Obama To America: Trust Me

Expanding on a thought I posted before on the other site I noticed that one of President Obama’s responses to questions about the NSA’s spying policies when Americans could be involved was effectively “Trust Us“. Obama said this after a week where several of our intelligence agencies secret surveillance programs came to light involving Verizon Business (and later learned basically all wireless companies) and as many as nine big internet companies under PRISM. 

When initially reported on by the Guardian and the Washington Post, these stories caused a huge uproar among privacy advocates. Since then the accuracy of these reports has been questioned, especially on the PRISM program where a majority of the tech companies involved have come out and denied involvement and the WaPo has been forced to backtrack a bit on the actual scope of the program.
But if we were to put aside for the sake of discussion the accuracy of these latest reports, has our government in general and President Obama in particular earned the trust that Obama is asking us to give?
  • They’ve instituted illegal warrantless wiretapping programs (under Bush) that were later authorized after it they had come to light that are still ongoing. 
  • We have a super secret FISA court issuing secret warrants to secret government agencies with little or no oversight. 
  • Government lawyers are fighting the release of an 86 page court opinion that reportedly found that the government, via the FISA Court, had violated the spirit of federal surveillance laws and engaged in unconstitutional spying.
  • And even more suspiciously we have the government issuing National Security Letters to individuals and corporations forcing them to turn over non-content information, such as transactional records, phone numbers dialed or email addresses with a gag order attached so they are unable to even disclose that they received the letter.
Certainly our national security is of the utmost importance but how many freedoms can we give up (many unknowingly) before it becomes worse than the threat we are trying to prevent? And more importantly, given our government’s track record, can we really trust them when they say that they are following the law?
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Senate Follows House In Extending Patriot Act Spy Provisions

Both of South Dakota’s Senators followed House member Kristi Noem and voted last night to extend  three controversial Patriot Act spy measures that were set to expire in a few weeks. Tim Johnson and John Thune concluded that our 4th Amendment wasn’t important and voted to allow our government to continue the following Constitutionally challenged activities:

• “Roving wiretap” provision that allows the FBI to obtain wiretaps from a secret intelligence court, known as the FISA court (for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), without identifying the target or what method of communication is to be tapped.

• The “lone wolf” measure allows FISA court warrants for the electronic monitoring of a person for whatever reason — even without showing that the suspect is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist. The government has said it has never invoked that provision, but the Obama administration said it wanted to retain the authority to do so.

• The “business records” provision allows FISA court warrants for any type of record, from banking to library to medical, without the government having to declare that the information sought is connected to a terrorism or espionage investigation.

As for our fearless leader Barack Obama coming to the rescue by not signing this? Not going to happen as he is on record wanting these provisions extended as well.

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The Silence Is Deafening

A full 24 hours after the House voted to extend the spy on Americans portion of the Patriot Act, not one Republican blog in the state that I am aware of even mentioned the story in passing (or Dem blog that I can see). I just love the constant rhetoric from the Reich Wing on protecting our freedoms at all costs but when it comes down to actually doing so, silence.

So Ms Noem, how do you reconcile the fact that you along with 274 of your cohorts in the House have chosen to vote against the very principles you claim to hold so dear? Even worse, how does Michele Bachmann who just a few weeks ago decreed that her colleagues be able to cite the specific passage in the Constitution that validates any bill before the House, explain away her obvious hypocrisy?

Bueller, Bueller

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House Renews The Dilution Of The 4th Amendment

While the tea party concerns themselves with the Hawaiian birth certificate of Barack Obama and John Boehner sends 450 million in pork back to his district while railing about overspending, our 4th Amendment rights get trampled on once again.

The House today voted 275 – 144 to extend provisions of the Patriot Act that among other things provides for the following:

• The “roving wiretap” provision allows the FBI to obtain wiretaps from a secret intelligence court, known as the FISA court, without identifying the target or what method of communication is to be tapped.

• The “lone wolf” measure allows FISA court warrants for the electronic monitoring of a person for whatever reason — even without showing that the suspect is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist. The government has said it has never invoked that provision, but the Obama administration said it wanted to retain the authority to do so.

• The “business records” provision allows FISA court warrants for any type of record, from banking to library to medical, without the government having to declare that the information sought is connected to a terrorism or espionage investigation.

Isn’t it nice to know that our Congress (Kristi Noem included) have their priorities straight.

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What 4th Amendment?

While most were rushing to protect their 2nd Amendment rights against non-existent threats last week in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling that further erodes what is left of our 4th Amendment rights and we hardly blinked.

In California’s People v Diaz (pdf), it was determined that the police had not violated the defendant’s rights by searching the text message folder of his phone without a warrant ruling that it was “valid as being incident to a lawful custodial arrest“.

We granted review in this case to decide whether the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution permits law enforcement officers, approximately 90 minutes after lawfully arresting a suspect and transporting him to a detention facility, to conduct a warrantless search of the text message folder of a cell phone they take from his person after the arrest. We hold that, under the United States Supreme Court?s binding recedent, such a search is valid as being incident to a lawful custodial arrest. We affirm the Court of Appeal?s judgment.

Until recently, legal warrantless searches had been limited under common law to those that focused on weapons concealment or destruction of evidence such as looking for items that could harm law enforcement personnel but with this ruling we have continued to slide down the proverbial slippery slope started a few years ago during the restructuring of FISA. Under FISA the government had already been granted wide latitude to listen in on our phone calls without first getting warrants and now they can search your phones. So what’s next?

Never bothered to pattern or code lock your smart phone? Maybe its time as I still think the 5th Amendment is still valid…

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Airport Security

There has been an ridiculous number of articles and news stories lately over the new TSA screening procedures that include invasive techniques including full body imaging technology and pat downs by TSA screeners. Leaving out the homophobic angle that I expected from some (and they didn’t disappoint) there are some facts that should be addressed.

Safety

The full body imagers use primarily one of 2 technologies, millimeter wave, and the more prevalent backscatter or xray technology. Current knowledge of the health risks of these devices is limited at best but a New Scientist article does a good job of explaining both the technology and the known and suspected risks.

The truth – For infrequent travelers there is likely no risks as you are exposed to more xrays during your flight than while being scanned. For frequent flyers, the jury is still out.

Opt Outs

The latest effort by some to try to circumvent perceived invasive TSA screening procedures is having airports opt out of the TSA screening program. A little known provision of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act allows airports to opt out of the TSA screening program so that they can hire one of 4 or 5 pre-approved private screening companies. Orlando Sanford airport has decided to do just that in an effort to try and lure security procedure weary passengers to their airport.

The truth – Opting out simply changes the name of the payee on the paycheck for the screeners and has no effect on what screening passengers are made to endure. Private screening companies must follow all TSA mandated screening procedures and use all currently available screening technologies and are still supervised by the TSA. In other words pat downs and full body imaging (if units are installed) will still be done.

Don’t believe me? Anyone flying out of Sioux Falls in the past 3 years has been screened by a private screening company.

All flyers will be exposed to body imagers

Most articles discussing these new procedures would have one believe that they will certainly have to go through one of these new body scanning machines when traveling.

The truth – Currently this technology is installed in approximately 65 of the 430 or so US commercial airports with a mandate for many more to receive them in the next year meaning it all depends on where you are going. Those flying out of any South Dakota airport will not have to go through these machines and there are currently no plans for them to be installed anytime in the foreseeable future.

Privacy Concerns

There seems to have been a recent surge in images being released out onto the internet of people being scanned by this technology. What is to prevent some screener from posting your body scan on the internet?

The truth – Images from these machines are only viewed by trained screeners in a room separate from the security checkpoint. While these units allow for image saving, it is only supposed to be used in a training environment and cell phones with cameras are not allowed in the image viewing room. Consider that information and decide on your own as to whether it is sufficient for your own piece of mind.

Finally just an observation. I personally have no issues with the new procedures though I might take offense if my wife and daughters were subjected to it but I must ask, where was all this 4th Amendment privacy outrage when the Patriot Act was being forced down our throats?

Disclaimer

While I have tried to stick to only known facts regarding the new TSA screening procedures I should inform readers that while I do not work directly for the TSA, I do work with the TSA. I am in no way speaking for the TSA or my employer and any information provided here is freely available from sources not affiliated with either entity.

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Rhetoric Over Substance

I am personally skeptical over some of the reasoning being used to explain the massive shift in power after this year’s election. Many would have you believe that they voted the way they did because those in power didn’t do enough to fix the economy, to lower the debt, or to uphold the Constitution. I tend to think people were fed-up in general and the Democrats were they obvious scapegoat.

One reason I believe that finding a “scapegoat” had more to do with the election than anything else is Constitutional aspect of the anger coming from the right. They often complain that many of Obama’s policies go against the Constitution and should be repealed based on that fact alone (see our own Attorney General’s lawsuit over Obamacare). While the Constitutionality of many of these policies can and will be debated, other similarly Constitutionally challenged policies have remained pretty much undiscussed especially when it comes to the Patriot Act and more recently the changes made in FISA regulations.

These changes initiated during the Bush Administration and continued during Obama’s term have led to easing of the requirements related to government wiretapping activities often allowing wiretaps on US citizens to be performed without getting warrants first.

The furor over the breaching of our 4th Amendment rights all in the name of “protecting” us from terrorists has been strangely absent from most of the Tea Party folks, most of whom would have busted a blood vessel in anger if their 2nd Amendment rights were even remotely challenged. In Congress, the outrage over these changes was even less noticeable as evident by the ease in which it passed, except for one individual.

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold was one of only 16 Senators to vote against the 1st Amendment breaking Internet Decency Act of 1996 which was eventually struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act while also being one of the few to fight against giving immunity to the Telecom companies that participated in The Bush Administration’s illegal warrant-less wiretapping activities. From Wired:

Feingold and retiring Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticutt) attempted to filibuster a provision that provided legal immunity to telecoms that helped the Administration spy on Americans’ internet and phone use without warrants. That provision, along with expanded government surveillance powers, eventually passed in July 2008 with the support of then-Senator Barack Obama, who promised to revisit that law, but has not.

Sounds pretty pro-Constitution to me doesn’t it?

I have no doubt that many voted out of office yesterday deserved their fate and Feingold did have his issues as he often times aligned himself with the Obama Administration on fiscal issues which likely made him an easy target for defeat in this Democrat unfriendly environment. But if one claims to be truly worried about getting our country back in line with the Constitution, Russ Feingold was someone many would have thought should have been worth supporting.

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