Chase Madar writes: The US constitution’s Bill of Rights is envied by much of the English-speaking world, even by people otherwise not enthralled by The American Way Of Life. Its fundamental liberties – freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom from warrantless search – are a mighty bulwark against overweening state power, to be sure.
But what are these rights actually worth in the United States these days?
Ask Cecily McMillan, a 25-year-old student and activist who was arrested two years ago during an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Manhattan. Seized by police, she was beaten black and blue on her ribs and arms until she went into a seizure. When she felt her right breast grabbed from behind, McMillan instinctively threw an elbow, catching a cop under the eye, and that is why she is being prosecuted for assaulting a police officer, a class D felony with a possible seven-year prison term. Her trial began this week.
McMillan is one of over 700 protestors arrested in the course of Occupy Wall Street’s mass mobilization, which began with hopes of radical change and ended in an orgy of police misconduct. According to a scrupulously detailed report (pdf) issued by the NYU School of Law and Fordham Law School, the NYPD routinely wielded excessive force with batons, pepper spray, scooters and horses to crush the nascent movement. And then there were the arrests, often arbitrary, gratuitous and illegal, with most charges later dismissed. McMillan’s is the last Occupy case to be tried, and how the court rules will provide a clear window into whether public assembly stays a basic right or becomes a criminal activity. [Continue reading...]
Henry Porter writes: There are two striking images of modern Britain in this week’s news. The first is the story that crime in Britain is at a 32-year low, which confirms evidence in statistical trends that, like most western countries, we are becoming a more orderly and law-abiding society.
The second is provided by the police, which, while suffering a thoroughly deserved collapse in their own reputation, seeks to draw a picture of chaos and misrule that demands ever harsher and more invasive policing techniques. Five years after the financial crash, the police are making the case for deploying water cannon to deal with expected “austerity riots”, when it is blindingly obvious that Britain has passed through a very difficult period without widespread disorder (the riots that began in Tottenham two years ago were mostly a failure of policing, not a response to economic conditions) and, moreover, the economy and employment have both picked up.
But the far more worrying development is the unscrutinised rollout of the police automated numberplate recognition system (ANPR) for tracking vehicles, which, according to Nick Hopkins’ report, currently stores 17bn images in its archive and is set to increase its capacity by 2018 to read and store 50-75 million separate vehicle sightings a day.
This is a very powerful surveillance system and the important thing to remember is that the decision to cover Britain’s motorways and town centres with cameras that track the movements of innocent citizens is that it was never debated by parliament. [Continue reading...]
Andy Fitzgerald writes: America has a propensity for dismissing people and ideas with labels. Terms like “socialist” and “communist” are frequently hurled at those who dare to promote substantial programs that address poverty, or suggest that government provide what many other “developed nations” deem fundamental services – like universal healthcare. Anyone who openly identifies with such positions is assumed to have nothing legitimate to contribute to public debate, irrespective of the plausibility, merit, and true ideology informing their arguments.
It’s a similar scenario with “radical” – a word often used to evoke associations with extremism, instability and an absolutist approach to politics. But the popular usage belies the important role many radicals have played in promoting democracy and justice throughout history, not to mention the continued role radical ideas and activism have to play in unfinished projects.
A recent op-ed in the Chicago Tribune illustrates the common abuse of the term in the media. The columnist, Dennis Byrne, rightly criticizes a tendency in America to privilege individual liberty over community solidarity, but he then attempts a “balanced” perspective by presenting examples of “radicalism” on both sides of the aisle. On abortion, Byrne writes: “Radical individuals on the right and the left demand the supremacy of a woman’s body. … For [those who are pro-choice], a woman’s rights are nearly absolute.”
Squaring the false equivalence circle he adds: “Similar absolutist views are held on the right by those who interpret the Constitution’s Second Amendment to mean that government regulation of firearms should be extraordinarily limited, if not nonexistent.”
But the mischaracterization of radicals extends beyond mainstream media and politics. While discussing feminist activism with several friends, one retorted, “there are radicals in every group”. I challenged the presumption that radicals were inherently a liability to social movements, given the positive history of radicalism in America.
Indeed, it was “radicals” who were responsible for sowing the seeds of two of America’s most important social movements: worker rights and racial justice. The labor movement, in its nascent days, was a radical movement. A confrontational approach to management was necessary to win many of the concessions now sorely taken for granted: the minimum wage, the eight-hour day, even the very possibility of forming a union.[Continue reading...]
At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Parker Higgins writes: One year ago, we lost Aaron Swartz, a dear friend and a leader in the fight for a free and open Internet. The shock was, and remains, a profound one. It’s a testament to the power of his commitments and ideals that both in life and in death he has inspired millions around the world, including all of us at EFF, to redouble our own efforts to advance the causes that he believed in, and to untangle the twisted and brutal computer crime laws that were used to persecute him.
Aaron was a passionate activist, but he also stood out as a technologist whose ambitions were always aligned towards a better, more just future. His pioneering work demonstrated a passion for harnessing technology to advance the public interest. As the Internet community confronted massive new challenges to free speech and privacy in 2013, there were many moments when we wondered quietly about what Aaron would have said and done.
Sadly, we are left to wonder. We know from his work on the software that would become SecureDrop that Aaron believed in making the world a safer place for whistleblowers to expose injustice and wrongdoing. We are all worse off without the passion and curiosity he surely would have brought to Edward Snowden’s continuing disclosures about NSA spying. We are reminded of Aaron as we push forward in our court cases against the NSA, help organizing against the spying with the stopwatching.us coalition, evaluate the Congressional proposals and, of course, as we continue to build and support technologies that let people take their privacy into their own hands. Aaron understood deeply that, more than ever in a world where information is power, both legal and technical protections for privacy are essential to keep people from being rendered powerless. [Continue reading...]
The former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas W. Freeman, said at MIT on Thursday: We live in what the National Security Agency [NSA] has called “the golden age of SIGINT [signals intelligence].” We might have guessed this. We now know it for a fact because of a spectacular act of civil disobedience by Edward Snowden. His is perhaps the most consequential such act for both our domestic liberties and our foreign relations in the more than two century-long history of our republic.
This past spring, Mr. Snowden decided to place his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and his allegiance to the Bill of Rights above his contractual obligations to the intelligence community and the government for which it snoops. He blew the whistle on NSA’s ruthless drive for digital omniscience. When he did this, he knew that many of his fellow citizens would impugn his patriotism. He also knew he would be prosecuted for violating the growing maze of legislation that criminalizes revelations about the national security practices of America’s post-9/11 warfare state.
Mr. Snowden does not dispute that he is guilty of legally criminal acts. But he places himself in the long line of Americans convinced, as Martin Luther King put it, that “noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” As someone long in service to our country, I am upset by such defiance of authority. As an American, I am not.
Like Henry David Thoreau and many others in protest movements in our country over the past century and a half, Mr. Snowden deliberately broke the law to bring to public attention government behavior he considered at odds with the U.S. Constitution, American values, and the rule of law. One point he wanted to make was that we Americans now live under a government that precludes legal or political challenges to its own increasingly deviant behavior. Our government has criminalized the release of information exposing such behavior or revealing the policies that authorize it. The only way to challenge its policies and activities is to break the law by exposing them. [Continue reading...]
Yesterday I got a new pair of glasses and as the optician made sure they were spotless, I was amused to see she was using a cloth in the form of a small British flag — a Union Jack.
“It’s fortunate that the British don’t view their flag the same way Americans view theirs, otherwise I might take offense,” I told her. She seemed to have no idea what I meant as I alluded to American traditions regarding the respectful handling of Old Glory.
The ambiguity of British national identity is embedded right in the structure of the flag, with its English, Scottish, and Irish elements.
If Scotland votes in favor of independence next September, perhaps there should be a debate about whether the Union Jack retains its St Andrew’s Cross — St. Andrew being Scotland’s patron saint. Maybe the time will have come to toss out the name and concept of a United Kingdom.
Following yesterday’s parliamentary interrogation of the newspaper’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, by British MPs, The Guardian reported:
In perhaps the most unexpected exchange of the session, [Keith] Vaz [chairman of the home affairs select committee] asked Rusbridger if he loved his country – an apparent reference to critics of the Guardian who have accused it of weakening its security. Vaz [who was born in Aden, which is now part of Yemen] asked : “You and I were both born outside this country, but I love this country. Do you love this country?”
Rusbridger [who was born in Northern Rhodesia, which later became Zambia]: “I’m slightly surprised to be asked the question but, yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can, in this country, discuss and report these things.”
Vaz: “So the reason why you’ve done this has not been to damage the country, it is to help the country understand what is going on as far as surveillance is concerned?”
Rusbridger: “I think there are countries, and they’re not generally democracies, where the press are not free to write about these things, and where the security services do tell editors what to write, and where politicians do censor newspapers. That’s not the country that we live in, in Britain, that’s not the country that America is and it’s one of the things I love about this country – is that we have that freedom to write, and report, and to think.”
Mindful of the way his answer would be reported, Rusbridger did not hesitate to identify himself as a patriot, but even if this was not Vaz’s intention, the mere asking of the question brought to the hearing a tinge of McCarthyism.
As much as Britain has marched in lockstep with the United States since 9/11, its susceptibility to engage in slavish imitation has not extended as far as politicians or other public figures feeling duty-bound to sport Union Jack lapel buttons. Fortunately, for the British, the flag remains an ambiguous symbol.
If Rusbridger had been born in Edinburgh instead of Rhodesia, Vaz might have refrained from raising the question of patriotism. After all, if the vote on independence was phrased in the most emotive way, it could simply ask those being polled: which country do you love more: Britain or Scotland?
No doubt the voters themselves will largely be confronting more practical questions about economics and the future and their choice will not be wholly guided by sentiment.
Both in Britain and America and elsewhere, the ultimate test of patriotic loyalty goes far beyond love of country.
Are you willing to die for your country?
Even during an era in which martyrdom has become identified with religious extremism, not many Americans view the willingness to die while defending the United States as an expression of extremism. And yet those Americans who have been called on in recent years to demonstrate that willingness have disproportionately been under-privileged.
In contrast, those Americans who are willing to send other Americans to die for their country, have rarely even been willing to give up their job — let alone sacrifice their life — for the sake of the nation.
Before anyone makes a bold declaration about the extent and depth of their love of country, it’s worth asking: what do you mean by “love” and “country”?
Is this love simply another name for blind obedience? And do we confuse countries with their national emblems?
Wisely, Rusbridger qualified his love of Britain by identifying some of the things that make it lovable — such as freedom of expression and the ability to publish without seeking permission from a state censor. But the mere fact that he was being questioned was indicative of a trend being pushed by those who prize loyalty and obedience to state-defined interests, more than they prize a free and independent press.
Countries can change fast and one of the surest signs they are changing for the worse is when journalists are accused of being insufficiently patriotic.
Had Rusbridger been more blunt he might have said: I love what my country represents but not what it is becoming.
Susan Stellin writes: Governments wade into treacherous waters when they compile lists of people who might cause their countries harm. As fears about Japanese-Americans and Communists have demonstrated in the past, predictions about individual behavior are often inaccurate, the motivations for list-making aren’t always noble and concerns about threats are frequently overblown.
So it might seem that current efforts to identify and track potential terrorists would be approached with caution. Yet the federal government’s main terrorist watch list has grown to at least 700,000 people, with little scrutiny over how the determinations are made or the impact on those marked with the terrorist label.
“If you’ve done the paperwork correctly, then you can effectively enter someone onto the watch list,” said Anya Bernstein, an associate professor at the SUNY Buffalo Law School and author of “The Hidden Costs of Terrorist Watch Lists,” published by the Buffalo Law Review in May. “There’s no indication that agencies undertake any kind of regular retrospective review to assess how good they are at predicting the conduct they’re targeting.”
What’s more, the government refuses to confirm or deny whether someone is on the list, officially called the Terrorist Screening Database, or divulge the criteria used to make the decisions — other than to say the database includes “individuals known or suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism and terrorist activities.”
Even less is known about the secondary watch lists that are derived from the main one, including the no-fly list (used to prevent people from boarding aircraft), the selectee and expanded selectee lists (used to flag travelers for extra screening at airport checkpoints), the TECS database (used to vet people entering or leaving the United States), the Consular Lookout and Support System (used to screen visa applications) and the known or suspected terrorists list (used by law enforcement in routine police encounters).
For people who have landed on these lists, the terrorist designation has been difficult to challenge legally — although that may be about to change. On Monday, a lawsuit brought by a traveler seeking removal of her name from the no-fly list, or at least due process to challenge that list, is going to trial in Federal District Court in San Francisco, after almost eight years of legal wrangling. [Continue reading...]
Conor Friedersdorf writes: Let’s think through the troubling implications of the latest surveillance-state news. “The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches,” Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim report.
NSA apologists would have us believe that only terrorists have cause to be worried. A surveillance-state spokesperson told the Huffington Post, “without discussing specific individuals, it should not be surprising that the US Government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence.”
As the story notes, however, the targets are not necessarily terrorists. The term the NSA uses for them is “radicalizes,” and if you’re thinking of fiery orators urging people to strap on dynamite vests, know that the NSA chart accompanying the story includes one target who is a “well known media celebrity,” and whose offense is arguing that “the U.S. perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.” It makes one wonder if the NSA believes it would be justified in targeting any 9/11 truther. The chart* shows another target whose “writings appear on numerous jihadi websites” (it doesn’t specify whether the writings were produced for those websites or merely posted there), and whose offending argument is that “the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks upon itself.” That could be a crude description of what the Reverend Jeremiah Wright or Ron Paul thinks about 9/11. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: FBI Director James B. Comey testified Thursday that the risk of cyberattacks is likely to exceed the danger posed by al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks as the top national security threat to the United States and will become the dominant focus of law enforcement and intelligence services.
Appearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Comey said he expected Internet-related attacks, espionage and theft to emerge as the most consuming security issue for the United States by the end of his 10-year FBI term.
“We have connected all of our lives — personal, professional and national — to the Internet,” Comey said. “That’s where the bad guys will go because that’s where our lives are, our money, our secrets.”
The warning underscored the growing sense of alarm among officials in Washington over the nation’s vulnerability to online attacks as well as the diminished ability of al-Qaeda to mount plots against the United States after more than a decade of CIA drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations.
Rand Beers, the acting homeland security secretary, said his agency is working with European allies to identify and track militants from Western nations who may travel to Syria and then seek to return.
Despite that potential danger, officials said that the main terrorist threat inside the United States is that U.S. citizens or residents could adopt militant ideologies and develop plans for domestic attacks without communicating with terrorist networks or traveling overseas.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechen brothers accused of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon this year, had “no formal or direct ties to al-Qaeda” but had embraced aspects of the terrorist group’s ideology, Olsen said. He added that cooperation with Russian intelligence services has improved since the Boston attacks.
The officials said counterterrorism efforts had been damaged by leaks of U.S. intelligence operations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and they warned of the impact of the budget cuts known as sequestration. Comey said the FBI is in the process of eliminating 3,500 positions because of budget pressures.
Despite concern about “homegrown extremists,” Comey said that he had concluded after just two months on the job that cyberthreats are likely to be more worrisome in the long term.
“That is why we anticipate that in the future, resources devoted to cyber-based threats will equal or even eclipse the resources devoted to non-cyber-based terrorist threats,” Comey said.
The Guardian reports: Police sought to launch a secret operation to spy on the political activities of students at Cambridge University, a covertly recorded film reveals.
An officer monitoring political campaigners attempted to persuade an activist in his 20s to become an informant and feed him information about students and other protesters in return for money.
But instead the activist wore a hidden camera to record a meeting with the officer and expose the surveillance of undergraduates and others at the 800-year-old institution.
The officer, who is part of a covert unit, is filmed saying the police need informants like him to collect information about student protests as it is “impossible” to infiltrate their own officers into the university.
The Guardian is not disclosing the name of the Cambridgeshire officer and will call him Peter Smith. He asks the man who he is trying to recruit to target “student-union type stuff” and says that would be of interest because “the things they discuss can have an impact on community issues”. [Continue reading...]
Hugh Muir writes: The specifics of the Cambridge case will shock, but there is a now familiar narrative of how the secret snoopy state seeks to monitor the legitimate activity of those who might ask questions of it. This appears to be activity undertaken with little or no public consent or oversight. How much of this is going on? What are the guidelines? Are they adhered to by forces up and down the country? Is there central control? Who controls the information and how long is it kept? No doubt the Association of Chief Police Officers has rules but what do you know of the legislative framework? Who keeps the practice honest and ensures that the objective is the maintenance of law and order rather than the policing of irksome ideology? This week we learned of Green party London Assembly member Jenny Jones being monitored by Scotland Yard for attending legitimate left-leaning protest events. Are others so targeted? We don’t know. We should.
But this is also another example of the attempt by those in power to enlist citizens as agents of the state. In universities up and down the country there has been a considerable effort to cultivate assets capable of monitoring young Muslim students considered at risk of radicalisation. The government’s Prevent programme, and its deradicalisation arm Channel, has drawn on the university establishments themselves: lecturers and bureaucrats as surveillance assets. The result is predictable. Yesterday Ratna Lachman, director of the human rights group Just West Yorkshire, told a Society for Educational Studies seminar of fears that some universities have become “Islamophobic spaces” for those who now regard them as “extensions of the security arm of the state”.
The government orders landlords to report illegal immigrants; property owners as surveillance assets. GPs to check the legal status of those they might treat; medical staff as surveillance assets. As the state shrinks in size, as the prime minister says it will, it needs an army of narks to engage in surveillance and policing in a different sphere. Maybe that’s part of his big society. [Continue reading...]
MIT Technology Review: Reports of the National Security agency’s surveillance programs based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden have been embarrassing for some, enraging to others. But to governments and security services in developing economies they will prove inspirational, according to a report (PDF) from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which studies online security and privacy.
The report warns that governments that already impose authoritarian controls on the Internet, such as China, India, and Saudi Arabia, may now seek to boost those efforts with NSA-style bulk collection programs that trample on civil liberties.
Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, writes in the report that:
“No doubt one implication of Snowden’s revelations will be the spurring on of numerous national efforts to regain control of information infrastructures through national competitors to Google, Verizon, and other companies implicated, not to mention the development of national signals intelligence programs that attempt to duplicate the US model.”
Deibert says that many companies already face “complex” and “frustrating” requests from “newly emerging markets” for data on their users. He believes that the NSA revelations will cause those to become even more common, with unwelcome results. [Continue reading...]
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has provided a federal judge with testimony from 22 separate advocacy organizations detailing how the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass telephone records collection program has impeded the groups’ work, discouraged their members and reduced the numbers of people seeking their help via hotlines. The declarations accompanied a motion for partial summary judgment filed late Wednesday, in which EFF asks the court to declare the surveillance illegal on two levels — the law does not authorize the program, and the Constitution forbids it.
In First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, EFF represents a diverse array of environmentalists, gun-rights activists, religious groups, human-rights workers, drug-policy advocates and others that share one major commonality: they each depend on the First Amendment’s guarantee of free association. EFF argues that if the government vacuums up the records of every phone call — who made the call, who received the call, when and how long the parties spoke — then people will be afraid to join or engage with organizations that may have dissenting views on political issues of the day. The US government acknowledged the existence of the telephone records collection program this summer, after whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked a copy of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order authorizing the mass collection of Verizon telephone records.
“The plaintiffs, like countless other associations across the country, have suffered real and concrete harm because they have lost the ability to assure their constituents that the fact of their telephone communications between them will be kept confidential from the federal government,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney David Greene said. “This has caused constituents to reduce their calling. This is exactly the type of chilling effect on the freedom of association that the First Amendment forbids.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its screening of passengers before they arrive at the airport by searching a wide array of government and private databases that can include records like car registrations and employment information.
While the agency says that the goal is to streamline the security procedures for millions of passengers who pose no risk, the new measures give the government greater authority to use travelers’ data for domestic airport screenings. Previously that level of scrutiny applied only to individuals entering the United States.
The prescreening, some of which is already taking place, is described in documents the T.S.A. released to comply with government regulations about the collection and use of individuals’ data, but the details of the program have not been publicly announced.
It is unclear precisely what information the agency is relying upon to make these risk assessments, given the extensive range of records it can access, including tax identification number, past travel itineraries, property records, physical characteristics, and law enforcement or intelligence information.
The measures go beyond the background check the government has conducted for years, called Secure Flight, in which a passenger’s name, gender and date of birth are compared with terrorist watch lists. Now, the search includes using a traveler’s passport number, which is already used to screen people at the border, and other identifiers to access a system of databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.
Privacy groups contacted by The New York Times expressed concern over the security agency’s widening reach.
“I think the best way to look at it is as a pre-crime assessment every time you fly,” said Edward Hasbrouck, a consultant to the Identity Project, one of the groups that oppose the prescreening initiatives. “The default will be the highest, most intrusive level of search, and anything less will be conditioned on providing some additional information in some fashion.” [Continue reading...]
Jim Dwyer writes: It may not have occurred to people that New York City needed to deploy an undercover detective to spy on Occupy Sandy, a relief operation run by activists that delivered food and supplies to parts of the city ruined by the hurricane. But Detective Wojciech Braszczok, who embedded with the Occupy Wall Street forces under the nom de activist Albert, was putting posts on Twitter last November about the Sandy operation, which, by the way, received consistently high grades from people for its nimble, effective work.
The city now has a sturdy legion of undercover officers who have taken up residence in many surprising regions of civic life. Much of this began in early 2003, when a federal judge lifted many restraints on spying by the Police Department. The city had been failed by the federal intelligence services, and thousands died on Sept. 11. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg created an independent intelligence capacity.
So before and during the Iraq War, the organization of antiwar rallies was regarded as a fit matter for police surveillance; so were the monthly Critical Mass bicycle rallies, as well as groups protesting at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and a range of Islamic facilities, from mosques to college student clubs. Undercover New York police officers showed up at activists’ meetings all over the country, carrying guitars and knapsacks. Handlers left money for them in the wheel wells of cars. Field reports were stamped “NYPD Secret.” Anyone who left a scrap of paper on the desk at the Intelligence Division’s headquarters in Chelsea was apt to get his or her knuckles rapped by the commander, a former Central Intelligence Agency man who brought that agency’s custom of fastidiousness to the mess of the city.
The unrestrained surveillance in New York public life is the physical embodiment of what has been taking place online over the last decade under operations of the National Security Agency revealed by Edward J. Snowden. To borrow the title of a 1918 novel about nosy Irish villagers, we have become The Valley of the Squinting Windows.
But it was all O.K. because the mayor and the police commissioner said so, though from the outside, no one could really say what they were up to. [Continue reading...]