David Kirkpatrick

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.

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June 10, 2010

Guns end lives …

… but sometimes guns save lives.

From the link:

When John Q. Citizen takes out a gun and the criminals flee, reporters don’t consider the incident “news” (at least when there are no injuries)–so guns are typically on the evening news when they are used by criminals.  As a result of that skewed coverage, it is no wonder that many people have a negative view about firearms.

I completely agree. I had an incident at my home just before New Year’s this past December at 9:00 a.m. where one assailant attempted to kick in the front door (it held) to the point the lock had to be removed before the door could even be opened, and a second assailant destroyed a section of fence to gain access to the backyard.

Both assailants fled after I racked a 12 gauge shotgun at the back door while looking at the second assailant through frosted glass. Who knows what would have happened had the front door not held or the backyard trespasser decided to more aggressively enter the back door, but I’m fairly certain someone wouldn’t have walked away from that particular situation.

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)

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 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.

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.

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 25, 2009

9/11 changed everything …

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

… and almost gave rise to a tyrannical police state in America. If Dick Cheney had his way with every policy directive the terrorists would truly have won.

Thanks, Dick.

From the link:

Some of the advisers to President George W. Bush, including Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that a president had the power to use the military on domestic soil to sweep up the terrorism suspects, who came to be known as the Lackawanna Six, and declare them enemy combatants.

Mr. Bush ultimately decided against the proposal to use military force.

A decision to dispatch troops into the streets to make arrests has few precedents in American history, as both the Constitution and subsequent laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property.

The Fourth Amendment bans “unreasonable” searches and seizures without probable cause. And the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity.

July 24, 2009

The NSA wiretapped US citizens …

… and the mainstream media brushed the story under the proverbial rug. Just imagine, the MSM totally failed at doing its job. Er, scratch that bit of sarcasm. The MSM has been so full of fail for so long it’s far beyond parody.

From the link:

The cliché doesn’t seem far off the mark after reading Mark Klein’s new book, “Wiring up the Big Brother Machine … and Fighting It.” It’s an account of his experiences as the whistleblower who exposed a secret room at a Folsom Street facility in San Francisco that was apparently used to monitor the Internet communications of ordinary Americans.

Klein, 64, was a retired AT&T communications technician in December 2005, when he read the New York Times story that blew the lid off the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Secretly authorized in 2002, the program lets the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitor telephone conversations and e-mail messages of people inside the U.S. in order to identify suspected terrorists. Klein knew right away that he had proof — documents from his time at AT&T — that could provide a snapshot of how the program was siphoning data off of the AT&T network in San Francisco.

Click here to find out more!Amazingly, however, nobody wanted to hear his story. In his book he talks about meetings with reporters and privacy groups that went nowhere until a fateful January 20, 2006, meeting with Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Bankston was preparing a lawsuit that he hoped would put a stop to the wiretap program, and Klein was just the kind of witness the EFF was looking for.

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 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.

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

ACLU, Heritage Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security

I’m sure some would be shocked to see the Heritage Foundation and the ACLU in agreement, but the two groups have a whole lot more overlap than you might think at first glance when looking at the big picture.

I like to remind people I support the actions of the ACLU and the NRA. And I think there’s something to like on both sides of the current US political spectrum. Plenty not to like on both sides, too.

That’s why I vote the candidate, not the party. Always have, expect to always will. I read somewhere today that there’s no such thing as an independent voter because of low information or something. Can’t remember where I read that, but I think they used the wrong word.

“Undecided” voters are low-information and to that end aren’t really a key part of the electorate in major races (totally different dynamic in low-key local races where the decision may well be made on a whim in the booth.)

“Independent” voters are very likely to be very high information and making decisions as I do — voting the person and issues of the race at hand, not pulling a straight party ticket because of something dumb like, “I like old so-and-so, but can’t vote for him because he’s a dirty Republican and I’m a Democrat.”

Straight party voters are pretty much no-information voters because any information makes no difference in the selection.

At any rate this is from the link way up there in the first sentence:

This morning, NPR did a segment with Tim Sparapani of our Washington Legislative Office and our frenemies at the Heritage Foundation. They discussed ways that the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration could endeavor to do better by the country. First, Tim suggested making the watchlists, you know, work:

Any terrorist worth his or her salt can go out and get a fake ID in about 20 minutes, or they can show up under their own name if they’re not a name of somebody that we’ve been monitoring abroad[…] And there are lots of people, unfortunately, who have been willing to be recruited whom we would never know about until the moment they actually commit an attack.

So while the TSA is busy stopping all the Robert Johnsons of the world, potential terrorists might be slipping by.

 

Now, Heritage’s take:

…[The Heritage Foundation] says the government’s multi-billion dollar investment in what’s often referred to as “guns, guards and gates” is the wrong way to go — that it’s futile to try to protect everything in a country that has a seemingly endless number of potential targets.

We couldn’t agree more, Heritage!

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 26, 2008

The TSA is a joke

The boondoggle of a national agency that is the Transportation Security Agency, a part of that larger waste of government funds, the Department of Homeland Security, is proving to be quite inept at doing anything but waste the time of, and harass, US travelers.

Now don’t get me wrong, changes needed to be made after 9/11, but there was no reason not to work within the existing framework and effect a solution.

The concept of “homeland security” all sitting under one roof, so to speak, and working hand-in-hand sounded great, but like most bureaucracies, in practice it’s incompetent and a colossal waste of taxpayers money. If this agency had been created under a Democratic administration the GOP would be howling. Since it appeared under the pen and auspices of the Bush 43 regime, GOPers are silent and this is one more reason honest conservatives are ready to bust the party up for its own good.

I’ve blogged about problems with the TSA and Homeland Security (notably here and here) thanks to the careful attention the good people at the Cato Institute pay to this issue.

And then I find this story:

Last spring, shortly after airing a news report that embarrassed the TSAand the Federal Air Marshal Service, CNN’s investigative reporter Drew Griffin was suddenly placed on the TSA’s terrorist watch list. Last week, CNN ran a follow-up piece. Anderson Cooper interviewed Griffin — a reporter who had suddenly moved from telling an important story to being part of it.

The day after the Cooper-Griffin exchange, Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Texas) formally called for a probe into the TSA’s seemingly vengeful act. Jackson Lee asked DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff the following:

“My question is why would Drew Griffin’s name come on the watch list, post-his investigation of TSA?” Jackson Lee said.

“What is the basis of this sudden recognition that Drew Griffin is a terrorist? Are we targeting people because of their critique or criticism?”

Chertoff hedged, saying it was not his “understanding the reporter was put on [the list]” but that Griffin may share a name with someone put on the list.

Which is almost impossible to believe. Unless you are willing to accept that someone else coincidentally named Drew Griffin was discovered to be a terrorist almost seven years after 9/11 but within a week or two of CNN’s March 2008 air date.

To anyone who isn’t trying to finger-plug the sieve in the aviation security wall called TSA, the answer to Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee’s question is quite clearly “yes.” The TSA does target people who critique or criticize the TSA.

And this is what Griffin worked on to cause his “problem” with the TSA. A story covering Jeffrey Denning, a former Dallas SWAT team member and former Federal Air Marshal who detained a man legitimately on the terrorist list and after trying to get higher-ups in the Homeland Security chain to come and process the potential terrorist found the end result very discouraging:

Surely, now that alarm bells have been sounded inside the uppermost echelons of six U.S. federal agencies — DHS, TSA, FAMS, ICE, JTTF, FBI — and with a match hit on a terrorist watch list, Anwar Al-XXXXX would be under intense scrutiny and taken in for further questioning. At least in theory he would be.

Unfortunately, that proved to be only theory.

Denning explained what happened next: “They [i.e., DHS/JTTF and the airport police] couldn’t get an ICE agent to the scene so I was asked to examine [Al-XXXXX’s] travel documents. This struck me as odd because I have no training in examining travel documents. None of the Federal Air Marshals have received training that I’m aware of. Finally word came back from the MOC [Mission Operations Control]. They said, ‘we’ve been waiting on the FBI. We can’t get them to verify. Let him go.’”

Denning followed orders.

Watching Anwar Al-XXXXX pick up his bag and disappear into the throngs of travelers at Reagan National Airport, Denning told me that he thought to himself, “I seriously hope this guy doesn’t show up on the evening news.”

Anwar Al-XXXXX did not show up on the evening news. But Jeffrey Denning did. Last week, CNN aired a three-part piece in print, on TV, and on its blog that focuses on Denning’s witch-hunt-like plight.

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.

June 25, 2008

IDs, airports and “security”

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:47 am

Jim Harper at Cato-at-Liberty has a great post pointing out the essential truth behind the policy preventing anyone from flying unless an ID is presented.

The first graf:

We’re now learning the meaning of a new policy that Americans can’t “willfully” refuse to show ID at airports. The Consumerist has a write-upof one man’s experience with IDless travel. It turns out they do a background check on you using, among other things, your political affiliation.

He goes on to point out the TSA’s “system” is easily subverted by anyone with no history of breaking the law. It does provide a burden on the overwhelming majority of travelers who just want to get from point A to point B. Oh, and it has another effect as well. This time on the civil liberties and right to privacy of the traveler. Two US Constitution granted ideals held near and dear by most Americans.

Harper’s conclusion:

Identity checks at airports require law-abiding American citizens to give up their privacy, including their political affiliations, with essentially no security benefit.

March 13, 2008

The government is watching you …

Remember that little domestic spying program — Total Information Awareness — that was determined to be overly broad and more than likely unconstitutional? The one that was killed off several years ago?

Well, it wasn’t killed after all. It just went a little more underground like any good domestic spying program offered by tyrannic states throughout history.

Go read the entire linked Wall Street Journal article, but here’s the intro to get you started:

Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on Americans’ privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But the data-sifting effort didn’t disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system.

The central role the NSA has come to occupy in domestic intelligence gathering has never been publicly disclosed. But an inquiry reveals that its efforts have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people’s communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than the domestic surveillance programs brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Congress now is hotly debating domestic spying powers under the main law governing U.S. surveillance aimed at foreign threats. An expansion of those powers expired last month and awaits renewal, which could be voted on in the House of Representatives this week. The biggest point of contention over the law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is whether telecommunications and other companies should be made immune from liability for assisting government surveillance.

Largely missing from the public discussion is the role of the highly secretive NSA in analyzing that data, collected through little-known arrangements that can blur the lines between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering. Supporters say the NSA is serving as a key bulwark against foreign terrorists and that it would be reckless to constrain the agency’s mission. The NSA says it is scrupulously following all applicable laws and that it keeps Congress fully informed of its activities.

According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called “transactional” data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA’s own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge’s approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

The NSA’s enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world’s main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements.

Keep in mind proponents of this level of domestic spying want you to remember, “there’s nothing to fear as long as you’re not doing anything wrong.” We all know government ought to be trusted with secrets and given expanded functions. I can’t believe some people still call the Bush 43 regime “conservative.”

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?