Tag Archives: Civil Liberties

Just Try Stuffing That Genie Back In The Bottle, Folks


It’s The Corporations, Stupid: Juan Cole on why the Second Amendment is interpreted strictly, literally, fundamentally, but the Fourth Amendment is not. Good read.


Last night I was watching “All In With Chris Hayes,” a rare oasis of intelligent, in-depth conversation on the day’s news. The segment on Edward Snowden, which you can see here (WordPress won’t let me embed the video) covered a lot of the main issues. The thing that got me out of my chair was this bit from Karen Finney; I have no idea who Karen Finney is — I gather she worked in the Clinton White House and she’s got a show coming to MSNBC — but she hit every point I’ve been thinking and saying about this story, and I want to say thank you because there are a couple of larger issues here that really need to be addressed.

She said:

[…] I remember very clearly when I was at the DNC, when we were fighting the Bush Administration on the warrantless wiretapping. I mean, many Democrats, Howard Dean among them, you know, the argument we made was, follow the law. We can do, you know, let’s follow the law and we can keep America safe, we said we wanted a process. We now have a process. I think the argument needs to be, if this process isn’t right, then let’s have that conversation. But the other problem, just quickly, Chris, that really bothers me about this is, you know, somebody could track my location just based on my cell phone. Somebody not the government and so, like, we’re already — it’s a farce if we think that we’ve got a level of privacy that we used to. I mean the amount of information that is out there and available about us that we are willingly giving away all the time, if we’re going to be this concerned about it, then let’s really have that conversation because I don’t want private companies having access to that information either, by the way.

Marc Ambinder then jumped in with his notion that there’s a big difference between corporations and the government having this information, the worst a corporation can do is send you coupons in the mail, but the government can actually put you in jail. That’s an extraordinarily dumb argument, and Ambinder should know better. First of all, being deluged with advertising messaging is incredibly invasive (I wrote about it here). But also, we live in an era when corporations are polluting our elections with dark money and trying to hide their true agenda behind shadowy groups like Americans For Prosperity and FreedomWorks. So to say the worst thing a corporation can do is send you some unwanted ads is extraordinarily obtuse. They’re trying to undermine our entire democratic process, Ambinder. They’re unraveling the very fabric of our democracy. You goddamn fool.

I’m not happy about any of this, but I’m slightly less concerned about the government’s activities than I am the private sector’s. We have control over the government. We have elections, and a certain amount of transparency built into that system. Private corporations? Not so much. Money corrupts, doesn’t it? So let’s not bring the profit motive into any situation that we don’t want money to corrupt. Like, you know, national security.

Let’s take this scenario to its logical end, when we’re all slaves to the board of directors of RJ Exxon Coca-Koch Bros. Industries, and quaint things like clean air, clean water, worker’s rights and a fucking Saturday off are a thing of the past. Yes I’m exaggerating but if you think things like income inequality are bad now, wait until we turn more of our institutions over to private, for-profit corporations. It’s called “corporate capture” and it’s the real problem, the one no one wants to talk about because it’s already too late.

If I seem a little “emo” on this issue it’s because the whole surveillance issue is something I’ve devoted a lot of time to in my life. Heck, I spent 10 years on a novel I never finished (I know, such a cliche, right?) whose title was “Panopticon,” okay? So I get it. The thing is, as Finney points out, this isn’t just big, bad gummint doing this. This is a private security contractor! A private corporation! The collusion between government and the private sector is extremely disturbing. And I guess we won’t ever address that issue until some Tea Party Republicans decide they don’t like it (which will be never) because apparently our corporate media doesn’t think any issue is worth discussing unless Republicans are upset about it.

So wake the hell up.


Filed under civil liberties, corporations, FISA, FISA. telecom immunity, national security, NSA, warrantless surveillance

50 First Controversies


What Tom said.


You know what kills me about these stupid, post-truth times we live in? There’s no fucking accountability. Invade a Middle Eastern country based on lies, distortions, and fearmongering? Kill tens of thousands and bust the national treasury? No problem! Off into the sunset with you, eight years later we’ll have forgotten it ever happened.

Monitor peoples’ phone calls and internet activity without a warrant? Don’t worry about it! Five years later people will have never heard of such a thing. And when we hear about it happening with warrants and judicial oversight? Hey, we can pretend it’s some new thing and get faux-outraged all over again.

I mean, shit. We can’t even have a national discussion about this surveillance with FISA courts and all that because everyone’s pretending this is the same extra-judicial overreach that Bush did. It’s like “50 First Dates,” every day the sun rises and memories are wiped clean. Every day we start back at square one. It’s annoying as hell.

I want to know some things about this, like how long the NSA keeps this information or if they’re required to dump it after a certain period of time. Also, who and what governments (or corporations) are they sharing this information with? And what legal recourse do those being surveilled have? What can you do if a mistake is made, which is bound to happen? What limits and restraints are there?

Now is the time to find out about this stuff but no, we can’t even get that far because we’re still in “OMG THE GOVERNMENT IS LISTENING TO MY PHONE CALLS” mode. C’mon, folks. We covered this ground, like, eight years ago. There are some serious, real issues that need to be addressed here, but we never get around to having the grown-up conversation because we’re in constant reaction-mode.

Look, pay attention, people. Hit the Google. Read a fucking newspaper or magazine instead of getting your information from the TV, which caters to the 30-second attention span. Hey, I’ve learned a lot from Harper’s but maybe The Economist is more your speed? Fine, whatever. Just fucking learn something, please. I’m tired of having the same conversations all over again.


Filed under civil liberties, FISA, FISA. telecom immunity, national security, NSA, warrantless surveillance

Memory Hole

I really am sick and tired of conservatives calling for the fainting couches over stuff happening under Obama which they actively defended when Bush was in office.

Seriously, I’m super busy today, guys? So look, if you want to know what I think about all of this NSA spying crap everyone is acting like is some new thing? Just click on the little tags and categories thingies below? Because I’ve been talking about this since I started blogging, which was like six years ago. It was bad under Bush, it’s bad under Obama, but no one wanted to listen to any of us hippies on the left (and some on the right) who were crying “civil liberties! civil liberties!” back in the day. So stop your fucking whining and Obama blaming now.

Here’s a nice little trip into the memory hole for y’all:

U.S. President George Bush called on Congress Monday night to broaden protection for telecommunications carriers that helped the government monitor phone calls and e-mail.

The Protect America Act, which allows the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists without first obtaining a court warrant, is due to expire Friday and Bush called for its extension as part of his final State of the Union address.

“To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning,” he said in the televised address. “Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on Feb.1. This means that if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted.”

Failure to extend the legislation won’t just hit the NSA. The telecommunications carriers that worked with the agency despite the lack of court warrants also face privacy lawsuits and an extension to the legislation would provide them legal protection. Bush touched on that point as well.

“Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We’ve had ample time for debate. The time to act is now,” said Bush to applause from mostly Republican members of the audience. Vice President Dick Cheney, seated behind Bush, also applauded the call.

Cheney and the White House last week pushed Congress to extend the act and provide protection for telecom carriers. AT&T and other carriers are facing lawsuits in San Francisco by civil liberties groups and individuals who allege that the surveillance program is illegal.

Earlier Monday, efforts by Republicans to curtail debate in the U.S. Senate and force a vote on an extension to the act failed, and debate is due to resume Tuesday.

Got that? This isn’t some new thing under Obama, it’s something we’ve been talking about for about 10, 11, 12 years now. Since 9/11 at the least. And by the way, that article above is from January 29, 2008. Not only did they want the NSA wiretapping without warrants to continue, the Republicans in the Senate tried to ram it through and were thwarted thanks to the Democrats. As I wrote at the time:

I’m sure the Republicans will be up to their usual screetching about terrorists, but we all know this has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with protecting corporate cronies at Big Telecom. Liberals refer to it as telecom immunity, neocons as “liability protection,” but it all comes down to protecting AT&T and Verizon Wireless from scores of lawsuits because they knowingly broke the law.

Please. Y’all are getting on my last nerve with this IOKIYAR shit. Knock it off. We’re not that stupid.


Filed under corporations, FISA, FISA. telecom immunity, NSA, telecom, telecom immunity, War On Terror, warrantless surveillance

Surveillance State: Now For Fun & Profit!

Yesterday’s New York Times had this front page story about local law enforcement increasingly tracking peoples’ cellphones, without any judicial oversight. And now the other shoe has dropped, as cell phone companies have found a way to make money off the practice:

WASHINGTON — Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.

The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services. Some departments log dozens of traces a month for both emergencies and routine investigations.


Cell carriers, staffed with special law enforcement liaison teams, charge police departments from a few hundred dollars for locating a phone to more than $2,200 for a full-scale wiretap of a suspect, records show.

Ever since cell phone companies were granted immunity from lawsuits by the Bush Administration and the spineless Democrats who enabled them, this has been inevitable. It’s bad enough that the government and law enforcement can eavesdrop, read your e-mails and even track you with your cell phone without a warrant. Now corporations like AT&T are making money off of it.

And where are those lovers of the constitution, the Tea Party and self-described “Constitutional conservatives”? What, no rallies in front of AT&T or Verizon HQ? Nope, it’s always * crickets * with that crowd — until they get their marching orders from Fox News, of course. And heh heh, we all know where Rupert Murdoch stands on things like phone hacking! So don’t hold your breath.

Corporations and law enforcement always get a pass from the right when it comes to civil liberties. That it’s becoming a profit center for corporate America is deeply troubling, however. Money’s corrupting influence is downright dangerous when it infects our law enforcement, penal and justice institutions. Look at Corrections Corp. of America, offering states cash to operate their prisons … as long as they promise to keep it full! That no one over at CCA bothered to think of the morality of this proposal is shocking but not surprising. You make your deals with the devil and this is the result.

And now the communicaitions companies are involved, how sweet. Let’s say the state of Tennessee signed this deal with CCA. Let’s say the current longterm trend of falling crime continues. But the contract with CCA says the prison needs to have X many prisoners (and so do CCA’s shareholders and management!) Well, that’s easy to fix, just call up our friends at the sheriff’s office and start poking around in someone’s cell phone records. Not anyone’s cell phone records, mind you, just certain people. Maybe brown people or people who’ve already been in prison, or maybe Muslim-y folks. You know, troublemakers. Maybe people who wear hoodies. Hey, why not. It shouldn’t be too hard to find something that can be twisted and turned into something useful. The state prison has some empty beds, after all, and CCA’s shareholders demand they be filled.

Think it can’t happen here? Yeah, you’re right. I forgot. We’re safe, what with those Tea Party patriots rallying to prevent us from having health insurance. What was I thinking.


Filed under cell phones, civil liberties, corporations

At Least Someone Cares About My Opinion

I’m sorry, but why exactly am I supposed to be upset about this?

Federal Security Program Monitored Public Opinion


WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security has paid contractors to monitor social networking sites — like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and reader comments on mainstream news media articles — for “public reaction to major governmental proposals with homeland security implications,” according to newly disclosed documents.


Still, the newly disclosed documents show that in August 2009, during an early test run of the program, a contractor compiled reactions among residents of Standish, Mich., about a short-lived proposal to bring detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to a local prison there. It found that most “were opposed to the plan,” arguing it could make the community a terrorist target, but a smaller group characterized such concerns as “hysteria.”

To produce the sample report about Standish, the contractor “utilized Facebook, Twitter, three different blogs and reader comments” on a Washington Post article, highlighting “public sentiments in extensive detail,” said a summary of the report. The summary of the Standish report was included as an example in a February 2010 “Social Networking/Media Capability Analyst Handbook.”


While the names of blog and mainstream news sources are logged, the documents show that such reports do not include personally identifying information; for example, a quotation taken from Twitter would say it came from “a Twitter user” rather than citing a specific Twitter account.

I’m not sure I have a problem with this. It’s damned hard to get a handle on real public opinion these days, what with freeped polls and corporate-funded front groups like Rick Berman’s many aliases, phony letters to the editor and all that. If you want to know what people think, you head to Twitter and Facebook. And if you’re commenting on Twitter or Facebook, remember everything you say you’re shouting to the world. If you don’t want the government knowing you don’t want GITMO detainees in your community why the hell are you screaming it on Twitter?

Call me crazy, I find this news encouraging.


Filed under civil liberties