Wiretap requests down 14%

Networkworld.com is reporting a 14% drop in state and federal wiretap requests compared to a year ago.

According to a report issued by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts a total of 2,732 wiretap applications were authorized in 2011 by federal and state courts, with 792 applications by federal authorities and 1,940 applications by 25 states that provide reports. The reduction in wiretaps resulted primarily from a drop in applications for intercepts in narcotics offenses, the report noted.

At the risk of being paranoid, I can help wonder if that’s because the authorities are relaxing a little, or if it’s because they are now less apt to make a request first.

NSA: It would violate your privacy to report how many privacy violations we’re committing.

The surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won’t tell two powerful United States Senators how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency as part of its sweeping new counterterrorism powers. The reason: it would violate your privacy to say so.

via NSA: It Would Violate Your Privacy to Say if We Spied on You | Danger Room | Wired.com.

Video: the policeman’s friend

Ed Brayton has published a long list of police departments abusing people’s First Amendment rights and illegally interfering with people trying to videotape their conduct. But now, in a refreshing change of pace, there is news of at least one police department that finally “gets” video technology.

After years of seeing officers’ misconduct captured on video, police departments across the nation are trying to use the medium to their advantage, releasing footage of their own to rebut allegations and to build trust within communities. One department even posted video of an officer punching a woman to show why he was fired.

Weeks before the Occupy demonstration in April, Minneapolis police created their own YouTube channel to give officers a venue to tell their own stories.

Ed has been saying this all along: video is the policeman’s best friend. Police departments have significant power to do harm in society, and consequently deserve closer scrutiny. Video records of their actions will vindicate proper conduct and expose improper conduct. That’s a win-win all around.

Second-degree terrorism

Over at Pharyngula, PZ has a nice wrap-up of the debate between Bruce Schneier and Sam Harris on the topic of whether or not we ought to implement a 2-tiered screening system that subjects “Muslims or anyone who looks Muslim” to extra scrutiny at airports. Bruce points out some very good reasons why this is a bad idea, but there’s one somewhat tangential argument that he doesn’t mention. The biggest problem with screening for Muslims at the airport is that some of our biggest terrorists aren’t at the airport. They’re in the media, in Congress, and in the White House.

Of course, I’m not talking about first-degree terrorism, i.e. blowing things up and killing people directly. I’m talking about second-degree terrorism: keeping people in a constant state of fear in order to manipulate them. We’ve had going on 12 years of being told that we need to voluntarily surrender our liberties and constitutional rights because—gasp—there’s bad guys out there. And yes, there are, but there always have been. Our problem isn’t the terrorism that attacks us with bombs and guns, our problem is the terrorism that attacks us with legislation and unwarranted spying and other clandestine, illegal activities hidden behind the autocratic dictum of “state secrets.”

Bruce summed it up well:

But perhaps most importantly, we should refuse to be terrorized. Terrorism isn’t really a crime against people or property; it’s a crime against our minds. If we are terrorized, then the terrorists win even if their plots fail. If we refuse to be terrorized, then the terrorists lose even if their plots succeed.

Unless and until we stand up and refuse to be terrorized, unless and until we stop cowering and bleating like sheep every time a politician or media personality cries “security!”, these abuses of our liberty will continue to get worse. “Maximum security” is a prison, not a Utopia.

Not all definitions of marriage are equal

The other day I was listening to yet another Christian conservative parrot the tired mantra about how liberals are trying to change the definition of marriage. My first thought was that if marriage equality changes your definition of marriage, you’ve been using a bad definition of marriage. And that got me thinking about the various definitions of marriage, and how they compare with one another.

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Pentagon-sponsored identity theft

USA Today is reporting a disturbing and blatantly illegal propaganda campaign apparently being conducted by Pentagon contractors.

A USA TODAY reporter and editor investigating Pentagon propaganda contractors have themselves been subjected to a propaganda campaign of sorts, waged on the Internet through a series of bogus websites.

Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments. Websites were registered in their names.

A Pentagon spokesman denied being aware of any such activities on the part of its contractors, but the sites mysteriously disappeared after the contractors were asked about them.

Anything you say can and will be used

Via Wired comes word of a top secret government project with very disturbing implications.

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks… It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

Note that this is not just for intercepting information with the authorization of a search warrant. This project will intercept, store, and analyze “complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter’” in general. You and me, in other words. Total government surveillance of private citizens.

Killed by Congress? Yeah, right.