Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

Free Speech, RIP: A Relic of the American Past

Monday, March 3, 2014 at 11:06 am by

Original commentary by John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute on March 3, 2014.

free_speechLiving in a representative republic means that each person has the right to take a stand for what they think is right, whether that means marching outside the halls of government, wearing clothing with provocative statements, or simply holding up a sign. That’s what the First Amendment is supposed to be about.

Unfortunately, as I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American  Police State, through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering it with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials. In fact, if the following court rulings are anything to go by, the First Amendment has, for all intents and purposes, become an exercise in futility.

On February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9-0 ruling, held that anti-nuclear activist John Denis Apel could be prosecuted for staging a protest on a public road at an Air Force base, free speech claims notwithstanding, because the public road is technically government property.

Utah legal challenge to license plate readers implicates 1st, 4th Amendments

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 8:07 am by

Private businesses are using the 1st Amendment to mount a legal challenge to regulations on automatic license plate readers signed into law in the state of Utah in April of last year. License plate readers are another in the great panoply of spying technologies that automatically read the plate number, direction and time of travel for any car it catches in its lens. This data can then be aggregated and cross-referenced by police or other government agents to discern whether or not the car is stolen or otherwise involved in a criminal investigation.

The regulation in Utah effectively banned the private use of license plate scanners and put in place strict guidelines for how the scanners are to be used by police. Included in the regulation is a 30-day cap on information retention, meaning all the license plate data collected by the cameras is discarded after the 30-day period is up.

The FBI used to spy on the movies, now they just spy on you

Friday, December 27, 2013 at 10:18 am by

Every year around the holidays my family would gather together around the fireplace, have a glass of eggnog and watch the classic film It’s A Wonderful Life. While at first glance this may seem as normal and wholesome as it is apolitical, at one point in the country’s history the FBI disagreed.  In the 1940’s and 50’s, the spy agency sent paid informants into Hollywood to report on what they considered “possible Communist propaganda.”


The Senate Is Busy Creating a Privileged 1st Amendment Club for ‘Official’ Journalists

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 9:00 am by

Originally published on Alternet (
By Carey Shenkman

censorshipOn September 12, 2013, the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee narrowly defined who the law should consider to be a journalist, by amending [3] the proposed Free Flow of Information Act (“FFIA”). The FFIA is a “shield law” that protects journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources when confronted with court subpoenas. The amendment changed the language of the bill from protecting the activity of journalism to protecting the profession. Journalists are now limited to those employed by, recently employed by, or substantially contributing to media organizations for certain minimum durations.

This maneuver skirts the substantial investigative role served by independent journalists, bloggers, and nontraditional media, who are left unprotected by the statute. It also expressly excludes whistleblower organizations. By not extending protection to a vital segment of investigative newsgatherers, the amended FFIA falls short of providing real benefits. More fundamentally, the distinctions created by the bill reinforce a privileged club for journalists. In essence, the government is licensing the press, and treading down a path that courts have for decades cautioned [4] “present[s] practical and conceptual difficulties of a high order.”


News Digest 07/05/13

Friday, July 5, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

Report shows how surveillance state is fueled by money

Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 10:52 am by

On May 20, 2013, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and DBA Press released the results of an in-depth investigation into state surveillance of First Amendment dissent. Their report, “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, In Partnership With Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street,” details how state and regional “fusion center” personnel monitored the Occupy Wall Street movement over the course of 2011 and 2012.

Based on thousands of pages of records obtained from law enforcement agencies, the report cites documents that offer concrete evidence that surveillance has become an embedded feature of everyday American life. CMD’s findings reinforce the concerns of many activists that the surveillance state has grown far beyond its purpose of protecting America from “terrorist threats,” detailing the ways in which it serves to benefit corporate interests. This is no secret. As the debate over the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protect Act earlier this year emphasized, public and private intelligence sharing is the wave of the future.

Such information sharing happens in multiple ways.


CT breaks the ICE between immigrant communities and local police

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 9:38 am by

In a historic triumph for human rights and civil liberties, Connecticut unanimously passed the first statewide policy to counter  the profoundly flawed  Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. Under the Trust and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act, Connecticut’s immigrant communities can remain intact, enjoy protection from prejudiced policing, and participate in upholding peace in their communities. Furthermore, Connecticut now assumes a leadership role in immigration reform and resisting pervasive state surveillance.

secure_communities1S-Comm essentially transforms state and local law enforcement into automated immigration checkpoints. Upon arrest, a detained persons’ fingerprints and criminal background, if any, are shared with federal agencies to cross-check against Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) immigration database.

If the feds find an ‘individual of interest’, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sends local police a detainer request to hold that individual while ICE determines whether or not to initiate deportation proceedings.

Though described by ICE as an initiative to  remove dangerous undocumented criminals, S-Comm separates hard-working immigrant families and immerses entire communities in fear. Profiling, mistaken identity, and disproportionate pursuit of low-level perpetrators undermine trust between immigrant communities and local police. Studies indicate that the fear of deportation significantly decreases community cooperation with legitimate law enforcement investigations.

Additionally, S-Comm enables the type of prejudiced policing infamously observed in East Haven, CT.


Google report shows increase in government censorship requests

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 10:46 am by

For the past three years, Google has attempted to become more transparent by releasing reports about which governments are requesting it to remove content from its search engine or other sites. Their latest report covering the last six months of 2012, shows a significant increase of 26% more requests from governments to remove videos from Youtube, delete blog posts from Blogger, or remove items from Google’s search results, making them harder to find. The reports show that the number of requests have been increasing steadily for the last three years. Since Google controls a significant amount of international internet traffic, its decisions about what to show or restrict access to can have far reaching consequences.

google transparency report

In a blog post, Google wrote:

It’s become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown. In more places than ever, we’ve been asked to remove political content…or blog posts criticizing government officials or their associates.

This latest report also clarified whether videos were taken down for violating Google’s community guidelines or for violating local laws.


MLK Day and the FBI’s continuing crimes

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 10:30 am by

In addition to President Obama’s second inauguration (on which the People’s Blog for the Constitution will soon post a comment), yesterday was also a national holiday celebrating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2008, American Radio Works produced King’s Last March, an insightful documentary by Kate Ellis and Stephen Smith that NPR re-broadcast yesterday.

The program reminds listeners about the life of Dr. King, including not only his inspiring civil rights work, but also the disturbing examples of state surveillance and “neutralization” to which he was subjected for years preceding his untimely death.

With the FBI’s ressurrection of its war on the Constitution, BORDC’s 2011 video, COINTELPRO 2.0, offers a timely reminder of this unfortunate history:

According to American Radio Works, the “FBI’s War on King” included “an extensive program of surveillance and harassment…[u]nder the guidance of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover – and with the permission of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy….”


Ninth Circuit allows suit challenging military surveillance

Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 7:48 am by

Army surveillance, like Army regimentation, is at war with the principles of the First Amendment. . . There can be no influence more paralyzing of that objective than Army surveillance. When an intelligence officer looks over every nonconformist’s shoulder in the library, or walks invisibly by his side in a picket line, or infiltrates his club, the America once extolled as the voice of liberty heard around the world no longer is cast in the image which Jefferson and Madison designed . . .

While originally written in dissent from the Laird v. Tatum in 1979, Supreme Court Justice William Douglas could have been describing Panagacos v. Towery. The Towery case was decided just a few weeks ago by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arising from the infiltration of activist groups in Tacoma and Olympia, WA. From 2007 to 2009, John Towery, a criminal intelligence analyst for the army, infiltrated and spied on these groups, going by the name John Jacob.

Unfortunately, Justice Douglas’ statement is from the dissent in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Laird v. Tatum, a 1979 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the fear of surveillance, leading to chilling of First Amendment activity, was too speculative to support a claim. This precedent, along with other obstacles, has made it almost impossible to sue the Pentagon for domestic spying.

However, one National Lawyers Guild attorney, Larry Hildes, is hoping to change that. A December 17 ruling by the Ninth Circuit breathed new life in his efforts.

Towery’s identity was discovered almost by accident. Brendan Maslaukas Dunn, an activist with Students for a Democratic Society, Port Militarization Resistance, and the Industrial Workers of the World made a Freedom of Information Act request for any communications between the Olympia police and the military concerning anarchists. He recounts:

One of the documents was an email that was sent between personnel in the military, and the email address that was attached to this email was of John J. Towery. We didn’t know who that was, but several people did a lot of research to find out who that was, and they identified that person as being John Jacob.

It is unclear exactly how much information John Towery shared with law enforcement and the military, but there are at least 133 pages of intelligence documents, including Towery’s spying contract with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, available online.