represents the best of America. In the post-9/11 world, policies like this are slowly turning the United States into a police state that would be unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers.

From the first link:

Civil liberties groups sued the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, alleging that the government should not be able to search, copy or keep the data on electronic devices carried by people crossing the border without a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Layers (NACDL) announced on Tuesday that they filed a lawsuit against the policy, arguing that Americans “do not surrender their privacy and free speech rights when they travel abroad.”

DHS policy says that electronic devices such as laptops, cameras and cell phones can be searched as a matter of course, and that the border agents can copy the contents of the devices in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S. — even if the traveler is not suspected of any wrongdoing. Information obtained by the ACLU indicated that over 6,600 travelers — nearly half of whom are U.S. citizens — had their electronic devices searched at the border between Oct. 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010.

Update 9/10/10 — In the meantime, here’s a CIO.com article on getting your data across the border while avoiding the invasive scrutiny of the DHS.

July 31, 2010

Food for online privacy thought

Three recent articles to ponder about how much — or really, how little — your online privacy is protected.

First up, from the Wall Street Journal, your data is money. I’m pretty sure just about anyone who’s been using the web for any amount of time knows all about tracking cookies, data mining and all that. This article goes into detail on just how much, and how detailed, information top visited websites collect on visitors.

From the link:

Hidden inside Ashley Hayes-Beaty’s computer, a tiny file helps gather personal details about her, all to be put up for sale for a tenth of a penny.

The file consists of a single code— 4c812db292272995e5416a323e79bd37—that secretly identifies her as a 26-year-old female in Nashville, Tenn.

The code knows that her favorite movies include “The Princess Bride,” “50 First Dates” and “10 Things I Hate About You.” It knows she enjoys the “Sex and the City” series. It knows she browses entertainment news and likes to take quizzes.

“Well, I like to think I have some mystery left to me, but apparently not!” Ms. Hayes-Beaty said when told what that snippet of code reveals about her. “The profile is eerily correct.”

Ms. Hayes-Beaty is being monitored by Lotame Solutions Inc., a New York company that uses sophisticated software called a “beacon” to capture what people are typing on a website—their comments on movies, say, or their interest in parenting and pregnancy. Lotame packages that data into profiles about individuals, without determining a person’s name, and sells the profiles to companies seeking customers. Ms. Hayes-Beaty’s tastes can be sold wholesale (a batch of movie lovers is $1 per thousand) or customized (26-year-old Southern fans of “50 First Dates”).

“We can segment it all the way down to one person,” says Eric Porres, Lotame’s chief marketing officer.

Also from the WSJ in the same series is an article with more on the same as above with an emphasis on consumer-tracking technology used by the top 50 sites.

From the link:

The tracking files represent the leading edge of a lightly regulated, emerging industry of data-gatherers who are in effect establishing a new business model for the Internet: one based on intensive surveillance of people to sell data about, and predictions of, their interests and activities, in real time.

The Journal’s study shows the extent to which Web users are in effect exchanging personal data for the broad access to information and services that is a defining feature of the Internet.

In an effort to quantify the reach and sophistication of the tracking industry, the Journal examined the 50 most popular websites in the U.S. to measure the quantity and capabilities of the “cookies,” “beacons” and other trackers installed on a visitor’s computer by each site. Together, the 50 sites account for roughly 40% of U.S. page-views.

The 50 sites installed a total of 3,180 tracking files on a test computer used to conduct the study. Only one site, the encyclopedia Wikipedia.org, installed none. Twelve sites, including IAC/InterActive Corp.’s Dictionary.com, Comcast Corp.’s Comcast.net and Microsoft Corp.’s MSN.com, installed more than 100 tracking tools apiece in the course of the Journal’s test.

And not to leave the government out of the online privacy picture, this PhysOrg story on the access the Federal Bureau of Investigation has to your online data, including email, really adds to online privacy concerns. Or at least it should.

From the final link:

Federal law requires communications providers to produce records in counterintelligence investigations to the FBI, which doesn’t need a judge’s approval and court order to get them.

They can be obtained merely with the signature of a special agent in charge of any FBI field office and there is no need even for a suspicion of wrongdoing, merely that the records would be relevant in a counterintelligence or counterterrorism investigation. The person whose records the government wants doesn’t even need to be a suspect.

The bureau’s use of these so-called national security letters to gather information has a checkered history.

The bureau engaged in widespread and serious misuse of its authority to issue the letters, illegally collecting data from Americans and foreigners, the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in 2007. The bureau issued 192,499 national security letter requests from 2003 to 2006.

In this June 28, 2010, file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., gestures on Capitol Hill in Washington. Invasion of privacy in the Internet age. The administration’s proposal to change the Electronic Communications Privacy Act “raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns,” Leahy said Thursday, July 29, 2010, in a statement. Expanding the reach of law enforcement to snoop on e-mail traffic or on Web surfing. Those are among the criticisms being aimed at the FBI as it tries to update a key surveillance law.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

June 2, 2010

Searching for “mal-intent”

I have to admit, stories like this really set off klaxon alarm bells in terms of civil liberties and what looks a lot like a slippery slope of pseudoscience. Particularly when talking about trained security teams pulling 152,000 people out of airport lines over the last few years leading to over 1000 arrests. Arrests for outstanding warrants and immigration violations — no terrorism arrests, even though screeners did miss at least 16 actual terrorists.

I’m guessing if you randomly pulled that many travelers you’d easily get that many hits for run-of-the-mill violations. You’d probably even randomly catch a few terrorists. I think it’s safe to say I have very serious reservations of the efficacy of screening for mal-intent, and even greater reservations on how that screening weakens civil liberties and personal privacy.

From the link:

If Bob Burns is correct, terrorists may betray themselves someday by jiggling on a Nintendo Wii balance board, blinking too fast, curling a lip like Elvis — or doing nothing at all. Burns and his team of scientists are researching whether video game boards, biometric sensors and other high-tech devices can be used to detect distinct nonverbal cues from people who harbor “mal-intent,” or malicious intent.

“We’re looking pre-event,” said Burns, the No. 2 at the Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency, a counterpart of the fabled Pentagon agency that developed Stealth aircraft and the Internet.

“We’re trying to detect a crime before it has occurred.”

OK, roll the sci-fi thriller “Minority Report,” in which Tom Cruise and other “pre-crime” cops use psychic visions to arrest murderers before they kill. Or maybe “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” a George Clooney comedy inspired by real military experiments with supposedly psychic soldiers.

The work on mal-intent, which has cost $20 million so far, represents the future in screening: trying to find the bomber, not just the bomb.

“Sometimes people look at our projects and say, ‘This is crazy,'” conceded Burns, a former submarine weapons officer.

May 28, 2010

The right v. the ACLU

Conor Friedersdorf has a great post at True/Slant on one example of how the right (wrongly) vilifies the ACLU. That’s one thing I’ve always found very, very strange. The ACLU and the Cato Institute walk in virtual lockstep on practically every civil liberties issue. Since civil liberties are the sole focus of the ACLU and Cato is a decidedly right-leaning (actually libertarian) think tank, it seems a bit strange to try and label the ACLU as so anti-right wing. Personally I’m a pretty big fan of both organizations (you can find evidence of that in my blogroll).

From the link:

It’s almost as if the conservative media complex is systematically misleading its audience about the nature of the ACLU, so much so that right-of-center commentators across the Internet spontaneously mocked the organization for failing to intervene on the right side of this case, despite it being precisely the kind of case where the ACLU reliably does exactly what the critics themselves would want.

Perhaps the confusion comes from listening to talk radio hosts and reading blogs that cast all of American politics as a grand struggle between the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, tyranny and liberty. The rank and file, rightly judging that the ACLU operates on the left, automatically concludes that they are the enemy in any case worth caring about.

Awhile back, Jonah Goldberg doubted whether or not there were actually compelling examples of epistemic closure on the right. Well, there you go: an information loop so faulty in explaining the ACLU to its audience that even a blog called Stop the ACLU doesn’t understand what’s going on.

(Hat tip: the Daily Dish)

April 6, 2010

“The Singularity is Near” to debut at Sonoma Film Festival

News from KurzweilAI.net:

‘The Singularity is Near’ film debuts at Sonoma Film Festival
KurzweilAI.net, Apr. 5, 2010

“The Singularity Is Near: a True Story About the Future” makes its festival debut at the 13th Annual Sonoma Film Festival (April 15-18, 2010) with a special screening on Friday, April 16, 2010.

The feature-length film, directed by Anthony Waller and produced by Ray Kurzweil, Ehren Koepf and Toshi Hoo, executive producer Martine Rothblatt (Terasem MotionInfoCulture), explores the controversial ideas of Ray Kurzweil, based on his New York Times best-selling book by the same title.

Kurzweil examines the social and philosophical implications of these profound changes and the potential threats they pose to human civilization in dialogues with leading experts, such as former White House counter-terrorism advisor, Richard Clark; technologists Bill JoyMitch KaporMarvin Minsky, Eric Drexler, and Robert A. Freitas, Jr.; Future Shock author Alvin Toffler; civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz; and music luminary Quincy Jones.

Kurzweil illustrates possible scenarios of his imagined future with narrative scenes starring popular NCIS actress Pauley Perrette and personal development guru Tony Robbins.

For more informationSonoma Film Festival and The Singularity is Near – The Movie.

February 11, 2010

Big Brother …

… may well be a little electronic device in your pocket. It shouldn’t be shocking, but I never cease to be amazed at the unconstitutional power grabs the Federal government continues to attempt and take in terms of civil liberties and personal privacy. New technology is wonderful, but it is very important to track, and reign in, the long, sneaky arm of the Fed.

From the link:

If you own a cell phone, you should care about the outcome of a case scheduled to be argued in federal appeals court in Philadelphia tomorrow. It could well decide whether the government can use your cell phone to track you — even if it hasn’t shown probable cause to believe it will turn up evidence of a crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology will ask the court to require that the government at least show probable cause before it can track your whereabouts.

And:

There’s no question that cell phones and cell-phone records can be useful for police officers who need to track the movements of those they believe to be breaking the law. And it is important for law enforcement agents to have the tools they need to stop crimes. However, it is just as important to make sure such tools are used responsibly, in a manner that safeguards our personal privacy.

But documents obtained by the ACLU and the EFF as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show that the government takes advantage of this technology to track cell phones as extensively as possible — often without first obtaining warrants — except in states where courts step in to establish boundaries.

And here is the absolutely ridiculous government argument for retaining this right to breach your privacy:

The government has argued that “one who does not wish to disclose his movements to the government need not use a cellular telephone.” This is a startling and dismaying statement coming from the United States. The government is supposed to care about people’s privacy. It should not be forcing the nation’s 277 million cell-phone subscribers to choose between risking being tracked and going without an essential communications tool.

What’s at stake in the case is not whether it’s OK for the government to track the locations of cell phones; we agree that cell-phone tracking is lawful and appropriate in certain situations. The question is whether the government should first have to show that it has good reason to think such tracking will turn up evidence of a crime.

Update 2/13/10 — the above link and quotes are from the ACLU. Here’s the Cato Institute’s take on this issue. As with many, many public policy issues, Cato and the ACLU are in total agreement here.

October 23, 2009

Cato v. Heritage

On the topic of the Patriot Act two right leaning think tanks pair off. This she says/he says is a nice, succinct illustration of one key difference between the right-wing hawkishness/pro-military industrial complex and libertarian schools of thought.

In a nutshell, the Heritage Foundation is all for the Patriot Act and its civil liberties trampling totality. The Cato Institute is for protecting the hard-won freedoms of American citizens while continuing to work at keeping the U.S. safe from terrorism.

The point further boils down to: do you trust handing the government total control over your civil liberties and right to privacy, or not. Personally I’m 100 percent behind the Cato approach, and honestly the Heritage position strikes me as profoundly un-American. The founding fathers would certainly not recognize the Heritage stance as having anything to do with their noble ideals.

October 20, 2009

Why FISA never needed reform in the first place

I’ve already done a post today on this excellent article by Julian Sanchez on the Obama administration and how it’s retaining some of the Bush administration’s overreaching tools for use in the “global war on terror.” So far the Obama administration has been a disappointment in not rolling back the beating U.S. civil liberties took in the Bush administration’s  panicked response to 9/11.

And as it turns out — and that I’ve argued repeatedly — the tools to fight international terrorists were firmly in place before 9/11, they were just implemented with Keystone Kop level competence.

From the second link:

The FISA Amendments Act is the successor to an even broader bill called the Protect America Act, which similarly gave the attorney general and director of national intelligence extraordinary power to authorize sweeping interception of Americans’ international communications. It was hastily passed in 2007 amid claims that the secret FISA Court had issued a ruling that prevented investigators from intercepting wholly foreign communications that traveled across US wires. Former Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell even claimed that FISA’s restrictions had rendered it impossible to immediately eavesdrop on Iraqi insurgents who had captured several American soldiers. The New York Post quoted tearful parents of the captured men expressing their horror at the situation and a senior Congressional staffer who alleged that “the intelligence community was forced to abandon our soldiers because of the law.”

Yet as a Justice Department official later admitted, the FISA law clearly placed no such broad restriction on foreign wire communications passing through the United States; rather, there had been a far more narrow problem involving e-mails for which the recipient’s location could not be determined. And as James Bamford explained in his essential 2008 book, The Shadow Factory, the delay in getting wiretaps running on the suspected kidnappers was the result of a series of missteps at the Justice Department, not the limits of FISA — no surprise, since even when FISA does require a warrant, surveillance may begin immediately in emergencies if a warrant is sought later. (The suspected kidnappers, by the way, turned out not to have been the actual kidnappers.) Yet on the basis of such claims, a panicked Congress signed off on almost limitless authority to vacuum up international communications — authority that we already know has resulted in systematic “overcollection” of purely domestic conversations, and even resulted in the interception of former President Bill Clinton’s e-mails.

Rhetoric v. reality in the Obama White House

Cato and Reason‘s Julian Sanchez has a great piece on the disconnect between what the Obama administration does, and what it says, in restoring balance to D.C. and ridding our government of some of the Bush administration’s overreach and blatant disregard for civil liberties and personal freedom.

To be fair Obama has been in office a total of nine months with a very full plate, and his administration may well be taking a long view in meeting some of these policy goals. If so, that’s great. In the meantime his feet should be kept to the fire on these issues that led many independent voters to pull the lever for him last year.

From the link:

We know the rules by now, the strange conventions and stilted Kabuki scripts that govern our cartoon facsimile of a national security debate. The Obama administration makes vague, reassuring noises about constraining executive power and protecting civil liberties, but then merrily adopts whatever appalling policy George W. Bush put in place. Conservatives hit the panic button on the right-wing noise machine anyway, keeping the delicate ecosystem in balance by creating the false impression that something has changed. We’ve watched the formula play out with Guantánamo Bay, torture prosecutions and the invocation of “state secrets.” We appear to be on the verge of doing the same with national security surveillance.

Update — Here’s another post on this article.

October 2, 2009

Sunset provisions in the PATRIOT Act …

… offer the Obama administration a great opportunity to overturn a set of horrible, privacy-violating and, most likely, un-Constitutional policies. And get back some of that civil liberties mojo many people voted for when they pulled the lever for Obama.

From the Cato Institute (the first) link:

Civil liberties advocates have hastily revived a campaign to support commonsense limits on government surveillance, but with health-care reform dominating headlines and anxieties about the Bush administration’s excesses fading like the memory of a bad dream, precious little attention is being paid to the PATRIOT renewal debate. But if the Senate declines to press for real reform this week, the issue is unlikely to be taken up again for at least another four years — during which those new powers will only become more entrenched, more heavily relied upon, and more difficult to roll back. It’s no exaggeration to say that today may well be the most important day of the Obama administration for privacy and civil liberties — or the biggest squandered opportunity.

August 4, 2009

Conservatism as a movement of “no”

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:24 pm

Andrew Sullivan made a very pertinent point today at the tail end of a post on a related, but more focused, topic. His point is conservatism as it’s realized today in the United States is against a lot of things, but not really for anything.

At one point in time you could honestly believe conservatism sought limited government and civil liberties. Those days are long over. Sure many self-styled conservatives in the GOP will sp0ut these ideals, but as nothing more than platitudes while doing nothing in terms of public policy, promoting legislation or even simply offering philosophical arguments on the hows and whys of this approach to government.

It’s easy to shake your head “no” at every proposal offered by those across the aisle. It’s a lot more difficult to actually counter with solutions and ideas to join all that dissent. Just ask today’s Republican Party.

From the link:

I repeat to conservatives: we know what you’re against, in healthcare, energy, counter-terrorism, taxation, gay rights, abortion. What are you actually for? How do you intend to actually address the questions of our time and place? And if conservatism cannot do that, what use is it?

July 27, 2009

Cato’s Tim Lynch on criminal law

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:53 pm

If you are interested in civil liberties and how criminal law is executed and enforced in the United States, take a few minutes to read Tim Lynch’s testimony before the House’s subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Lynch is the director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice.

Lynch’s testimony was titled, “Over-Criminalization of Conduct/Over-Federalization of Criminal Law.”

From the link:

Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse

The sheer volume of modern law makes it impossible for an ordinary American household to stay informed. And yet, prosecutors vigorously defend the old legal maxim that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”4 That maxim may have been appropriate for a society that simply criminalized inherently evil conduct, such as murder, rape, and theft, but it is wholly inappropriate in a labyrinthine regulatory regime that criminalizes activities that are morally neutral. As Professor Henry M. Hart opined, “In no respect is contemporary law subject to greater reproach than for its obtuseness to this fact.”5

To illustrate the rank injustice that can and does occur, take the case of Carlton Wilson, who was prosecuted because he possessed a firearm. Wilson’s purchase of the firearm was perfectly legal, but, years later, he didn’t know that he had to give it up after a judge issued a restraining order during his divorce proceedings. When Wilson protested that the judge never informed him of that obligation and that the restraining order itself said nothing about firearms, prosecutors shrugged, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”6Although the courts upheld Wilson’s conviction, Judge Richard Posner filed a dissent: “We want people to familiarize themselves with the laws bearing on their activities. But a reasonable opportunity doesn’t mean being able to go to the local law library and read Title 18. It would be preposterous to suppose that someone from Wilson’s milieu is able to take advantage of such an opportunity.”7Judge Posner noted that Wilson would serve more than three years in a federal penitentiary for an omission that he “could not have suspected was a crime or even a civil wrong.”8

It is simply outrageous for the government to impose a legal duty on every citizen to “know” all of the mind-boggling rules and regulations that have been promulgated over the years. Policymakers can and should discard the “ignorance-is-no-excuse” maxim by enacting a law that would require prosecutors to prove that regulatory violations are “willful” or, in the alternative, that would permit a good-faith belief in the legality of one’s conduct to be pleaded and proved as a defense. The former rule is already in place for our complicated tax laws—but it should also shield unwary Americans from all of the laws and regulations as well.9

July 17, 2009

Obama, Bush and warrantless wiretapping

I’m of two minds on this case. On one side I think the government has a legitimate interest in keeping the general public in the dark about elements of spycraft sausage-making. Flip that coin over and you have a double dose of privacy concerns and the government essentially arguing it can’t be held accountable by the very people who “own” the government in United States citizens.

Obama’s rapidly disillusioned supporters see the DoJ actions as a betrayal. I tend to see this as protecting entrenched interests of the executive branch. Some of these interests are part of the dark Bush 43 legacy.

Of course one reason I voted for Obama was for the White House to get out the cleaning fluids and scrub away the insidious creep of the government into privacy and civil liberties. Change? Maybe not so much. Hopefully only not so much just yet.

From the link:

Lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Electronic Frontier Foundation squared off in a San Francisco courtroom Wednesday over a warrantless wiretapping program instituted by the Bush administration. The EFF sued the government and officials who implemented the secret program in September in an effort to get the government to stop the practice of recording communications involving U.S. citizens without a federal warrant. The EFF argues that this warrantless wiretapping is illegal, but government lawyers say the lawsuit should be thrown out because it could lead to the disclosure of state secrets.

The judge in the case, Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, already heard most of these arguments during an ongoing 2006 suit, Hepting v. AT&T, that also sought to put an end to the program. The EFF brought this second suit, Jewel v. NSA, after Congress passed a law last year that protected telecommunications companies like AT&T from lawsuits over the wiretapping.

Click here to find out more! On Wednesday, DoJ lawyer Anthony Coppolino argued that federal laws allow people to sue government employees who leak information, but do not let them sue the government itself. Coppolino added that litigating such cases could put state secrets at risk by exposing details of the government’s anti-terrorist programs.

June 1, 2009

Massive privacy violation in Colorado

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:46 pm

Astounding investigative overreach in Colorado while looking for illegal immigrants. Glad to see the judges in the case see things the same way. Fourth Amendment anyone?

From the link:

Immigrant advocates say they’ve seen nothing like it before or since: A prosecutor looking for illegal immigrants seized thousands of confidential tax records from an income tax preparer popular with Hispanics in this northern Colorado city.The October seizures led to identity theft and criminal impersonation charges against more than 70 people, and prosecutors allege that as many as 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants were working using false or stolen Social Security numbers.

But the American Civil Liberties Union said the documents of as many as 4,900 people were seized, many of them legal residents, and that the probe was the “equivalent of a house-by-house search of innocent homeowners in order to find a suspect believed to be somewhere in the neighborhood.”

Two judges have agreed, ruling that Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck had no probable cause to seize the records. Buck is appealing, however, and a ruling in his favor could open up a new avenue for prosecuting illegal immigrants.

April 30, 2009

The GOP — rhetoric v. reality

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:33 am

Looks like Specter’s defection has created a certain level of soul searching within the Republican Party.

Here’s one thing I find almost comical about this process:

Patrick J. Toomey, a former head of the Club for Growth whose primary challenge to Mr. Specter led the senator to bow out in the face of what he thought was a probable defeat, said Republicans should be open to a “wide range of opinions on a wide range of issues.”

“But I think fundamental common ground that the vast majority of Republicans share is the belief in limited government, freedom and personal responsibility,” Mr. Toomey said.

If the GOP actually stood for those three “shared beliefs,” it wouldn’t be in the position it finds itself right now. You can blame it on the brand, on the sputtery right-wing media or any other number of things, but those three ideals sell very easily to most independent voters and independents do not like the current incarnation of the GOP. The Republican reality is pretty bad and the brand is much, much worse. A huge problem is the brand has taken over the party and there seems to be no real effort from the inside to right the ship.

I don’t see any easy answers and I still think the GOP could honestly fall by the wayside as a theocratic stump of a party and find itself replaced with something new that actually believes, lives and most importantly votes, those three shared beliefs — pretty much summed up with the two governing tenets of small government and civil liberties.

Here’s another bit from the first link:

The question of how the party should respond to Mr. Specter’s departure was the main subject of a Senate Republican lunch on Wednesday. The party can be a “big tent,” said Senator John Ensign of Nevada, “but here are some core principles: fiscal responsibility, more personal responsibility, looking for a smaller, more effective government.”

Mr. Graham scoffed at the notion that the party was suffering because it was not conservative enough.

“Do you really believe that we lost 18-to-34-year-olds by 19 percent, or we lost Hispanic voters, because we are not conservative enough?” he said. “No. This is a ridiculous line of thought. The truth is we lost young people because our Republican brand is tainted.”

A new note to the GOP — right now no one is buying that the core principles of the party is fiscal responsibility and personal responsibility after the Bush 43 years. And its pretty hard to back away from those failed eight years when just about no one in the party fought back against the drunken sailor spending, unbelievable government encroachment into personal behavior and massive expansion of the federal government’s bureaucratic structure.

Hypocrisy doesn’t play all that well when it’s this naked and the GOP doesn’t seem to be learning the lesson.

March 9, 2009

Nanny state in action — UK-style

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:33 pm

From the Cato Institute, civil liberties in the UK are withering along with economic prospects.

From the link:

Warning to tourists – it is now illegal to take a photo of a London bobby (policeman). The time-honored tradition of tourists having their pictures taken with London cops is being dealt a silly death blow by those who control the British nanny-state. The British are not only losing their economic prosperity, but their civil liberties as well.

Also from the link:

Civil libertarians on both the left and right are increasingly concerned that Britain is drifting toward becoming a police state. The government has been trying to obtain the right to detain anyone up to 42 days without bringing charges, which would severely undermine the centuries’ old right of habeas corpus. Police monitoring cameras in London are more pervasive than in any other city in the world. Public demonstrations near Parliament and other government buildings are restricted more and more. British libel laws are much more restrictive than those in the United States and have effectively make it increasingly difficult to charge public officials with wrongdoing.

March 2, 2009

CIA destroys evidence of war crimes

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:52 pm

This is just shameful. Large parts of the Bush 43 years will forever be seen as some of the darkest days in U.S. history. Our president utterly failed the American people and the moral fabric of our nation.

From the link:

 The Central Intelligence Agency destroyed 92 videotapes documenting the harsh interrogations of two Al Qaeda suspects in C.I.A. detention, a greater number of destroyed tapes than the government had previously acknowledged.

The revelation came in a letter filed Monday by federal prosecutors who are investigating the destruction of the tapes by the agency’s officers, which occurred in November 2005.

It had been previously known that officials of the agency had destroyed hundreds of hours of videotaped interrogations, but the documents filed Monday reveal the number of tapes for the first time.

The tapes had been held inside a safe in the C.I.A. station in Thailand, the country where two Al Qaeda suspects — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — were interrogated.

The filing of the documents on Monday, submitted to a court in New York as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, comes as federal prosecutors are wrapping up the investigation into the matter.

February 15, 2009

Ken Starr opens mouth and expels gas

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:14 am

Why is Starr even given a mic to embarass himself with?

From the link:

Kenneth W. Starr has a warning for the Obama administration: what goes around comes around.

During a speech yesterday in Boston, Starr told a group of attorneys that President Barack Obama could face an uphill battle over his Supreme Court nominees because as a senator he opposed two of George W. Bush’s Supreme Court picks, Samuel Alito and John Roberts.

Starr’s message: elephants don’t forget.

The former independent counsel during Bill Clinton’s Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals, Starr said an aging Supreme Court meant that Obama could be able to name perhaps two or more nominees to the high court. And that could lead to a showdown with Senate Republicans who were livid with Democratslike Obama who filibustered and voted against the Bush picks.

Er, leaving Obama’s actions as a senator aside, if I were part of the GOP braintrust I’d put Ken Starr in deep mothballs. I certainly wouldn’t want to remind the public of the GOP’s cockblocking Clinton at every turn and actually moving forward with a failed impeachment effort.

Taking a longer view I’m betting history sees the last sixteen, and probably an even longer block of time, as the dark ages of the GOP. That is, if the party doesn’t completely implode which is still a very real possibility. Right now you have pundits, the right-wing blogosphere and the far right bloc looking to unseat the three Republican Senators who voted for the stimulus plan. Slick move there — it’s always a good idea to force your party into an even larger minority position at the ballot box.

History will see this period as the dark ages of the GOP because the party is purely obstructionist, partisan and hypocritical.

Partisan because every move the GOP has made over the last two presidential terms, and now the beginning of a third is to promote the GOP. Even if that means putting party over the nation. The voters have recognized that fact and if nothing changes in tone and action, the GOP may find itself in a very compromised position as an ongoing concern.

Obstructionist? See the Clinton years with the inane impeachment dog-and-pony show and the treatment offered the Democrats during the early Bush years when the GOP had the White House, Senate and House.

And hypocritical is the worst sin of all. The “small government” party spent taxpayers money like they controlled the printing press and ran up gigantic deficits to saddle the next several generations of Americans. A lot of the think tank ideas that finally went into practice under Bush 43 clearly should have remained in the filing cabinet.

The GOP coalition is in complete shambles and having a washed-up player in a failed farce making public statements isn’t going to help solve any of the many problems facing the party.

After the election I feared, and made the dark prediction, the GOP would continue to marginalize itself through a hard right-wing turn. The Palinistas were, and still are, very, very bitter. Bitter enough to bite their own noses off to spite the electorate that utterly rejected them.

That is the lesson the GOP needs to learn — the electorate has rejected them and demographics look very dismal indeed for any hope of a comeback unless drastic steps are taken. I’m not seeing those drastic steps.

I’ve contributed to NewMajority.com, and I like a lot of what I’m reading there, but I don’t see any real answers to the core problems right now. Culture11, another great new blog of conservative thought went belly-up recently. Former right wing blogosphere powerhouse Pajamas Media changed their business model to some ridiculous and soon-to-fail two-bit version of TMZ for politics. Joe the Plumber is their “star.” That’s all that needs to be said there.

I hope whatever new party rises from the ashes of the still burning brightly GOP corpse gets back to civil liberties, small government and personal responsibility. I’m not holding my breath — well, except when I keep voting Democrat because the GOP if full of folly, fools and fecklessness.

January 24, 2009

My first NewMajority post

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:40 am

Here’s my first offering at NewMajority. The site is dedicated to bringing the GOP back around. I’m going to provide an independent voice coming from the “little l” libertarian stance, plus I’m a voter who votes for both parties with no compunction. Exactly the sort of voter the GOP needs to court to start winning elections again.

The site broke the story on Palin’s campaign clothes going undonated and sitting in plastic garbage bags at the RNC headquarters, and it’s funny because the comment section is already populated with the 20%-ers who will likely keep the party out of anything other than local office for a long-time coming.

I think the idea of NewMajority is great and I’m very pleased David Frum, the founder and editor, has given me the opportunity to contribute to the conversation. The site launched on Tuesday and it’s already embroiled in a bit of GOP controversy.

Regular readers of this blog wonder why I’d contribute to a blog dedicated to bringing the GOP back to prominence? It’s simple. I want at least two viable choices and no third party could hope to challenge the Democrats for many years. There’s just no coalition, organization or structure for that fight from any political party other than the Republicans. I also fear the GOP might just go the way of the Know-Nothings if the extreme edge isn’t sanded down a bit.

Given the opportunity, I’ll contribute to a left-leaning blog and challenge that group from the right. For NewMajority I’m doing just that, only from the other direction.

From my first NewMajority post:

Is it possible to be less than conservative on social issues and still be a part of the Republican coalition? Of course it is. Many voters, such as myself, vote GOP for the fiscal conservatism the party has traditionally espoused. The last several years has shaken that somewhat, but fiscal conservatives are not going to bail on the party for the sins of one administration.

Culturally, the public’s focus regarding the Republican Party is on the Religious Right and a series of hot-button topics such as abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research. One area that gets very little truck these days is civil liberties – particularly the notion that government ought to stay out of our lives. The notion that the individual knows best in terms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Civil liberties is one area in which true conservatives and libertarians have been largely in agreement.

January 7, 2009

Kagan to be next solicitor general

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:17 am

This from Cato-at-Liberty:

The selection of Harvard Law School Dean Elana Kagan to be the next solicitor general (and the first woman nominated for a position known as the “Tenth Justice”) is not at all surprising. 

One reason I supported Obama this past election was his stance on civil liberties. Presidencies can get derailed by any number of things — 9/11 anyone? — but I hold out very high hopes for civil liberties under an Obama administration.

There’s going to be a lot that I’ll be holding my nose over, but I see a tremendous upside if he can maintain the momentum. So far in the transition period, I’ve been pleased with his actions and appointments.

Also from the Cato link:

Two things we know about Kagan is that she is very smart – even before the Supreme Court clerkship and record of scholarship, she won a Sachs Scholarship, sometimes called a “Princeton Rhodes” – and has done a fabulous job as dean (including poaching star professors from law schools across the country).  While the White House and Attorney General will, of course, be setting the administration’s legal policy, we can expect Kagan to defend those policy positions ferociously and expertly.  Whether those efforts will coincide with a defense of the individual liberty and limited government encapsulated in the Constitution remains to be seen.

December 5, 2008

The fantasy life of the “Drug Czar”

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:25 pm

Predictably the current “Drug Czar” (and what a stupid term that is), John Walters wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed on today being Repeal Day (the end of prohibition of alcohol) to tout the “success” of the ongoing waste that is the war on drugs.

I guess the true lesson of Repeal Day didn’t sink into Walters thick skull.

At Reason’s Hit and Run blog Jacob Sullum rips his claims to shreds, and then rips Walters a deserved new one.

From the link:

“The good news in drug policy,” Walters writes, “is that we know what works, and that is moral seriousness.” Moral seriousness on this subject would require taking into account half a million nonviolent drug offenders behind bars, the victims of black market violence, avoidable deaths caused by the unreliable quality and unsanitary practices that prohibition fosters, the risk-premium subsidy to thugs and terrorists, the corruption of law enforcement officials, and the loss of civil liberties resulting from the drug war’s perversion of the Constitution. Walters’ claim to moral seriousness is therefore hard to take seriously. I’d settle for a little bit of intellectual seriousness from whomever Barack Obama chooses to succeed Walters, but it seems to be incompatible with the job.

November 6, 2008

A note to the GOP

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:49 am

Between the classless booing and catcalling during McCain’s excellent concession speech, and news like this:

Barack Obama has not even been sworn in yet as the 44th president of the United States but groups are springing up online calling for his impeachment. On Facebook, an “Impeach Barack Obama” group has attracted more than 700 members and a lively debate about the Democrat’s election victory on Tuesday over Republican John McCain.

Another Facebook group of the same name has 160 members and urges others to join because “we might as well get a head start on the impeachment of Obama.”

 

The Republican Party is in danger of marginalizing itself out of existence. Remember the Whigs? The Know-nothings? Political parties historically do die in this nation.

Right now the GOP brand is not small government. Hard to make that argument after the rabid support of two Bush 43 terms. There is the strong taint of corruption and hypocrisy. Lovely dance partners there.

I do think the lunatic fringe is not all that large in the party, but it has become the public face — religious extremists, anti-intellectual/anti-science morons and people who prefer hate over reason. It might not be accurate, but that is the GOP brand.

GOP, you created and abetted the “base” base and in turn created the latest brand. I’m ready to see a party that represents my interests — true small government, strong belief in civil liberties, free-market capitalism and moderate social policy. I no longer get any of my ideal government from the GOP. Don’t get it from the Democratic Party either, but the last eight years was an epic GOP failure.

Oh, and to the fools who are already advocating impeaching Obama? Yeah, that worked so well before. The baseless impeachment gong was beaten so hard during the Clinton years it broke. Put your tiny mallet away and just go home.

November 4, 2008

Palin voted for … ???

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:30 pm

Watching CNN from a hospital room earlier today I caught the interview with Sarah Palin where she refused to say who she voted for citing her “right to privacy.”

Who wants to bet she wrote herself in as president and had to cover after getting called on the move. She’s dumb enough to do it and certainly dumb (and sheltered enough) to not think someone might ask who she voted for. And to be fair, too principled in grade-school ethics to not do the smart thing and just lie.

Update — The dangers of blogging from memory and from a low concentration situation. She was referring to whether she voted for Ted Stevens, or not. I like my version, and the version in the comments, much better. But hey, I’m only adding one little lie to her entire litany of demonstrable falsehoods.

Heh. If she’s the future of the GOP, the GOP is more doomed than even I could have imagined. Palin the anti-intellectual may become Bush 43’s spiritual heir. The “big L” Libertarian party is just too kooky, but a third-way that combines fiscal conservatism with social moderation and a powerful sense of civil liberties could resign the possibly coming GOP of religious nuts and fiscal idiots to the sidelines forever.

Maybe Gimp Outta Power could be new expansion of the acronym.

August 13, 2008

There’s a bit of a lull …

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:30 pm

… in the presidential race right now. Obama’s in Hawaii on vacation and GOP insiders are charting his every move hoping for a misstep.

From the Jonathan Martin link:

The RNC, hoping against hope that Obama will get in some windsurfing on his vacation, is keeping close tabs on the Democrat as he enjoys some time off in Hawaii.

They just sent over this bulletin: “The Honolulu Star Bulletin reports Barack Obama ate popcorn and watched the 3:40 showing of the Dark Knight in theater 9 yesterday.”

And McCain can’t jump high enough to get the media’s attenttion.

From the Daily Dish link:

Mediaexposure_3
After Britney-Paris week, McCain’s media exposure drops again. Al Kamen notesthat both DNC and RNC websites are virtually ignoring McCain:

The two Web sites at first glance seem almost interchangeable. In fact, it was hard to find a mention of John McCain on either of them. Obama dominates both sites pretty much equally, though the GOP site also has some prominent blasts at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Al Kamen quote at the end of Sullivan’s post is something I’ve read in multiple places on both the left and the right. The entire GOP machine and McCain seem much more focused on Obama rather than their own message. Maybe that comes from completely losing the path over the last seven and half years under Bush 43.

Personally I’d like to see the GOP be forced to take a long walk in the electoral desert to determine exactly what the party wants to be. Is it a Christianist organization that is pro-business? Or is it closer to Goldwater, and even Reagan to a great extent, and a party where the government stays as far in the background as possible, fiscal sanity rules the day and civil liberties mean something? I think the three-legged stool is broken, maybe permanently.

Of course during this walk in the desert I hope the party is well provisioned with an aged single malt, a few Titleist sleeves and a niblick (9 iron for those who don’t know your clubs.) In that case I might join in the walk every once in a while.

July 30, 2008

Ron Paul sponsors bill to decriminalize pot

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:47 pm

Republican Ron Paul and Democrat Barney Frank have co-sponsored a bill to decriminalize possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana. The “war on drugs” has been such an abject failure, I’m not even going to go into the issues here (for the very lazy who want more, here’s a Google search to get you started.)

It’s not surprising sensible, privacy respecting civil liberties legislation is coming from Ron Paul. The blatant hypocrisy of US drug laws is a joke. i doubt this bill goes anywhere, but I’m pleased Ron Paul’s new found name recognition and political clout with the public translates into actual policy every now and then.

There’s really no libertarian blueprint. That much is clear if you take even a sidelong glance at the big-L Libertarian Party. It’s full of all manner of cranks, malcontents, isolationists, druggies, tax dodgers and then a whole lot of otherwise average people who just want the government to stay out of their way.

I don’t participate in any party activities for a variety of reasons, most importantly I don’t think the Libertarian Party is honestly serious enough to achieve any real policy goals.

Here is a paraphrase of a common joke among party participants — I’ve read this somewhere, but can’t recall where. Maybe on Wendy McElroy’s blog.

(This block quote is just the joke, not a quote from anyone’s blog)

First time Libertarian Party meeting participant, “Oh my god, look at that table of Nazis!”

Old vet, “Yep, there’s always at least one.”

First-timer, “What? Nazis?”

Vet, “Nope, someone who bitches about ’em.”

Ron Paul is a little bit Libertarian, and quite a bit more libertarian and is the most libertarian congressman, at least publicly. I hope he can translate a wildly successful (given the expectations) presidential bid into real policy results for his ideals.

July 16, 2008

Fascism on the bookshelf

Filed under: et.al., Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:45 pm

Here’s a great set of book reviews from the August/September 2008 print issue of Reason Magazine.

Michael C. Moynihan takes on Naomi Wolf’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot and Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, and finds both quite lacking — particularly Wolf’s effort — and chastises the current habit of pundits, commentators and bloggers throwing the word “fascist” around willy nilly.

Here’s Monyihan’s summation:

That certain modern ideologies contain trace elements of fascism doesn’t mean that they are in any meaningful way fascist, or even pre-fascist (as the Wolfian left would have it). Not every flag-bedecked rally is Nuremberg, not every Guantanamo Bay is Auschwitz, and not every ill-conceived call for redistribution is a sign of corporatism.

It is important, in times of crisis, when an administration invokes the perennial threat of an external enemy, that a citizenry be vigilant in safeguarding civil liberties, in jealously guarding the constitutionality of invoked wartime powers. But when those self-appointed guardians collapse into “Weimar moment” paranoia, not only is the concept of fascism diluted to the point of meaninglessness, but other, more pressing liberty-related issues are subsumed by the hysteria. When both sides see creeping fascism lurking around every bit of political rhetoric and action they disagree with, then the term doesn’t need to be reappropriated or redefined, it needs to be buried.

June 26, 2008

Police state in action — Fed style

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:39 am

This is unbelievable. Unless there’s a lot more to this story than the article suggests it seems if you are a US citizen consider your civil liberties threatened, if not nonexistent, until a sane group of individuals (either party will do just fine) can get into the halls of power next January.

If this activity is common and has become standard operating procedure, the terrorists truly have “won” the last six-plus years. I wonder how a group of dark age fools could wreak such ongoing havoc on the very fabric of the world’s largest, and really only, superpower.

The Bush 43 regime has been an abject failure on so many levels it’s truly astounding. In 2000 I honestly thought he would be an adequate president, and that might have come to pass had 9/11 not occurred. Of course it seems Cheney and a small group of the ex-Nixon administration neocons had some objectives going into their second tour of the White House that might have been executed with, or without, 9/11. We’ll never know, but man we’re dealing with an awful aftermath of failed policy, government overreach and the absolute gutting of the civil liberties on which our founding fathers placed the utmost importance. 

From the link:

Returning from a brief vacation to Germany in February, Bill Hogan was selected for additional screening by customs officials at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Agents searched Hogan’s luggage and then popped an unexpected question: Was he carrying any digital media cards or drives in his pockets? “Then they told me that they were impounding my laptop,” says Hogan, a freelance investigative reporter whose recent stories have ranged from the origins of the Iraq war to the impact of money in presidential politics.

Shaken by the encounter, Hogan says he left the airport and examined his bags, finding that the agents had also removed and inspected the memory card from his digital camera. “It was fortunate that I didn’t use that machine for work or I would have had to call up all my sources and tell them that the government had just seized their information,” he said. When customs offered to return the machine nearly two weeks later, Hogan told them to ship it to his lawyer.

 

The extent of the program to confiscate electronics at customs points is unclear. A hearing Wednesday before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution hopes to learn more about the extent of the program and safeguards to traveler’s privacy. Lawsuits have also been filed, challenging how the program selects travelers for inspection. Citing those lawsuits, Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, refuses to say exactly how common the practice is, how many computers, portable storage drives, and BlackBerries have been inspected and confiscated, or what happens to the devices once they are seized. Congressional investigators and plaintiffs involved in lawsuits believe that digital copies?so-called “mirror images” of drives?are sometimes made of materials after they are seized by customs.

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