Latest Blogs

Local LE Chipping Away at the Fourth Amendment

By: Thursday October 23, 2014 8:23 am

The Bill of Rights was designed to protect the People from their government. That’s quite literally becoming history today as new challenges, now from local law enforcement, chip away at the Fourth Amendment’s protections of privacy. New laws and devices spread spying on Americans to the local level.

A Brief Explanation of Post-Constitutional America

The cornerstone of the Bill of Rights was that the People grant exceptions to those rights to the Government. Absent those specific exceptions, the rest of the stuff was inalienable, not up for grabs, not dependent in any way on Government’s decision to grant or withhold them. Constitutional America was clearly imperfect, but the underlying premise spoke of a striving toward an ideal.

The cornerstone of Post-Constitutional America is just the opposite. The People have what rights the Government chooses to allow them to have, such that privacy is the exception, free speech a variable, torture a tool to be used or withheld as the Government finds appropriate. It is a turning on its head of Constitutional America, back to a time when a tyrant and king (may we call old King George an “evil dictator” to use the preferred language of today?) controlled Americans’ daily lives by decree.

It should be unnecessary to have to argue the critical importance of the Fourth Amendment, but these days it seems necessary. If the First Amendment’s right to speak out publicly was the People’s wall of security, then the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy was its buttress. Privacy is the right to think without the Government intruding. It is part of being American. If you want to personally give it away for yourself, feel free, but you are required to allow others to exercise it.

9/11 Changed Everything

Under the umbrella of post-9/11 fear, the relationship between the Government and the People of the United States changed. As early NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, Kirk Wiebe and others made clear, within days after the attacks, the vast capability of the NSA was turned 180 degrees away from sites abroad toward a new definition of the People: we were now targets.

Such acts, along with flimsy pieces of faux-legislation such as the Patriot Act, were not only harmful to our privacy by themselves, they also sent clear signals to law enforcement at all levels that new rules applied; after all, if the federal government was spying on Americans in clear contrivance of the Fourth Amendment, then why couldn’t local law enforcement do the same? With such tacit approval, and the redefining of every person in America as a potential terrorist, it all fell into place.

So while the Snowden NSA revelations expose violations of the Fourth Amendment on the largest scale, let’s examine some examples of how those big-scale acts filter down to local levels.

Los Angeles

In 2008 the city of Los Angeles passed municipal ordinance 41.49 requiring hotels to gather, hold for at least 90 days and make available upon request a large amount of information on their guests. The information included guests’ credit card number, home address, driver’s license information and vehicle license number. Several dozen other cities, including Atlanta and Seattle, passed similar ordinances.

Ordinarily the police would need to show probable cause, and to seek individual warrants on a person-by-person, case-by-case basis, to gather such information. The L.A. ordinance, however, allows police to simply demand it from a hotel, with no judicial or other oversight. The premise was that the information was the property of the hotel once the guest voluntarily surrendered it in order to stay the night. Personal information transformed into “business records,” L.A. argues, is inherently less “private” than personal information per se.

The U.S. Supreme Court, after two opposite rulings through lower courts, has agreed to hear the case after the City of Los Angeles’ petition to do so. L.A. claims “These laws expressly help police investigate crimes such as prostitution and gambling, capture dangerous fugitives and even authorize federal law enforcement to examine these registers, an authorization which can be vital in the immediate aftermath of a homeland terrorist attack.”

In addition to the clear, broad Fourth Amendment violations, opponents cite the reality that information, once gathered, can be disseminated anywhere for any purpose. Data gathered in L.A. for a perhaps legitimate gambling investigation can go on to populate an infinite number of databases indefinitely for an undeterminable range of purposes into the future. It does not go away. It waits to be used.

And all that brings us to Virginia.

Virginia Police Collect and Share Phone Data

Five local police departments in southeastern Virginia have been secretly and automatically sharing telephone data and compiling it into a large database for nearly two years. According to a 2012 memorandum of understanding published for the first time this week by the Center for Investigative Reporting (the database had been kept secret from the public,) the police departments from Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Suffolk all participate in something called the “Hampton Roads Telephone Analysis Sharing Network.”

Those police departments “agree to share telephone intelligence information derived from any source,” including subpoenaed telephone call detail records, subpoenaed telephone subscriber information, and seized mobile devices. The telephone intelligence information will be stored in the master Pen-Link telephone database and participating agencies can make inquires of the database by either telephone or e-mail contact with a member.”

Such data transfers, the document goes on to explain, can happen automatically if the agency agrees to have certain software installed on their computer, or via e-mail or DVD. No information is available as to what, if any, data security protocols are in place.

The significance of such data transfer cannot be underplayed. The assumption by the police is that any data gathered legally– for example, under warrant, after a showing of probable cause specific to a case or incident– can then be stored, shared and repurposed forever as the police see fit. The shaky legal premise for this whole system is that once taken in via some sort of legal means (though of course there is no outside control that all of the data was gathered legally), the data becomes akin to common property, and no further justification or judicial oversight needs to be applied to its use, any use, ever, forever.

An even shakier legal premise it that a secret database of any kind can be maintained by the police: Virginia law, The Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act, specifically states “There shall be no personal information system whose existence is secret.”

Not an End in Sight

Local actions have commonalities with the larger actions the NSA has been doing. The use of the collective where the law intended the individual– a single phone call versus redefining every call as a single set of business records– is clear. The manipulation of a legal act, such as collecting information via a warrant and then repurposing it into a general pool of data in Virginia, is also a marker of modern times. The most significant commonality between local actions and federal ones is the broad contempt for civil liberties. And that describes Post-Constitutional America as clearly as anything else.

The examples above are, or likely soon will be, going to be tested in court. Other offenses to the Fourth Amendment have fallen to the People’s side: In 2012, a court ruled law enforcement authorities generally need search warrants when they attach GPS devices to a vehicle. In July 2014, the Supreme Court said that the authorities need warrants to dive into the mobile phones of people they arrest.

At the same time, the proliferation of low-cost surveillance devices, such as license plate scanners and Stingray, continue to raise new questions even as a handful of older ones are resolved. The battle against the tyrant King George continues.

————————–

Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book,Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now from Amazon

On Day of Action Against Police Brutality, Grassroots Group Presents Report on Chicago Police Violence

By: Wednesday October 22, 2014 7:11 pm

A grassroots organization setup to bring attention to the “voices and experiences” of young people of color most targeted by police violence in Chicago issued a “shadow report,” which has been submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

The group, We Charge Genocide (WGC), was formed in June after a young African-American man named Dominique Franklin was killed by Chicago police after a taser was used on him three times. He was already in handcuffs when police used the taser and hit his head on a metal pole, which put him in a coma. He later died.

Franklin had known organizers, and one lead organizer in Chicago named Mariame Naba recognized a feeling of disempowerment among youth, according to Page May, who is a part of WGC. Naba decided youth needed an “outlet” for addressing the injustice being experienced and put out a call.

The name of the organization “comes from a petition submitted by the Civil Rights Congress to the United Nations in 1951, which documented 153 racial killings and other human rights abuses, mostly by the police.” It was delivered to the UN by Paul Robeson and William L. Patterson under the title “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People.”

The United States government worked to thwart the civil rights leaders’ efforts to bring evidence related to tens of thousands of lynchings that had occurred since slavery was abolished. Patterson arrived in Paris and found that copies of the petition he had mailed to London and Paris had never arrived. Patterson was retaliated against for making these allegations against the US government and became the subject of national security state efforts to discredit and label him as disloyal to America.

May presented the report, which WGC put together over the past few months. It was submitted to the Committee Against Torture in Geneva as part of the periodic review process that stems from being a party to the Convention Against Torture.

“We know that there is this long tradition of documenting human rights violations. But as far as we know this is the first youth of color led one which is really important,” May declared.

Civil society organizations are invited to submit reports in addition to what the US government provides. This gives the UN an opportunity to hold the US government accountable by asking questions about issues that officials may not want to discuss openly.

The report examines harassment, use of excessive force, use of deadly force, sexual assault, mass arrest and detention, and inaction and impunity. Data and examples related to this abusive conduct is filtered through the language of articles in the Torture Convention to make the case that the Chicago Police Department is committing routine violations.

“Not only is harassment and abuse taking place,” May explained, but “invasive and degrading harassment is happening at really alarming rates. We’re seeing intimidation. We’re seeing invasive and abusive searches. We’re seeing theft of property. We’re seeing verbal abuse.”

Kobane May Be an Example, Just Not One That the US Intends

By: Wednesday October 22, 2014 7:47 am

ISIS claims they captured weapons from US airdrop near Kobane

Only last week, when Turkey refused to assist Kurdish fighters in the Syrian city of Kobane, even as those Kurds were losing ground to ISIS fighters, and the U.S. was directing its airstrikes against far-away targets in Iraq, Secretary of State John Kerry said while the U.S. was deeply concerned about the tragedy in Kobane, Kobane did not define the strategy for the coalition with regard to ISIS.

Shifting Perspectives
As the U.S. sensed Kobane would fall, it tried then to distance itself from the failure. However, domestic media and opinion started to criticise what appeared to be a failure of the Obama plan for Iraq and Syria, air resources were suddenly shifted away from Iraq and onto Kobane. ISIS seemed to have pulled back, the Kurds seemed to have moved forward, and the U.S. began hinting at victory.

Part of the U.S. strategy has been to resupply the Kurds from the air. Such drops don’t always go right, and ISIS fighters seized at least one cache of weapons airdropped by U.S.-led coalition forces that were meant to supply Kurdish militiamen. The cache of weapons included hand grenades, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

On Tuesday, Islamic State loyalists on social media posted sarcastic thank you notes to the United States, including one image that said, “Team USA.”

And So What?
The badly-aimed weapons drop can be seen as more of a small embarrassment than any great strategic loss. True enough, but looking too closely at a single failed airdrop obscures the larger picture.

Though small in scale, the weapons ISIS received from the United States underscore that the group’s most sophisticated arms, and deadliest weapons, come from the U.S. Unless and until America can get control of the weapons it is pushing into battle (it can’t), the reality of Americans and their allies being killed by their own tools of war is not something to ignore.

Destroy Kobane to Save It
“Winning” in Kobane accomplishes nothing really. The city is nearly destroyed, reminding one of the Vietnam war-era remark that it was necessary to destroy the village of Ben Tre to “save it.” Over 200,000 refugees have left the city, with questions about how they can ever return to resume their lives given such devastation. The decision not to intervene by the Turks exposed the fragility of the hastily assembled U.S. coalition, setting up future confrontations among allies with very different goals and agendas for this war.

Meanwhile, as attention and limited resources are tied up in a battle of questionable strategic import, ISIS launched fifteen near-simultaneous attacks on Kurdish forces in northern Iraq on Monday in what Kurdish government officials said was a fierce and renewed push for territory. ISIS also launched attacks against Mosul Dam, a strategic prize, and also renewed its offensive on the Sinjar mountain range in northern Iraq. This is an organization aware of broader goals, and not focused on symbolic “victories.”

So be suspect if at some future date the U.S. declares Kobane a victory, an example of how ISIS can be beat. The city may very well end up as an example from this war, though perhaps not the one the U.S. intends it to be.

————————–

Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book,Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now from Amazon

Image via screengrab from Youtube

CIA Agents Reportedly Impersonated Senate Staffers While Torture Report Was Being Produced

By: Tuesday October 21, 2014 5:39 pm

CIA agents “impersonated Senate staffers” while the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was producing its report on the agency’s rendition, detention and interrogation program, according to Huffington Post. “According to sources familiar with the CIA inspector general report that details the alleged abuses by agency officials,” journalists Ali Watkins and Ryan Grim reported, “CIA agents [...]

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit by Seattle Police Who Believe Restricting ‘Use of Force’ Violates Their Rights

By: Tuesday October 21, 2014 12:04 pm

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by nearly one hundred Seattle police officers, who claimed a “use of force” policy adopted in response to a Justice Department lawsuit violated their constitutional rights to defend themselves. The Justice Department found that the Seattle Police Department “engaged in a pattern or practice of using unlawful force [...]

State Department Quashed Investigations into Sex Caper

By: Tuesday October 21, 2014 7:25 am

Long-time readers of my blog will remember the name Brett McGurk. Embarrassing emails he sent using a U.S. government computer system in Iraq surfaced in 2012, just as he was heading into confirmation hearings to become America’s ambassador to Baghdad. We now learn that the State Department’s efforts to investigate the incident were quashed, in [...]

Pumpkin Riot, Ferguson & the White Privilege to Turn Down for Whatever

By: Monday October 20, 2014 10:22 pm

"We have pumpkins, we are not armed" #ferguson pic.twitter.com/vrgiL8e88y— stevegiegerich (@stevegiegerich) October 20, 2014 Protesters approached the St. Louis County Justice Center while holding pumpkins marked “racism,” “police brutality” and “white privilege.” They planned to smash the pumpkins in front of the police station to make a point about the disparity in media coverage of [...]

US Government Moves to Dismiss Lawsuit Against ‘Suspicious Activity’ Program Which Keeps Files on Innocent People

By: Monday October 20, 2014 12:47 pm

The United States government has moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of five US citizens who say they were victims of a domestic surveillance program, which involves the collection of “suspicious activity reports” on individuals. According to the ACLU’s filed complaint [PDF], a National Suspicious Activity [...]

State Dept Says I Shouldn’t Write This!

By: Monday October 20, 2014 9:50 am

The State Department says I shouldn’t write this article. They have regulations that tell former employees like me what we should and should not say, and that’s wrong in America. As some readers may know, I am former employee of the Department of State, and after publishing a book critical of State’s efforts in the [...]

Podcast: Guantanamo Prisoner’s Attorney on Importance of Public Seeing Videos of His Forced-Feedings

By: Sunday October 19, 2014 10:00 am

Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab has been pursuing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s administration to force the government stop using force-feeding to punish him while he is on hunger strike and protesting against his continued indefinite detention, even though he has been cleared for release. There were legal proceedings in recent weeks, where a [...]

SUPPORT THE DISSENTER
FOLLOW THE DISSENTER
TODAY’S TOP POSTS
JOHN KIRIAKOU’S LETTERS FROM LORETTO
Advertisement
Kevin Gosztola on Twitter
FROM PR NEWSWIRE

Close