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Current Topic: Civil Liberties

It's A Drone's World; We Just Live In It | A Noteworthy Year
Topic: Civil Liberties 9:54 am EST, Dec 28, 2011

Geoff Manaugh:

It seems only a matter of time before armed police drones are a reality in the United States.


The Miami-Dade Police Department recently finalized a deal to buy a drone.

W.J. Hennigan:

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to propose new rules for the use of small drones in January, a first step toward clearing the way for police departments, farmers and others to employ the technology.

David Remnick:

Ten years after the attacks, we are still faced with questions about ourselves -- questions about the balance of liberty and security, about the urge to make common cause with liberation movements abroad, and about the countervailing limits. Only absolutists answer these questions absolutely.

David K. Shipler:

If we cannot mobilize sufficient concern about what we cannot see, then the invisible surveillance will continue undermining the Fourth Amendment without the resistance required to preserve our rights.

Philip Hensher:

I wish there was some less feeble response to this constant, exhausting, draining surveillance we live under.

Benjamin Wittes:

The absence of liberty will tend to guarantee an absence of security, and conversely, one cannot talk meaningfully about an individual's having liberty in the absence of certain basic conditions of security. While either in excess can threaten the other, neither can meaningfully exist without the other.

Kill The Bill
Topic: Civil Liberties 7:09 pm EST, Nov 16, 2011

A father-son exchange:

Where did it come from?
I don't know.
We're not going to kill it, are we Papa?
No. We're not going to kill it.

Mark Twain:

When an entirely new and untried political project is sprung upon the people, they are startled, anxious, timid, and for a time they are mute, reserved, noncommittal. The great majority of them are not studying the new doctrine and making up their minds about it, they are waiting to see which is going to be the popular side.


Like-minded people must form groups and work together to find the most effective way to express their sentiments.

Vint Cerf:

The Internet is for everyone -- but it won't be if Governments restrict access to it ...


Any service that hosts user generated content is going to be under enormous pressure to actively monitor and filter that content. That's a huge burden, and worse for services that are just getting started -- the YouTubes of tomorrow that are generating jobs today. And no matter what they do, we're going to see a flurry of notices anyway -- as we've learned from the DMCA takedown process, content owners are more than happy to send bogus complaints. What happened to Wikileaks via voluntary censorship will now be systematized and streamlined -- as long as someone, somewhere, thinks they've got an IP right that's being harmed.

In essence, Hollywood is tired of those pesky laws that help protect innovation, economic growth, and creativity rather than outmoded business models. So they are trying to rewrite the rules, regulate the Internet, and damn the consequences for the rest of us.

This bill cannot be fixed; it must be killed. The bill's sponsors (and their corporate backers) want to push this thing through quickly, before ordinary citizens get wind of the harm it is going to cause. If you don't want to let big media control the future of innovation and online expression, act now, and urge everyone you know to do the same.

Mark Kingwell:

What is the only thing worse than un-civil discourse? No discourse at all.

Kill The Bill

The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties
Topic: Civil Liberties 12:07 pm EDT, May 15, 2011

Justice Robert H. Jackson:

Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government.

David K. Shipler:

If we cannot mobilize sufficient concern about what we cannot see, then the invisible surveillance will continue undermining the Fourth Amendment without the resistance required to preserve our rights.

Publishers Weekly:

The wars on crime and terrorism have turned into a war on privacy and freedom ... In this first of two volumes, Pulitzer-winning journalist Shipler focuses on the Fourth Amendment's guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure, and finds violations that remind him of his days covering the Soviet Union.

Dan Carden:

Overturning a common law dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Hoosiers have no right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes.

In a 3-2 decision, Justice Steven David writing for the court said if a police officer wants to enter a home for any reason or no reason at all, a homeowner cannot do anything to block the officer's entry.

Jerry Weinberger:

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.

Rebecca Brock:

People say to me, "Whatever it takes." I tell them, It's going to take everything.

The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties

Civil Liberties As A Pet Concern of the Opposition
Topic: Civil Liberties 7:27 pm EST, Nov 30, 2010

Ross Douthat:

In 2006, Gallup asked the public whether the government posed an "immediate threat" to Americans. Only 21 percent of Republicans agreed, versus 57 percent of Democrats. In 2010, they asked again. This time, 21 percent of Democrats said yes, compared with 66 percent of Republicans.

It's a mistake to characterize the survey results in the way that Douthat has done here. According to their framework, shifts in public concern are akin to the way someone might temporarily lose interest in football when their favorite team has a bad year, only to return with great enthusiasm when the team turns things around.

I don't think public concern for civil liberties waxes and wanes like this -- it's more like a permanent slump. It's just not something that drives people to the polls, which is in no small part what drives elections in this country.

In 2003, you commented on the Jose Padilla case:

The public pressure on this is the reason they had to go public. Hopefully this will serve as a lesson in the future to those whose family members may be detained without reason. The Internet is your friend. Get as many eyes on the situation as possible. You now have the power to do that.

But clearly it's not something that motivates a critical mass of voters; this was shown just this month in the case of Russ Feingold, whose leadership on civil liberties failed to move his constituents to action:

Incidentally, the "libertarians" are out showing their true colors on the Reason blog, talking about how it's "almost" a shame and ignorantly overemphasizing Citizen's United in favor of the countless times Feingold has stood for individual rights - likely because none of those people actually cares about individual rights enough to have ever followed a Congressional debate on that subject closely enough to recognize his name or understand his actual position.

The variation expressed by the Gallup surveys is attributable to the subject's utility as a weapon of the opposition party. But it's a blunt weapon -- more like a relay baton, really, or one of those toy rifles that a majorette or color guard might use in their routines.

Other policy issues surely exhibit similar patterns (of shifting to the opposition party). By analyzing large scale, fine-grained temporal data, such as the time devoted to a topic on TV news, I'd expect you could find additional sub-patterns relating to shifts in interest relative to the election cycle. Consider Obama's presidential campaign as the opposition candidate --

The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting.... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

Civil Liberties As A Pet Concern of the Opposition

That Which All Could See And Of Which None Spoke
Topic: Civil Liberties 7:38 am EST, Nov 27, 2010

Roger Ebert:

We're great in this country about doing things that are "good" for children.

I think on this day, for the first time in my life, I can speak for all of America and perhaps for all of mankind, when I say that if proctological examinations ever become part of airport security, that's where I draw the line.

Annie Lowrey, on Peter Kant, of Rapiscan:

I hope Rapiscan is paying him extra for this.

Paul Graham:

I'm not saying we should stop, but I think we should at least examine which lies we tell and why.

Lisa Belkin:

There is often a mismatch between what we see when we look at our children, and what is really there.

Marc Lacey:

In other words, there has to be a line people will not cross, even for a suitcase full of cash.

Ali Dhux:

A man tries hard to help you find your lost camels.
He works more tirelessly than even you,
But in truth he does not want you to find them, ever.

Cormac McCarthy:

At dusk they halted and built a fire and roasted the deer. The night was much enclosed about them and there were no stars. To the north they could see other fires that burned red and sullen along the invisible ridges. They ate and moved on, leaving the fire on the ground behind them, and as they rode up into the mountains this fire seemed to become altered of its location, now here, now there, drawing away, or shifting unaccountably along the flank of their movement. Like some ignis fatuus belated upon the road behind them which all could see and of which none spoke. For this will to deceive that is in things luminous may manifest itself likewise in retrospect and so by sleight of some fixed part of a journey already accomplished may also post men to fraudulent destinies.

Do I have the right to refuse this search?
Topic: Civil Liberties 12:11 pm EST, Nov 11, 2009

Deirdre Walker:

I am not screened because I look like a terrorist. I am routinely screened because I look like someone who will readily comply.

I stepped reluctantly toward the machine and asked her quietly whether I had the right to refuse the search. The screener's face dropped and she appeared stunned, as if my question had been received like a body-blow.


Over the last fifteen years or so, many police agencies started capturing data on police interactions. The primary purpose was to document what had historically been undocumented: informal street contacts. By capturing specific data, we were able to ask ourselves tough questions about potentially biased policing. Many agencies are still struggling with the answers to those questions.

I believe what we have here is the beginning of the end of complacency.

Ira Glass:

Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.

Richard Sennett:

The dismal experiences of many middle-aged job seekers suggest that corporations would rather find conformists among younger workers who haven't been discarded by employers and aren't skeptical about their work.

Alon Halevy, Peter Norvig, and Fernando Pereira:

Invariably, simple models and a lot of data trump more elaborate models based on less data.

So, follow the data.


Money for me, databases for you.

Do I have the right to refuse this search?

DHS Secretary Napolitano Announces New Directives on Border Searches of Electronic Media
Topic: Civil Liberties 7:22 am EDT, Aug 28, 2009

Janet Napolitano:

Today [27 August 2009] I announced new directives to enhance and clarify oversight for searches of computers and other electronic media at US ports of entry -- a critical step designed to bolster the Department's efforts to combat transnational crime and terrorism while protecting privacy and civil liberties.

The directives, available at, will enhance transparency, accountability and oversight of electronic media searches at U.S. ports of entry and includes new administrative procedures designed to reflect broad considerations of civil liberties and privacy protections -- measures designed to ensure that officers and agents understand their responsibilities to protect individual private information and that individuals understand their rights.

From the 10-page CBP Border Search of Electronic Devices Containing Information:

In the course of a border search, with or without individualized suspicion, an Officer may examine electronic devices and may review and analyze the information encountered at the border, subject to the requirements and limitations provided herein and applicable law.

Officers encountering business or commercial information in electronic devices shall treat such information as business confidential information and shall protect that information from unauthorized disclosure.

If after reviewing the information ... there is not probable cause to seize it, any copies of the information must be destroyed, and any electronic device must be returned.

Without probable cause to seize an electronic device or a copy of information contained therein, CBP may retain only information relating to immigration, customs, and other enforcement matters if such retention is consistent with the privacy and data protection standards of the system of records in which such information is retained.

DHS Secretary Napolitano Announces New Directives on Border Searches of Electronic Media

'Please Assume The Position'
Topic: Civil Liberties 8:43 am EDT, Apr  8, 2009

In a shift, the Transportation Security Administration plans to replace the walk-through metal detectors at airport checkpoints with whole-body imaging machines — the kind that provide an image of the naked body.The plan now is that all passengers will “go through the whole-body imager instead of the walk-through metal detector,” he said.

In the airports where the whole-body imaging machines are being tested, less than 2 percent of passengers presented with the option of using them are choosing not to, Mr. Kane said.

Consider why:

Not too long ago possession of a cellphone, at least by people in certain socioeconomic classes, was likely to arouse suspicion.

Now it is becoming a social expectation that you carry a phone.

A middle class person without a phone would be viewed as garishly eccentric in a way that arouses suspicion.

Noam Cohen's friend:

Privacy is serious. It is serious the moment the data gets collected, not the moment it is released.

'Please Assume The Position'

The Privilege of the Grave
Topic: Civil Liberties 6:36 pm EST, Dec 17, 2008

A bright shiny new Gold Star for Mark Twain:

When an entirely new and untried political project is sprung upon the people, they are startled, anxious, timid, and for a time they are mute, reserved, noncommittal. The great majority of them are not studying the new doctrine and making up their minds about it, they are waiting to see which is going to be the popular side.

It is desire to be in the swim that makes political parties.

Paul Auster reads from the essay at NPR:

Mark Twain died almost a hundred years ago, but this week The New Yorker will publish one of his essays for the first time. It is titled "The Privilege of the Grave," and it speaks of how freedom of speech is exercised better by the dead than the living. Brooklyn-based author Paul Auster reads some excerpts — and those are today's parting words.

(Unfortunately for non-subscribers this essay is currently behind the paywall.)

The Privilege of the Grave

Google’s Gatekeepers
Topic: Civil Liberties 10:59 pm EST, Nov 30, 2008

Jeffrey Rosen:

The question of free speech online isn’t just about what a company like Google lets us read or see; it’s also about what it does with what we write, search and view.

Google’s claim on our trust is a fragile thing. After all, it’s hard to be a company whose mission is to give people all the information they want and to insist at the same time on deciding what information they get.

“We’re at the dawn of a new technology. And when people try to come up with the best metaphors to describe it, all the metaphors run out. We’ve built this spaceship, but we really don’t know where it will take us.”

Google’s Gatekeepers

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