We have been steadily observing over time the encroachment of the civil liberties and the violation of constitutional protections by the government, using fear-mongering about terrorism in order to get people to acquiesce. The government seizes any excuse to make inroads into our due process rights, often stampeding people at times of crisis, and terrorism is the best excuse they have.
Take for example the bombing at the Boston marathon. It was undoubtedly a dastardly act, but a detonation of a bomb would normally be considered a criminal act, like a mass shooting, and would be investigated as such. But because of the terrorism scare, we had the extraordinary spectacle of essentially martial law being declared in a major city and surrounding areas, people ordered to stay indoors, and police and other security forces in full military gear storming into people’s homes without warrants. While people acceded to these extraordinary measures at that moment, stampeded as they were by fear, the actions by the authorities set a troubling precedent, as Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn wrote in the immediate aftermath:
But as relief replaces fear, the debate about what this episode means for the future is already beginning. And one of the most unsettling questions is whether the violence-related lockdown of a major U.S. city — an extraordinary moment in American history — sets a life-altering precedent.
There are already worries that the effort to protect the people of Boston contained an element of overreaction. Local authorities told the city and nearby suburbs to “shelter in place” throughout the day and into the evening. They closed businesses, shuttered government buildings and suspended all public transportation in the metro area.
That decision concerned some political leaders and policy experts.
Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said it is “hard to imagine what could justify directing the entire population of the city to ‘shelter in place.’”
Matthew Rothscild, then editor of The Progressive warned about this in a June 2013 note (behind a paywall):
Every imaginable piece of SWAT team equipment was on display, and the populace was told to “shelter in place,” a new, extraordinary command that law enforcement and the media somehow made appear ordinary. [My italics-MS]
It’s possible that there will be similar bombings in the future, It’s inevitable that there will be mass murderers on the loose in major metropolitian cities. Are those cities going to automatically be put on lockdown from here on out?
When I saw the militarized response, it looked to me like the closest we’ve come to martial law in my lifetime.
The encroachment of constitutional protections can take place in other, less dramatic, ways too. For example, in the absence of some imminent danger, authorities are still prevented from barging into people’s homes and confiscating and searching their possessions without a warrant. But the government finds ways to circumvent that too, using the massive databases that it has collected on us and co-opting other government agencies to assist it in doing so.
So say the government wants to look inside your computer but doesn’t have the grounds for getting a warrant. What it then does is what happened to David House, who raised funds for Chelsea Manning’s defense. On his return from Mexico in November 2010, his laptop, camera, thumb drive and cellphone were seized and the data from the devices were then examined over seven months. House sued the Department of Homeland Security and as a result obtained documents detailing what had happened.
Newly released documents reveal how the government uses border crossings to seize and examine travelers’ electronic devices instead of obtaining a search warrant to gain access to the data.
The documents detail what until now has been a largely secretive process that enables the government to create a travel alert for a person, who may not be a suspect in an investigation, then detain that individual at a border crossing and confiscate or copy any electronic devices that person is carrying. [My italics-MS]
Although government investigators had questioned Mr. House about his association with Private Manning in the months before his trip to Mexico, he said no one asked to search his computer or mentioned seeking a warrant to do so. After seizing his devices, immigration authorities sent a copy of Mr. House’s data to the Army Criminal Investigation Command, which conducted the detailed search of his files. No evidence of any crime was found, the documents say.
This is naked authoritarian behavior on display, the government using all its powers to find ways to strip you of all your rights
We saw what happened to Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda at London’s Heathrow airport, clearly at the instigation of the US government. . I don’t think that Greenwald and Laura Poitras, both US citizens, have attempted to enter the US or the UK since the Snowden revelations but if they do, I am sure they are ready to have their computers seized and even be arrested at the airport.
Matthew Rothschild says that the massive power that the government has seized in the wake of 9/11 is now being used against ordinary citizens exercising what should be their constitutional rights. He gives as another example how the government is spying on the Occupy Wall Street activists.
Thousands of public documents recently obtained by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy add new evidence to an increasingly powerful case that law enforcement has been overstepping its bounds. The documents, obtained through state and federal open records searches and Freedom of Information Act requests, demonstrate that law enforcement agencies may be attempting to criminalize thousands of American citizens for simply voicing their disapproval of corporate dominance over our economic and political system.
The anti-terrorist apparatus that the U.S. government established after 9/11 has now been turned against law-abiding citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. This apparatus consists not only of advanced surveillance technologies but also of “fusion centers” in state after state that coordinate the efforts of law enforcement up and down the line and collaborate with leading members of the private sector. Often, the work they do in the name of national security advances the interests of some of the largest corporations in America rather than focusing on protecting the United States from actual threats or attacks, such as the one at the Boston Marathon on April 15.
It is interesting how the way that US reporters cover other countries, which they do much more aggressively than they do the US, especially if the other country is considered unfriendly, sheds light on the motives of the US government too. A few days ago NPR had an interesting item about what the Chinese government censors. It apparently allows people to criticize the government but suppresses any attempt by people to mobilize others. What it fears is people organizing themselves.
People getting together around issues is what authoritarian governments, whether the US or Russia or China, fear the most and this is what the massive surveillance apparatus in the US enables them to control and suppress. If they know early on what people are up to, it becomes much easier to disrupt them, as in the case of OWS, and thus stop any democratic movements that might threaten the oligarchy from gaining strength.