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Current Topic: Civil Liberties

Meme of the Year: Warrants are so 20th Century
Topic: Civil Liberties 10:14 pm EDT, Aug 16, 2006

"What helped the British in this case is the ability to be nimble, to be fast, to be flexible, to operate based on fast-moving information," he said. "We have to make sure our legal system allows us to do that. It's not like the 20th century, where you had time to get warrants."

Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

Warrants are so 20th Century. Thats the meme of the year. Remember, the Constitution talks about Warrants, but it doesn't say you always have to have one. It just says that you can't perform an unreasonable search. If the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security thinks its reasonable, then obviously it must be. In the future, Warrants will only be required when you're searching the offices of a corporation or a public official. I'm not kidding. Mark my words.

The strategy here is to win the 2006 elections on an anti civil liberties platform.

We have to get away from this concept that we have to apply civil-liberties protections to terrorists," Peter King (R., N.Y.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee

What is a terrorist, Mr King? Who determines who is or is not a terrorist so that we know when to apply civil liberties and when not to apply them? What is a trial, Mr. King? What does a trial determine? How can you determine guilt without a trial? If you don't need a trial to determine guilt, then why have them? What is their purpose? Has the federal government ever prosecuted an innocent person? How many, exactly? Has the federal government ever spied on anyone for an inappropriate purpose? Has the federal government ever detained someone for an inappropriate purpose?

Meme of the Year: Warrants are so 20th Century

Yes they ARE doing random laptop searches at borders
Topic: Civil Liberties 7:20 pm EDT, Jul 31, 2006

I flew into SFO (San Francisco) from Asia in May 2006.

I went straight to the customs agent as I had no luggage.

The agent asked to go through my only bag.

I gave him my bag.

The agent took out my laptop and turned it on.

He then asked for my password

He said that he wanted to verify that I had no illegal content on my hard drive...

While operating my laptop he said that we was tasked with preventing illegal pornographic material from entering the United States

Travis Kalanick
Red Swoosh, Inc.
Founder, CEO

I can't think of anything that could destroy by mood when returning to the country more throughly.

I don't think the problem here is people are thinking pre-9/11, versus post-9/11. I think the problem is that they are not thinking trans-9/11. I'm starting to feel my freedoms and liberties are under far more threat from our government, than terrorists. And this really pains and distresses me..

Every time I came through SFO customs when returning to the US, after going over my paperwork, the customs agent always say something along the lines of "welcome home" as they sent me on my way. I always replied with something like "I'm happy to be home", and left the airport with a warm happy fuzzy feeling fitting of arriving home in San Francisco. If this is the "welcome home" of today, home is becoming far less welcoming.

What the hell is going on? This is the direct equivalent of going through and reading someone's papers.

One thing our nation has a great history of, is coming out in force whenever freedoms and liberties are not what they should be. Many of the events that have driven people in large numbers to rally around The Mall in DC have surrounded civil rights movements, anti-war movements, et cetera. Now, I just wonder how many years before a point of critical mass is hit, and the masses come to the conclusion in concert that things are not going in the right direction. Just because this is a slow erosion taking place, doesn't mean it's going to go unnoticed and unopposed. It just means it will be a straw that breaks the camel's back...

Yes they ARE doing random laptop searches at borders

Flag Burning Amendment? AGAIN?
Topic: Civil Liberties 9:07 am EDT, Jun 26, 2006

Some quick thoughts about the flag burning issue, since the conservatives are currently using it to pander to their base..

This is from Texas v. Johnson (491 U.S. 397):

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

In reaction to this decision, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act of 1989. There were two reactions. First, more flags were burned following its passage then at any other point in American history. Second, the court promptly smacked them down in US v. Eichman (496 U.S. 310), leaving an amendment as the only option to enforce a flag burning law. In every Congress since, a bill for a flag burning amendment has been proposed. That's six times. It died in the Senate _twice_. The past three bills were not even able to pass the house.

This is a waste of time. If it does pass, the result will be a bunch of burning flags. This is counter productive and stupid.

Flag Burning Amendment? AGAIN?

Wired News: The Great No-ID Airport Challenge
Topic: Civil Liberties 12:02 am EDT, Jun 11, 2006

Jim Harper left his hotel early Thursday at 5:30 a.m. to give himself more than two hours to clear security at San Francisco International Airport. It wasn't that he was worried the security line would be long, but because he accepted a dare from civil liberties rabble-rouser John Gilmore to test whether he could actually fly without showing identification.

Gilmore issued the challenge at Wednesday's meeting of the Department of Homeland Security's privacy advisory committee in San Francisco.

This is interesting. A member of the DHS privacy advisory committe takes Gilmore's challenge on and sails through SFO. Some of the comments attached are interesting, as well as Edward Hasbrouck's blog post. Apparently if you want to fly without showing ID you just tell them you lost your wallet and they have a process for that. Its when you start yammering about the Constitution that they fuck with you.

Wired News: The Great No-ID Airport Challenge

Wired News: Why We Published the AT&T Docs
Topic: Civil Liberties 2:34 pm EDT, May 22, 2006

AT&T claims information in the file is proprietary and that it would suffer severe harm if it were released.

Based on what we've seen, Wired News disagrees. In addition, we believe the public's right to know the full facts in this case outweighs AT&T's claims to secrecy.

Wired has now published ALL of the AT&T documents. I agree with Wired that this information doesn't create a competitive problem for AT&T. AT&T is playing the proprietary card for technical reasons. I also don't think that publishing this information harms national security. Basically, yawn, there is nothing here that indicates that this is anything more then a CALEA compliance room. Mind you, the problem with CALEA is that it creates all of the infrastructure needed to allow access to all of the content, and anyone who had access to the content, or possibly anyone who can guess your SNMPv3 password, can pretty much do whatever they want with it so long as they don't get caught. This is why civil libertarians opposed CALEA. However, proving that the intercepts in this case aren't lawful is going to take more evidence than this.

Suggested reading on Prior Restraint:

* New York Times v. United States (403 U.S. 713) - Pentagon Papers case

The only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry.

Because of the importance of these rights, any prior restraint on publication comes into court under a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.

* United States v. Progressive (467 F. Supp. 990) - H-Bomb Case

This case is different in several important respects. In the first place, the study involved in the New York Times case contained historical data relating to events that occurred some three to twenty years previously. Secondly, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that no cogent reasons were advanced by the government as to why the article affected national security except that publication might cause some embarrassment to the United States.

The Secretary of State states that publication will increase thermonuclear proliferation and that this would "irreparably impair the national security of the United States." The Secretary of Defense says that dissemination of the Morland paper will mean a substantial increase in the risk of thermonuclear proliferation and lead to use or threats that would "adversely affect the national security of the United States."

Defendants have stated that publication of the article will alert the people of this country to the false illusion of security created by the government's futile efforts at secrecy. They believe publication will provide the people with needed information to make informed decisions on an urgent issue of public concern.

The title of this Wired article is a reference to the issue of The Progressive that revealed the Teller-Ulam design. "The H-Bomb Secret: How we got it, why we're telling it"

Wired News: Why We Published the AT&T Docs

Wired News: AT&T Whistle-Blower's Evidence
Topic: Civil Liberties 7:10 pm EDT, May 17, 2006

Tommorow is the big day for the EFF's AT&T NSA spying case. There is a public hearing in the morning to determine whether or not the Federal Government will be able to assert the State Secret's Privilege to squash the case. Wired has tons of coverage, including information from the EFF's exhibits, which I'm linking here.

The normal work force of unionized technicians in the office are forbidden to enter the "secret room," which has a special combination lock on the main door. The telltale sign of an illicit government spy operation is the fact that only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter this room.

The above-referenced document includes a diagram (PDF 3) showing the splitting of the light signal, a portion of which is diverted to "SG3 Secure Room," i.e., the so-called "Study Group" spy room.

Since the San Francisco "secret room" is numbered 3, the implication is that there are at least several more in other cities (Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego are some of the rumored locations), which likely are spread across the United States.

Now, the description offered here would be valid for a CALEA compliance room. The existance of these things doesn't demonstrate what is being surveilled or why or with what authority. But the technical information is likely of interest to the geeks on this site, including the tool used for collecting data (which is a common CALEA compliance tool). There is also a picture of the room.

The State Secrets Option, BTW, is the nuclear option in law. If this case proceeds it will be a watershed event, particularly given that this option was accepted in the rendition case of Maher Arar. Getting tortured by a foreign government is a bit more serious then getting your phone tapped.

Of course, consideration of this matter leads one rapidly to worry that that if the intelligence or security establishment commits a crime, and you are the victim of that crime, you have no recourse. This tends to incidate that the realm of intelligence and national security is an autonomous zone, where the only real law is "trust us."

Wired News: AT&T Whistle-Blower's Evidence

RE: The Department of Homeland Security Has Shut Us Down
Topic: Civil Liberties 5:47 pm EDT, May 12, 2006

k wrote:
I wouldn't bet on it. What bullshit. I'd like to believe there was a good reason, such as a credible threat or lead, but these days, I really just don't have that much faith in our government or legal system.

Its highly likely that this is actionable. Its not generally legal to shut down websites in police raids in the United States. Its approximately equivelent to shutting down a newspaper printing press. Unless the whole thing is pretty much devoted to illegal content they cannot pull the plug on it. In this case they probably didn't realize they were taking out a shared hosting server. However, each and every one of those people who runs a website that was impacted and wasn't the target of the investigation can press criminal charges against the police agency involved if they get a hold a knowledgable lawyer.

See this link and this one.

It shall be unlawful for a government officer or employee, in connection with the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense, to search for or seize any work product materials possessed by a person reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

(The exception in this act for child pornography cases is close enough to litigate but Congress did not envision shared hosting websites when they crafted this exception. I think there is a strong arguement that the exception does not apply when the majority of the people using the printing press in question have nothing to do with the crime being investigated. The government CAN be more granular in their seizure and respect for this rule requires it.)

RE: The Department of Homeland Security Has Shut Us Down

Boing Boing: William Gibson on NSA wiretapping
Topic: Civil Liberties 5:43 pm EDT, May 12, 2006

Our popular culture, our dirt-ball street culture teaches us from childhood that the CIA is listening to *all* of our telephone calls and reading *all* of our email anyway.

I keep seeing that in the lower discourse of the Internet, people saying, "Oh, they're doing it anyway." In some way our culture believes that, and it's a real problem, because evidently they haven't been doing it anyway, and now that they've started, we really need to pay attention and muster some kind of viable political response.

Boing Boing: William Gibson on NSA wiretapping

Legal Analysis of the NSA surveillance program
Topic: Civil Liberties 3:50 pm EST, Dec 20, 2005

Was the secret NSA surveillance program legal? Was it constitutional? Did it violate federal statutory law? It turns out these are hard questions, but I wanted to try my best to answer them. My answer is pretty tentative, but here it goes: Although it hinges somewhat on technical details we don't know, it seems that the program was probably constitutional but probably violated the federal law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

This is a detailed analysis. The Administration's Position is also available.

Legal Analysis of the NSA surveillance program

UMass Dartmouth senior visited by federal agents for checking out Mao's 'Little Red Book'
Topic: Civil Liberties 4:17 am EST, Dec 18, 2005

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

This is over the top. Mao? They sent out federal agents because a college student was reading Mao? Are we really worried about a communist movement in America these days? What the hell is going on?

I'm at a loss for words.. I have to resort to pulling out John Locke's greatest hits: "The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it."

Update: There is a copy of an email floating around saying that there are more things that prompted this investigation, such as the student's foreign travel. I'd still like more details.

UMass Dartmouth senior visited by federal agents for checking out Mao's 'Little Red Book'

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