Archive for the ‘Opinion & Commentary’ Category

The Emperor’s New Clothes: The naked truth about the American police state.

Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 12:00 pm by

This guest post by John Whitehead was originally published on July 8 by the Rutherford Institute. 

“The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself…Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.”                                                                                                               —H.L. Mencken, American journalist

It’s vogue, trendy and appropriate to look to dystopian literature as a harbinger of what we’re experiencing at the hands of the government. Certainly, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm have much to say about government tyranny, corruption, and control, as does Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report. Yet there are also older, simpler, more timeless stories—folk tales and fairy tales—that speak just as powerfully to the follies and foibles in our nature as citizens and rulers alike that give rise to tyrants and dictatorships.

One such tale, Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes, is a perfect paradigm of life today in the fiefdom that is the American police state, only instead of an imperial president spending money wantonly on lavish vacations, entertainment, and questionable government programs aimed at amassing greater power, Andersen presents us with a vain and thoughtless emperor, concerned only with satisfying his own needs at the expense of his people, even when it means taxing them unmercifully, bankrupting his kingdom, and harshly punishing his people for daring to challenge his edicts. (more…)

Newly released memo on drone killings based on faulty assumptions and secret law.

Friday, July 11, 2014 at 1:17 pm by

droneThe US government may assassinate its own citizens.  We saw this in 2011 when the US killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen of Yemeni descent.  But under what conditions may the US government assassinate one of its own citizens?  This question was partially answered with the June 23 release of a legal memo authored in 2010 by former White House counsel, now federal appeals judge, David Barron.

The memo explains the legal reasoning justifying the 2011 drone assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. It was released by order of the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals in response to a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times. It is a follow up to a white paper released in 2013 by the Obama administration stating the legal opinion that a US citizen could be killed if he was a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaeda or an “associated force” posing an “imminent threat.” That memo specifically stated that assessing a target as an “imminent threat” need not require knowledge of a specific planned attack against the US. (more…)

From cops to soldiers: the American police state and the militarization of law enforcement.

Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm by

These are busy times for the Border Patrol, the custom agents, immigration folks; but if we are going to send these agencies to fight a war on drugs, to fight a war against illegal behavior, we have to send them the proper tools.

– Then-Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner

Since President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs in June 1971, the United States has spent nearly $1 trillion on a vicious campaign that has served as a means to subjugate, terrorize, and control. Nonviolent drug abuse violations remain the single most common offense, accounting for over 1.5 million individuals arrested in 2012.

SWAT

With the rate of unsolved homicides skyrocketing over the past 50 years, it is has become increasingly clear that the failed War on Drugs has only perpetuated violence on the streets of America’s most destitute communities. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff, “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” Despite the seemingly obvious facts that speak against these tough-on-crime policies, the war wages on throughout the nation, as low-income communities and communities of color continue to be targeted in an effort to destabilize the urban family.

This rise of militarism in American policing has come about without public discussion, and is often accompanied with a lack of both local and federal oversight. Maryland stands as the only state in the country that requires law enforcement agencies with a SWAT team to submit semi-annual deployment information, a law that was enacted after a small-town mayor was held at gunpoint for hours by the Prince George County SWAT team on false pretenses.  The SWAT team proceeded to murder two of his dogs.

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PCLOB flops on Internet spying

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm by

Today, the Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) released a major report on the National Security Agency’s Internet surveillance programs. Earlier this year, the PCLOB took a strong stance against telephony spying under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, correctly describing it as both illegal and unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the PCLOB’s latest report is a vast disappointment, failing to reflect the same independence apparent in its first report and deferring to the government despite stronger calls for reform from Congress, as well as a recent Supreme Court decision, that should have emboldened the PCLOB.

BORDC is hardly alone in expressing disappointment in the PCLOB’s findings. The American Library Association’s Adam Eisgrau noted that “despite the dictates of the Fourth Amendment, the Board essentially endorses the use of general warrants to search through the content of unimaginable numbers of communications of millions of Americans….”

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The Court finally shows up for work (Part II)

Monday, June 30, 2014 at 8:12 am by

Part I of this series explained the Supreme Court’s decision in Riley v. California, and why it represents so dramatic an evolution from prior cases where the Court failed to grasp the implications of digital technology for the privacy values pervading the Bill of Rights. This follow-up post explains the social forces animating the decision, with crucial implications for any number of social issues going forward.

Where it came from: is the Court “in front,” or behind?

It remains important to recognize how a broader social debate made possible last week’s decision in Riley v. California. Only in examining the influence of mass debate on elite legal discourse can we understand how digital privacy — or other contested rights — will evolve in the future.

A long-running debate among legal theorists questions whether, and how, courts are influenced by broader public debates beyond the courtroom. On the one hand, courts are inherently reactive institutions.

On the other hand, courts have occasionally advanced justice while the political branches remain mired in majoritarian prejudice: in Brown vs Board, the Court — not Congress — forced desegregation on the South, just as Goodridge v. Dep’t of Public Health placed a Massachusetts court near the front of the marriage equality movement (disclosure: I was part of the legal team representing the mayor of new Paltz, NY in a 2004 marriage equality case).

Brown vs. Board is relevant not only in demonstrating an example of the Court’s occasional proactivity, but also in rejecting “separate but equal” systems for people of different races. Lost in most commentary about the Riley decision has been an awareness of its serious implications for race, which in turn help reveal whether Riley reflects a Court “out in front,” or instead, one lagging behind American society.

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“The fault line is shifting”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 5:12 pm by

Earlier this week, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar appeared on The Big Picture with host Thom Hartmann to explain what he described as a “game changer” on congressional NSA reform, and to relate how members of Congress found “an alternative outlet for their outrage” about NSA spying.

Shahid explained that:

The last thing that had happened in Congress was a very meager version of the USA Freedom Act passing the House, and that could ultimately [do] more harm than good. The amendments to the House Defense Appropriations bill last week…reflected essentially a response by members of Congress who were frustrated by the White House and the Republican leadership of the House gutting the USA Freedom Act, and finding an alternative outlet for their outrage….

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Secretary of State slanders historic NSA whistleblower

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 8:04 am by

This Monday, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar appeared on the Pacifica Radio network’s Flashpoints program to respond to Secretary of State John Kerry’s confused, ironic, and self-serving statements about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Buttar noted Kerry’s complicity in mass surveillance given his voting record in the Senate, as well as his failure to maintain his own stated principles as a veteran who, at one point early in his career, testified before Congress about his opposition to the Vietnam War.

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NSA collects biometric data, prompting creative countermeasures

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 7:27 am by

Along with investigative journalist Laura Pointras, James Risen from the New York Times (who is facing prosecution for protecting the confidentiality of his sources in the face of yet another whistleblower investigation) produced a report this Sunday based on the latest among the Snowden revelations. In particular, Poitras & Risen reveal that the NSA is collecting and maintaining a vast image database of faces for use with facial recognition software.

As they explain in their report:

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.

“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document.

Facial recognition software deployed for surveillance and intelligence gathering is not merely constitutionally questionable, it is also really, really creepy. Your face is not “data,” it is you. More than any personal email or racy text message, your biometric information is the most personal data you possess. By rendering faces into ones and zeros, the NSA objectifies and commodifies the body itself.

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Redacted Tonight features BORDC’s Shahid Buttar on NSA spying

Monday, June 2, 2014 at 8:39 am by

This past Friday, RT premiered a new news comedy program, Redacted Tonight. The program’s inaugural episode featured BORDC’s Shahid Buttar, who explained some shortcomings of the USA Freedom Act that recently passed the House, before later encouraging his interviewer’s lyrical creativity.

The Surveillance State and the state of surveillance: What activism has to learn from art

Friday, May 30, 2014 at 10:12 am by

The “Surveillance State” is a term civil libertarians often invoke, and when they do they mean it literally. The Surveillance State is a reference to the actual surveillance activities of a formally organized governmental state. But the Surveillance State is more than a product of policies and protocols crafted by bureaucrats in shadowy rooms. The resulting condition of surveillance has given rise to new forms of artistic expression that can help political activists learn new ways to talk about civil liberties and find new communities to engage with.

For example, this June 5th will be the first anniversary of Edward Snowden’s historic revelations about the extent of NSA dragnet surveillance and the occasion is being celebrated with the Reset The Net online event. Reset The Net is the product of frequent BORDC collaborator Fight For The Future and it is a fantastic time to think creatively about resistance to the surveillance state beyond business-as-usual political organizing. June 5th is not just an opportunity for action, it is also an occasion to reflect on why this work must be done and how we are all personally affected.

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