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Posts Tagged ‘Surveillance’

A federal protection that comes with exemptions is no protection at all. Note that the feds do not vouch for the accuracy of the information they secretly keep. This is a formula for gross abuse.

Last Friday, the federal government’s new anti-terror database, the Terror Screening Watchlist Service, went live. The database is loaded with an unknown amount of personal information, including names, photographs and biometric data. In a new turn that has civil liberties advocates crying foul, the Department of Homeland Security is claiming all information contained in the watchlist is confidential.

Earlier today, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and several other groups filed a formal complaint with DHS about the blanket exemptions to the Privacy Act.

Under DHS’ rules guidelines for the Terror Watch Lists, individuals “do not have an opportunity to decline to provide information” for the database, and cannot obtain the relevant information through the Federal Privacy Act. The Privacy Act is one of the milestone reforms passed in the wake of the Watergate spying scandal. It permits individuals to obtain law enforcement files about them by the government, with the intent of correcting incorrect information.

Read the rest at KALW News.

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The Feds hate cash because it’s nearly impossible to track and control. Now they’re dangling the carrot of early tax refunds to get people to adopt their new card. Predictably, they’re going after the segment of the population that’s least savvy about personal finance—the savviest avoid being in the position of being owed money by the Treasury in the first place. The Treasury Dept. laughingly claims that this card gives users more control over their finances. The truth is that it will give the federal government and the banks that own it greater control over private accounts.

WASHINGTON – Timed for tax season, the U.S. Department of the Treasury launched a pilot today to offer taxpayers a safe, convenient and low-cost financial account for the electronic delivery of their federal tax refunds.  The new account card option provides everyday money-saving conveniences and consumer protection features for Americans with limited or no access to traditional banking services.

“This pilot program will provide low- and moderate-income Americans with a low-cost option for faster delivery of their federal tax refund,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin. “This innovative card can be used for everyday financial transactions, such as receiving wages by direct deposit, withdrawing cash, making purchases, paying bills and building savings safely and conveniently, giving users more control over their financial futures.”

As the next step in this pilot, originally announced in September, Treasury will mail letters next week to 600,000 low- and moderate-income individuals nationwide.  The letters will invite these taxpayers to consider activating a MyAccountCard Visa® Prepaid Debit Card in time to have their 2010 federal tax refund direct deposited to the card.  Compared to paper checks, direct deposit provides a safer, faster and more convenient way to receive a federal tax refund as well as other regular income.

Also this week, Treasury began a companion pilot to encourage tens of thousands of current and potential payroll card users to direct deposit their 2010 federal tax refund onto existing payroll cards.  Nationwide, more than 1.7 million workers use payroll cards to receive and access their wages, often because they do not have bank accounts.  Working with ADP, a provider of payroll services, Treasury will highlight the safety, ease and convenience of direct deposit onto payroll cards through tax season communications, including materials distributed with pay statements.

Read more at the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury.

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From Alex Jones and Infowars.com:

A plethora of tyrannical campaigns have been initiated and designed to break up communities and turn citizens against one another. The justifications for these fascist programs are always a matter of national security. The real reason for these programs and even the events that brought them into existence is to set up a police control grid.

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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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The Honeywell T-Hawk drone. How would you like one of these babies following you around? If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about, right? Right?

One more time! (Say it with me.) “Weapons and tactics developed for use in war zones can and will be used against the American people.”

In places such as Kabul, Gaza, and Baghdad, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) hovering over homes, following suspects, and tracking enemies of the state are a daily reality.

So where are the high-tech drones buzzing to next? Miami-Dade County, natch!

The Miami-Dade Police Department is poised to become the first large metro force using drones in its aerial missions. The department finalized a deal to buy a drone called T-Hawk from defense firm Honeywell and officially applied for permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last month to begin flying it around the county.

Read the rest at Miami New Times.

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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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