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Posts Tagged ‘Constitutional rights’

The author of this column claims that the sole purpose of the Dept. of Homeland security is to provide bonanzas for favored congressional districts. Its purpose goes further than that: To maintain a constant mood of low-level fear so the people will continue going along with government abuses of power.

Hardly anyone has seriously scrutinized either the priorities or the spending patterns of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its junior partner, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), since their hurried creation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Sure, they get criticized plenty. But year in, year out, they continue to grow faster and cost more — presumably because Americans think they are being protected from terrorism by all that spending. Yet there is no evidence whatsoever that the agencies are making Americans any safer.

DHS serves only one clear purpose: to provide unimaginable bonanzas for favored congressional districts around the United States, most of which face no statistically significant security threat at all. One thinks of the $436,504 that the Blackfeet Nation of Montana received in fiscal 2010 “to help strengthen the nation against risks associated with potential terrorist attacks”; the $1,000,000 that the village of Poynette, Wisconsin (pop. 2,266) received in fiscal 2009 for an “emergency operations center”; or the $67,000 worth of surveillance equipment purchased by Marin County, California, and discovered, still in its original packaging, four years later. And indeed, every U.S. state, no matter how landlocked or underpopulated, receives, by law, a fixed percentage of homeland security spending every year.

As for the TSA, I am not aware of a single bomber or bomb plot stopped by its time-wasting procedures. In fact, TSA screeners consistently fail to spot the majority of fake “bombs” and bomb parts the agency periodically plants to test their skills. In Los Angeles, whose airport was targeted by the “millennium plot” on New Year’s 2000, screeners failed some 75 percent of these tests.

Read the rest at Foreign Policy.

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Notice how, over time, we have become conditioned to believe that rights are granted to us by government—a belief that was abhorrent to the Founding Fathers, who believed certain rights are innate and inviolate. When rights are granted by government, they may be easily withdrawn, and a right that may be withdrawn is no right at all.

Click on Maine, and you find that the entire state is highlighted as a “Constitution Free Zone,” meaning that we lack full constitutional rights.  How can that be?  The United States Border and Customs Patrol defines the border as anywhere within one hundred miles of the physical geographic border.  We tested that theory in Maine, and it’s true: all of Maine falls within 100 miles of either the coast or Canada. That means Border Patrol asserts its authority to stop anyone at anytime in the State of Maine without probable cause or reasonable suspicion to check your “immigration status.”

Border Patrol has been seizing laptops and cell phones from travelers, and now, the agency has begun to make routine inquiries into American’s political and religious beliefs.  Rest assured, the ACLU is on the case.  The ACLU has sued to stop Border Patrol from seizing and searching laptops and other electronics without reasonable suspicion.  Last week, the ACLU requested a formal investigation of this practice in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner.

This week, we learned that Border Patrol also just invested in the controversial license plate scanners.  The MCLU was successful in working with the legislature to pass important safeguards on the use of this technology.  We will be watching Border Patrol to make sure they comply with state law.  The Constitution does in fact still apply in Maine.  We won’t accede to the Constitution Free Zone moniker yet.

From the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

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In May 2008, before he became president, I wrote to the junior senator from my state, Barack Obama, with a direct question:

“Why is Congress doing nothing about the crimes committed by the current administration? In particular, why are you and your colleagues doing nothing in response to the abduction and outsourced torture of foreign nationals and the broad surveillance of U.S. citizens in flagrant violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act?”

Sen. Obama had nothing to say on the subject of abducting foreign nationals, but he–or anyway his office–had a few things to say about the Bush administration’s criminal violations of FISA. Two years into the Obama presidency, it’s interesting to reread what Obama had to say back then and to ask ourselves if his administration is doing things any differently—or indeed is merely accelerating the wholesale violations of privacy and liberty that had begun in earnest during the Bush administration.

Thank you for contacting me concerning the President’s domestic surveillance program. I appreciate hearing from you.

Providing any President with the flexibility necessary to fight terrorism without compromising our constitutional rights can be a delicate balance. I agree that technological advances and changes in the nature of the threat our nation faces may require that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted in 1978, be updated to reflect the reality of the post 9/11 world. But that does not absolve the President of the responsibility to fully brief Congress on the new security challenge and to work cooperatively with Congress to address it.

As you know, Congress has been considering the issue of domestic surveillance since last year. The debate continues, but the shift in party control on Capitol Hill has clearly had an impact on this critical discussion over the balance of power in our system of government. On January 17, 2007, after conducting its wiretapping program without court approval for over 5 years, the Justice Department announced that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court had approved its program to listen to communications between people in the U.S. and other countries if there is probable cause to believe one or the other is involved in terrorism. Then, in early February, the Justice Department announced that it would give the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees of both chambers of Congress access to previously withheld documents on the NSA program. The congressional committees with jurisdiction over this issue hailed the agreement as a step in the right direction.

However, there is still significant work to be done. Just before the August recess in 2007, Congress passed hastily crafted legislation to expand the authority of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to conduct surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists without a warrant or real oversight, even if the targets are communicating with someone in the United States. This legislation was signed into law by the President on August 5, 2007, and expires after six months.

As you are aware, Congress is working on reforms to the FISA bill to be enacted before the expiration of the current legislation. On November 15, 2007, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3773, the Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed, and Effective Act of 2007 (RESTORE Act) by a vote of 227-189. The House bill does not provide retroactive immunity for private companies that may have participated in the illegal collection of personal information, nor does it provide immunity for Administration officials who may have acted illegally.

On February 12, 2008, the Senate passed S. 2248, making its own reforms to FISA. I am disappointed that S. 2248, if signed into law, will grant an unprecedented level of immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the President’s warrantless wiretapping program. I was proud to cosponsor several amendments, including the Dodd-Feingold amendment to strike the immunity provision, which would have enhanced privacy protections while maintaining the tools to fight terrorism. However, with the defeat of this amendment, telecom companies will not be held accountable even if it could be proven that they clearly and knowingly broke the law and nullified the privacy rights of Americans. I am frustrated by the President’s decision to play politics by threatening to veto any legislation not containing immunity. Why the President continues to try to hold this important legislation captive to that special interest provision defies explanation. The House and Senate must reconcile differences between the two versions of the bill before being signed into law.

The American people understand that new threats require flexible responses to keep them safe, and that our intelligence gathering capability needs to be improved. What they do not want is for the President or the Congress to use these imperatives as a pretext for promoting policies that not only go further than necessary to meet a real threat, but also violate some of the most basic tenets of our democracy. Like most members of Congress, I continue to believe that the essential objective of conducting effective domestic surveillance in the War on Terror can be achieved without discarding our constitutionally protected civil liberties.

Thank you again for writing. Please stay in touch as this debate continues.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

United States Senator

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Notice that the videographer calmly asserts his rights, he is polite, he is fully informed about the TSA’s own regulations, and perhaps most importantly, he responds to questions with questions of his own. This strategy–responding to questions with questions–is one of the most potent ways to deal with “the authorities.”

The cop’s performance at the end of the video, where he stands in the middle of the road flashing a strobe light at the videographer, is quite interesting. What is the purpose of this display other than to demonstrate who is in charge? In what way could standing in the middle of a roadway flashing a strobe enhance public safety?

About 10 demonstrators gathered at PHL on December 23, 2010. The purpose was to educate travelers about the dangers of new TSA procedures. (www.WeWontFly.com)

Traffic was slow, so while the others were passing out flyers, I took the opportunity to observe TSA and Philadelphia police. Notice how they all claim the authority to boss us around. But when you stand your ground they go away.

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Forget about due process, forget about the rights of children. Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.

“Kill them…including the children.”

That’s how to solve the threat of militant Muslims?

This quote is from what one official involved in homeland security said was the theme of a speech by Walid Shoebat at an anti-terrorism training in Las Vegas in October 2010.

Our source had turned around after Shoebat’s speech and asked the woman in the chair behind them at the conference what she thought was the solution offered by Shoebat.

“Kill them…including the children…you heard him,” was the full response.

Shoebat’s Las Vegas speech was described by our source as “frightening.”

Read more at The Huffington Post.

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The lead paragraph reads like it’s a sick joke, but it’s not.

A state government anti-terrorism agency placed the Tennessee ACLU on a map of “terrorism events and other suspicious activity” for sending a letter warning public schools not to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.

The ACLU expressed outrage Tuesday over its appearance on the Tennessee Fusion Center’s map, saying it “raises the specter that the government is once again tracking innocent Americans.”

“It is deeply disturbing that Tennessee’s fusion center is tracking First Amendment-protected activity,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-Tennessee’s executive director.  “Equating a group’s attempts to protect religious freedom in Tennessee with suspicious activity related to terrorism is outrageous. Religious freedom is a founding principle in our Constitution — not fodder for overzealous law enforcement.”

The Tennessee Fusion Center was created in 2007, one of many around the country established after 9/11 to help state agencies share and analyze information about terrorism and other threats.

“While the ostensible purpose of fusion centers, to improve sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different levels and arms of government, is legitimate and important, using the centers to monitor protected First Amendment activity clearly crosses the line,” the ACLU said in a news release.

Read more at Nashville’s City Paper.

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They can record and videotape and wiretap us all they want, but try to record “an official” in a public space and you could be looking at hard prison time. This is the 21st Century one-way mirror: They can scrutinize us, but we can’t scrutinize them. What, did you think you were their equal or something?

Michael Allison, a 41-year-old backyard mechanic from southeastern Illinois, faces up to 75 years in prison for an act most people don’t realize is a crime: recording public officials.

Allison lives in Bridgeport, Illinois, and often spends time at his mother’s house in Robinson, one county to the north. Both towns have abandoned property (or “eyesore”) ordinances prohibiting the parking of inoperable or unregistered vehicles on private property except in enclosed garages. These rules place a substantial burden on hobbyists like Allison; to obey the law he must either build a garage—which he says isn’t an option, given his property and his income—or register, plate, and pay insurance on every car he fixes up, even though he never drives them on public roads. So Allison kept working on his cars, and the city of Bridgeport kept impounding them: in 2001, 2003, and 2005.

In 2007 Allison filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging the law was a violation of his civil rights and a scheme to collect revenue through impound fees. He then resumed tinkering with unregistered vehicles in his mother’s driveway in Robinson. By Allison’s account, police officers in Robinson began harassing him with threats of fines or arrest for violating that town’s ordinance, though Allison alleges the harassment was personal—retaliation for his lawsuit back in Bridgeport. That’s when he began recording his conversations with cops.

Read the rest at Reason.com.

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