A bad argument for surveillance

The Economist is worried that technology may put limits on how effective the government is at spying on people.

Western spooks say they are losing the technological edge that has enabled them to monitor the communications of potential terrorists. Tech companies are competing in their efforts to provide their customers with unbreachable privacy through sophisticated and sometimes “default” encryption. The heads of both America’s FBI and Britain’s MI5 have complained about their inability to prevent suspects from “going dark”—dropping off the radar screen of surveillance.

Their solution? Make encryption easier to break.

The tech firms must come to terms with the fact that every previous form of communication—from the conversation to the letter to the phone—has been open to some form of eavesdropping: they cannot claim their realm is so distinct and inviolate that it can imperil others’ lives, especially as the number of people who need to be monitored is in the thousands. And it is far better to agree to some form of standard now, rather that wait for an atrocity plotted behind impenetrable walls to be unleashed: if that happens the Dick Cheneys and Donald Rumsfelds of the future will be setting the rules.

Apparently, Economist writers have failed to notice that the Dicks and Donalds are already making these rules. And there are other problems with their argument.

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Unclear on the concept

One of many things wrong with the Charlie Hebdo attack was the fact that it was an attempt, by terrorists, to impose censorship on a free press. Of course, that’s not surprising. You’d almost expect terrorists to be opposed to freedom of speech. If you’re not a cynic, though, you might not expect this:

French comedian Dieudonne was arrested on Wednesday for being an “apologist for terrorism” after writing a Facebook comment suggesting he sympathised with one of the Paris attacks gunmen, a judicial source said.

Which is worse than pursuing the same goals as the terrorists, right? [Read more…]

Courage

A terrorist attack happens in America. America responds by installing machines that can see through your clothes and making all air travelers expose themselves to either that or a good groping. Then the government institutes a massive, unaccountable spy campaign against all its citizens. Plus it tortures helpless prisoners, regardless of whether or not they are in fact connected to terrorism in any way. And it establishes a policy of “state secrets” that essentially deny any possibility of democratic supervision of the government’s activities.

A terrorist attack happens in France. Millions of French citizens gather in the streets, without metal detectors, x-ray machines or frisking, declaring “Fear shall not rule.”

I think the land of the free and the home of the brave is now somewhere else.

Who belongs to whom?

One recent story that keeps popping up in my news feeds is how various police and intelligence authorities are complaining about the security in the iPhone 6 being too tough for them to crack. I’m not sure how much of that is real, but it does suggest a couple observations we might make.

First, if it’s true that the iPhone 6 is the first device that’s not open for the police to read whenever they want, then that means all previous devices have been more or less open to government search and seizure at their discretion. A court order might be nice, but as we’ve seen again and again, the government routinely dispenses with such formalities when they become inconvenient.

The second and more important observation is that there’s been a fundamental shift in the foundations of our democratic republic. The government is no longer owned by the people. The people are now owned by the government, at least in the government’s opinion.

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Opinions

I said it again the other day, but then I had second thoughts. “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion,” I said, but is that really true? Have you ever thought about the full range of opinions we’re implicitly endorsing by saying everyone is entitled to believe whatever they believe?

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More thoughts on gun control

I confess I have mixed feelings about gun control. On the one hand you have situations like the recent shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where something clearly needs to be done to protect children against mass murder. That one seems like a no-brainer.

On the other hand, I don’t trust the 1% and I’m increasingly unhappy with the increasing subversion of democracy that is being used to turn our free country into a vast machine piping wealth out of the lower and middle classes and into the bank accounts of the very wealthiest, at the risk of financial disaster for the other 99%. Nor am I pleased with ever-encroaching “State secrets” covering up detention, torture, and assassination of “enemies,” including US citizens.

Is it possible that the Founding Fathers, in protecting the people’s right to keep and bear arms “necessary to the security of a free state,” were showing more foresight than expected? Fortunately, a comment on last Friday’s post gives me an opportunity to dig into this a little more.

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What to do in your second term

Congratulations on your re-election, Mr. President. I’m glad you got a second term, because there are still a few items that need to be finished up from your first one. And now that you don’t have to worry about being re-elected, I hope you’ll have the time, the freedom, and the will to fix some of our worst problems:

  • Transparency. We cannot afford to elect a government that can be blackmailed by anonymous power brokers with big bank accounts. We the People need to know who is writing the actual text of our laws, and who is profiting from them.
  • The Constitution. I know you’re busy, but can we have our Constitutional rights back, please? Particularly the First and Fourth Amendments? Bin Ladin is dead, yet as long as our nation remains so terrorized that we won’t take our families on board airplanes without government agents fondling our kids, the terrorists are winning. I’d like to live in a FREE country again.
  • Wall Street. It shouldn’t be legal to cheat people out of house and home. Nuff said?
  • The deficit, aka tomorrow’s taxes. Yes, that needs to come down, but can we start with wasteful “defense” spending? It’s one thing to speak softly and carry a big stick, but that stick gets kind of hard to carry when it reaches sequoia proportions.

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Mother convicted of “disorderly conduct” for refusing TSA grope.

The Tennessean reports that a Clarksville mom has been found guilty of “disorderly conduct” for refusing to participate in an unconstitutional violation of her right to privacy, otherwise known as a TSA “pat-down”.

Transportation Security Officer Karen King testified that before the pat-down, Abbott yelled in her face that she didn’t want anyone “touching her daughter’s crotch.”

Abbott eventually allowed her then-14-year-old daughter to undergo the pat-down, but then she refused a pat-down for herself and was arrested.

You can watch the video at the link above and see for yourself just how “disorderly” this mom really was.

Spirit of the Sith

Today’s link goes to Mano Singham’s post, The Obama administration considers constitutional rights to be dangerous. The administration is correct: constitutional rights are dangerous, at least to those who are exploiting others from positions of privilege and power. But the absence of rights is far more dangerous, in terms of the scope and extent of everyday harm.

Stray thoughts: congressional review of state secrets

If you’ve been reading Ed Brayton’s blog, you know that one of the big problems with the current administration, like administration before it, is a penchant for using the so-called State Secret Privilege to avoid accountability for any questionable activities it might be engaging in. In fact, if anything, the current administration is even worse than the last one, and worse yet, they’re proving successful at getting the courts to rubber-stamp this kind of blanket immunity. And that’s eroding the distinction between the democratic republic we’re supposed to have, and the effective dictatorship we’re heading for.

So here’s my stray thought of the day: if the judicial branch won’t provide any checks and balances to the executive, why not Congress? The genius of the American constitution is the trade-off between the democratic power of the legislature and the executive power of the president, with the additional safeguard of an independent judiciary (on paper, at least). So why can’t we have a congressional investigation into the administration’s reckless invocation of the State Secret Privilege? Obama can’t argue that only the state has the right to be “in” on the secret, because Congress is just as much the state as he is. And if the president still won’t allow Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility to provide checks and balances to the abuse of executive power, then maybe it’s time for them to exercise their constitutional power of impeachment.

I’m no political scientist, so I don’t know whether that’s either desirable or doable, but I thought I’d put it out there. From what I remember from social studies class, it seems like the right thing to do.