Category: Civil Liberties

They’re Coming for Your Bits

For the past few years, a debate has been raging over net neutrality. While, in principle, I’m sympathetic to the idea of a neutral net, I’ve always suspected there was a secondary agenda, that “net neutrality” was a backdoor for something more sinister. It is well known the power that be hate the open internet, hate anonymous commenting and posting, despise free speech and would love to have officially approved channels of information.

Well, the mask is torn, at least a little bit:

Proponents of network neutrality regulation are cheering the announcement this week that the Federal Communications Commission will seek to reclassify Internet Service Providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The move would trigger broad regulatory powers over Internet providers—some of which, such as authority to impose price controls, the FCC has said it will “forbear” from asserting—in the name of “preserving the open internet.”

Sanchez goes on to point out the FCC is contemplating a broad action in response to … a very nebulous situation. It’s not clear exactly what menace is so dire they need to respond to it immediately. It is clear, however, that moving toward a regulatory model will give them unprecedented power, as warned by … um … one of the FCC commissioners:

First, President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet. It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works. It’s an overreach that will let a Washington bureaucracy, and not the American people, decide the future of the online world. It’s no wonder that net neutrality proponents are already bragging that it will turn the FCC into the “Department of the Internet.” For that reason, if you like dealing with the IRS, you are going to love the President’s plan.

Second, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet will increase consumers’ monthly broadband bills. The plan explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes on broadband. Indeed, states have already begun discussions on how they will spend the extra money. These new taxes will mean higher prices for consumers and more hidden fees that they have to pay.

Third, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet will mean slower broadband for American consumers. The plan contains a host of new regulations that will reduce investment in broadband networks. That means slower Internet speeds. It also means that many rural Americans will have to wait longer for access to quality broadband.

Fourth, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet will hurt competition and innovation and move us toward a broadband monopoly. The plan saddles small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs with heavy-handed regulations that will push them out of the market. As a result, Americans will have fewer broadband choices. This is no accident. Title II was designed to regulate a monopoly. If we impose that model on a vibrant broadband marketplace, a highly regulated
monopoly is what we’ll get. We shouldn’t bring Ma Bell back to life in this dynamic, digital age.

Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, is promising us that they won’t apply outmoded regulatory models to the internet. But one thing a decade of blogging has taught me: never take that sort of thing on trust. If the FCC has the power to do anything — control prices, restrict technology, regulate providers — they will use it. And a good reason to be suspicious is that they’re trying to keep their plans a secret:

But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the proposal, which is 332 pages long, is that it is being kept secret from the public—and it will remain secret until after a vote later this month in which it is likely to pass on a 3-2 basis, with Wheeler and the FCC’s two Democratically appointed commissioners outvoting the two Republican-appointed commissioners.

The commissioners can see the plan before they cast their votes. But the rest of us can’t. Lobbyists will likely be able to discover key details affecting their clients, and some details will leak out in the press. But the full text of the plan won’t be made public at all before the vote.

Wheeler previously opposed such a move and it’s generally felt that he came under immense pressure from the White House to do this. That is, our “most transparent administration in history” is pressuring the FCC to engage in massive regulatory expansion completely in secret that could give them a stunning amount of power over one of the most important communication networks in history.

Congress needs to act immediately. The President is usurping their power to decide net neutrality regulations. They need to kill this power grab before it’s enacted. This isn’t a partisan issue. If the government gets this kind of regulatory hold of the internet, we are all screwed — liberal, conservative, libertarian, monarchist or upside-down pineapple cakeist.

Ending Shared Theft

I can’t believe I’m going to say this but here goes. Ahem. Cough. Uh, is this thing on?

Hi. Um … here we go …

Eric Holder has done something right.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

I’ve talked about civil asset forfeiture many times. This is the vile practice where law enforcement officials seize your money, your car or your bank accounts and … well, basically keep it. You never have to be charged with a crime. They never have to prove the assets came from crime. They just take it, like a highwayman. And they are perfectly free to use those assets for any purpose, including, in one case, a margarita machine.

Some states have trained to “reign this in”. Granted, they haven’t reigned it in by say, abolishing it. But they’ve at least tried to redirect the money from going directly to law enforcement to going to schools or something. The Feds responded with their Equitable Sharing Program, where the police turn the money to the Feds to bypass state laws. The Feds keep a cut and then turn it right back over to the police. That’s the program Holder is suspending.

Now, to be fair, this is a directive. The next AG could reverse it. Hell, Holder could. Let’s not mistake this for, say, Congress passing a law to abolish it. Radley Balko breaks down the decision further, pointing out that federal investigations — such as investigations by the DEA or IRS — will still be able to use this tool. And, in fact, local law enforcement will be able to use Equitable Sharing when they are part of a federal or joint investigation. In fact, Holder’s justice department recently successfully argued before the Supreme Court, in Kaley, that the government could seize your assets before trial to keep you from hiring a good lawyer.

So let’s not dance in the streets just yet. But this is a step in the right direction. The next thing that needs to happen is for Congress to abolish the practice completely. Asset forfeiture may have made sense when we were seizing the 18th century smuggling ships of overseas booze barons. It makes no sense in a modern context. If the Supreme Court won’t abolish it, Congress must and should.

Don’t Be Fooled

Over the weekend, there was a massive march in Paris in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings and subsequent hostage events. World leaders — with one notable Nobel-prize-winning exception — marched with the protesters to show their commitment to freedom and unity.

At least, that’s what the narrative is. But, as usual, the narrative is bull:

Following the terrorist attacks on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the EU has issued a joint st​atement to condemn the act and work to prevent extremism and safeguard freedom of expression. The leaders’ suggestion? More surveillance and internet censorship.

The statement, adopted by EU representatives including UK Home Secretary Theresa May, focuses on addressing radicalisation “in an early stage.” It condemns the January 7 attacks, in which two Islamist gunmen killed 12 people, and specifically mentions the internet as a factor in the “fight against radicalisation.”

“We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the internet to fuel hatred and violence and signal our determination to ensure that the internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law,” the statement reads.

“With this in mind, the partnership of the major internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible,” it continues.

Ignore the caveats, concentrate on the message: they want to control internet content. And as we’ve learned, controlling internet content doesn’t just mean silencing terrorists. It means silencing anyone who says anything deemed racist or bigoted or insensitive. The EU wants to stop terrorists from silencing critics of Islam all right. They will do this by silencing Islam’s critics on their own.

David Cameron has specifically responded to these events by saying he wants to mandate a back door into all internet communication:

British Prime Minister David Cameron reacted to last week’s terrorist attack in Paris by participating in a march declaring solidarity with freedom of expression. Then he went home and attacked freedom of expression with a promise: If his party, the Conservatives, win an upcoming election, they’ll pass legislation that would empower security services to read anything sent over the Internet.

He favors a Britain where everything that anyone communicates can be spied upon if authorities determine that certain conditions are met. In short order, this would enable security services to spy on all innocent communications even as terrorists and non-criminals begin to communicate in code or through still-dark channels. And that is just the beginning of the problems with this privacy-killing proposal.

As has been noted many times, when the government demands a backdoor into your cellphone or computer, that makes it possible for the backdoor to be abused by hackers, terrorists and other criminals.

Oh, and that march? The world leaders weren’t even there:

Now, a different perspective on the leader’s portion of the march has emerged in the form of a wide shot displayed on French TV news reports.

It shows that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows other dignitaries and officials – after which there was a large security presence maintaining a significant gap with the throngs of other marchers.

The measure was presumably taken for security reasons – but political commentators have suggested that it raises doubts as to whether the leaders were really part of the march at all.

And their commitment to free expression? You should check out Daniel Wickham’s tweets, which run down their level of “commitment”. Example:

So this March for Solidarity or Unity or whatever was not really a march against censorship or for free speech. Not as far as world leaders were concerned, at least. The only reason they oppose terrorists attacking freedom of expression is because they see that as their job. Fresh off of silencing critics, imprisoning journalists and attacking civil liberties, they are going to use this attack on free expression to ratchet up the attack on our liberties through more censorship, more control of media and more “sensitivity”. Don’t think for a second this is about stopping future Charlie Hebdo attacks. This is about control.

Politicians hate free speech. They hate the free press. They will enact as many controls on expression as they can get away with. The only people who care about our civil liberties are us. The Hebdo attack is seen by the majority of politicians as a way to ramp up their control of us. They will mask it with concern about terrorism, as they always do. But in the end, we will all be under their thumb.

If they were really committed to freedom of expression, they would be challenging the blasphemy laws that infest dozens of countries around the world. If they were really committed to freedom of expression, they’d be trying to free imprisoned journalists. If they were really committed to freedom of expression, they would be challenging the speech codes that have flowered on college campuses. Until they attack those things, I will not believe them when they talk about their commitment to freedom of expression. They’re just placating us.

A lot of people misunderstood the “I Am Charlie Hebdo” thing. It’s not that liking their content. The point is that we are all under the real or implied threat of censorious thugs and we must zealously defend our freedom from those thugs. That mean terrorists, yes. But it also means the thugs who wear suits and ties and march near crowds to show their unity.

If you doubted that there was some agenda in Ferguson

When the whole debacle in Ferguson was playing out I kept quit. That was mostly because I suspected we were being fed an enormous amount of lies and fabrications by a media eager to help out the democrats and Obama – and man, do they believe this racially divisive shit they peddle to be effective to their agenda – whom were getting a shellacking from disillusioned and angry Americans precisely because their focus has been on divisive shit like this, instead of dealing with the economic disaster that their policies have caused us all, to begin with. I suspected that when the details came out we would discover that the bulk of the stuff to peddle the racial nonsense would end up discredited. I do admit I expected pressure from the media, the DOJ, Obama, and the usual race hustlers that flock to these tragic events like flies do to a dead body, to force the grand jury to indict even if there was no case, so at least on that account I was pleasantly surprised. But being the cynic that I am, I suspected an agenda, and while this could be purely coincidental, I think it is not:

The father of the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” slogan has just been employed by the United States government.

Dorian Johnson, the star witness to the Michael Brown shooting and the man who was assisting Brown during the strong-arm robbery moments before Brown was killed, has been hired by the city of St. Louis.

According to STLtoday.com, “Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff, has confirmed that Johnson was hired under a state grant through the city’s Agency on Training and Employment, or SLATE.”

Meeting the low income eligibility requirements, the 22-year-old will be holding the temporary position and will be making about $8.50 an hour.

Johnson told media that Brown had been shot from behind and then shot while surrendering to police with his hands up, both statements discredited by a majority of the evidence. Johnson will not be charged in the strong-arm robbery of the store, authorities said.

Yeah, that doesn’t smack of a payoff at all. When you profit from racial tensions, despite all your assertions to the contrary, one should not be remiss in expecting you to not only see it everywhere, but to foster as much of it as you can while pretending to do the opposite. Who still doubts that race relations are at their worst since Obama and his crew have been dealing with this stuff and hinting that anyone that has a problem with their color – and I am talking about the fact that they are reds – is a racist, huh?

And I need to add that the problem goes beyond race. We have a plethora of fake rape stories to rile up the feminists, with all of the top ones falling apart. And lie after lie about economic improvement, when nothing of the sort is going on. Then there is the campaign to overwhelm every American system by rewarding law breakers, and then all for political gain, by people that think these freeloaders will help push things their way at the ballot box. Things are falling apart, and it costs $1 trillion to pay the cost of part of a year to keep the lights on, even when that’s the case. About the only respite the American people have gotten is related to energy costs as the price of oil and gas have dropped the costs associated with the products we get from them, and that all is happening despite the Obama administration and the agendas of the left. No “Good Times” going on these days.

We Sometimes Forget That We’re The President

The man really is like an innocent but clueless bystander within his own Administration. He should probably organize a protest against the man in charge or something. Maybe he’s good at that?

President Barack Obama said Monday he wants to ensure the U.S. isn’t building a “militarized culture” within police departments, while maintaining federal programs that provide the type of military-style equipment that were used to dispel racially charged protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

Don’t forget that Obama is the exact same guy whose DHS labeled returning American veterans as potential terrorists even as their returning weapons were sent to small town police departments to fight, um, terrorists, whose CIA blew up an American citizen on foreign soil without due process, and whose Bureau of Land Management showed up in full battle array ready to gun down a rancher and dozens of his supporters over a few stray cows.

Something tells me that Obama doesn’t have a problem, in theory, with militarizing law enforcement as long as his own special groups and interests aren’t the ones being made war upon.

Antisocial Movements

If there’s one thing we are going to need in the modern era, it is a term to describe these new, asinine forms of protest currently being used to further political and ideological goals. This type is different from terrorism in that the acts aren’t violent and sometimes not even unlawful. For lack of a better imagination term, I will dub such acts as “churlism.”

These tactics are designed to draw attention to a cause simply by being the biggest prick imaginable and getting a sufficient number of other pricks to go along with it to piss people off on a grand enough scale to accomplish your goals. Case in point: blocking bridges and freeway overpasses with human prick barricades. I think it was the Occupy Movement that really pioneered this one. Do you really want to strike a blow for your cause, deal out economic hardship on individual Americans, tie up police resources, and make everyone hate your cause as they become more aware of it? Keep them from getting to and from work.

Churlists like the Westboro Baptist Church mastered this years ago with their funeral protests and Anonymous loves to show how cyber-churlism can punish bad actors beyond simple Internet insults. In fact, churlists can often best terrorists, as Anonymous has recently proven against the KKK (an organization that has itself become more churlish with each passing decade). Hell, Obama has even practiced a rare form of state-sponsored churlism for years now by mocking invited guests at public events (Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, the entire Supreme Court, etc), laughing at commuters when his motorcades cause traffic gridlock, or golfing just to show how little he cares about his critics’ views on his lack of action on foreign or domestic policy. And all of those crass people get away with it and even do succeed at getting their message across. So we know it works.

My own viewpoint is that incredibly crass acts like blockading traffic and taking over public parks are inconvenient, but they are far preferable to destruction of property, assault, and other nasty acts that asshats with no purpose for breathing other than their pet causes do when they don’t think they’re being listened to.

Now, I’m not saying that I want to be vexed in my daily life. Far from it. Also, recognize that churlism is different from civil disobedience, which is generally pretty focused on specific people and circumstances. Churlism is utterly random and basically has a way of pissing off people who even hear that it’s being done. Even people who agree with with the Ferguson protestors hate the thought of being caught in a traffic jam while police kick street people and privileged young white hipsters off of a freeway ramp. On the other hand, they like the thought of other people being inconvenienced, because fuck you, whitey.

What I am saying is that I find protest techniques such as these to be potentially highly effective, more so than anything we’ve seen before. In a society as passive-aggressive and disconnected as ours, it simply has to work. Also, I think a good distinction is needed to protect civil liberties by properly differentiating asshole protest activities from extreme or dangerous ones.

Some of my proposed churlist tactics:

1. Fart-Ins. Exactly what you think it means.
2. Sidewalk Jamming. Police can clear you off of a street, but what can they do if you’re just walking on the sidewalk reeeeeeeeeeeallllllllly fucking slowly?
3. Urinal Funnel. I have to explain this one. Some guy at my workplace figured out how to remove the urinal pad and roll it up into a cone. He’d then set it back in the drain so that when the automatic flush engaged, the water would spray back toward the person who had just pissed in it. The guy is a genius, but he lacks the vision to fulfill the destiny of a great cause.

What do you think of such protest tactics? Fair or over the line?

Sneaking and Peaking

Holy crap:

One of the more controversial provisions of the Patriot Act was to broaden the “sneak-and-peek” power for federal law enforcement officials. The provision allows investigators to conduct searches without informing the target of the search. We were assured at the time that this was an essential law enforcement tool that would be used only to protect the country from terrorism. Supporters argued that it was critical that investigators be allowed to look into the lives and finances of suspected terrorists without tipping off those terrorists to the fact that they were under investigation.

More than a decade later, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published an analysis on use of the sneak-and-peek power. Just as critics predicted, it’s now a ubiquitous part of federal law enforcement.

According to the EFF, there were over eleven thousand sneak and peek requests in 2013. Of those, only half a percent were terrorism cases. The vast majority were for drug investigations with the remainder for other non-terrorism criminality.

This is the reason why, however much I have criticized Bush for his War on Terror excesses, Barack Obama has been far far worse. It’s not just that sneak-and-peak requests have tripled under his watch. It’s not just the massive expansion of the drone war. It’s not just the explosion of surveillance. It’s that he has now given the bipartisan kiss of approval to all of this. Bush may have started the War on Terror, but Barack Obama has cemented it in place to an excess that would make John Ashcroft blush (Ashcroft, whom you may remember as a favored whipping boy of Democratic pseudo-civil libertarians, refused to extend the domestic surveillance program).

Radley has a few lessons we should learn from this. You should really read the whole thing. Here’s the most important:

Law-and-order politicians and many (but not all) law enforcement and national security officials see the Bill of Rights not as the foundation of a free society but as an obstacle that prevents them from doing their jobs. Keep this in mind when they use a national emergency to argue for exceptions to those rights.

We can not rely on politicians to defend our civil liberties. We must actively use them and defend them. And any intrusion into our liberty must be opposed, no matter what crisis is at hand. If we don’t defend or liberty, who will?

The Evil Koch Brothers and Their Evil Compassion

This should blow a few Left Wing minds:

Koch Industries, in partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, is financing a program to provide scholarships and training for public defenders. The grant will also pay for a review of indigent defense programs to see what works in providing legal representation to those who can’t afford it.

Charles G. Koch, the chairman of Koch Industries, said in a statement that the grant was a way “to make the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of an individual’s right to counsel a reality for all Americans, especially those who are the most disadvantaged in our society.”

The company’s interest grew out of its own experience during a criminal case in Texas and underscores a growing area of common ground between conservatives and progressives on criminal justice issues like sentencing reform.

The liberal echosphere has demonized the Koch’s for so long that I expect the response to this to be a) denial; b) animosity toward the NACDL. At least once a month I point out to some Koch-knocker that the Koch’s have long supported civil liberties, gay rights, the arts and sciences only to have proof demanded over and over and over again. The idea of the Koch brothers as Satan is so embedded with some political factions that they simply can’t process reality.

Eric Hoffer once said the following: “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Whether it’s the Koch Brothers, the NRA, the Tea Party or Big Oil, the Democratic Party can not survive without someone to demonize. Even if that someone is doing more to help poor people and right injustices than they are.

We Demand Compromised Security!

A few weeks ago, Apple announced that their new OS encrypts data so that Apple literally can not access it without the user’s permission. Google followed by announcing their new Android OS will do the same thing. This has been done ostensibly to prevent the government from forcing Apple to divulge information stored in someone’s accounts. This might prevent law enforcement from executing a search warrant delivered to the company. It might also, however, block agencies from getting phone data without a warrant or notification of the user, as they are want to.

Naturally, law enforcement types don’t like this. Their supporters are up in arms over Apple “enabling criminals” by forcing the government to get a warrant and get your password if they want to search your electronic persons, papers, houses and effects. So the WaPo has proposed a “compromise”:

How to resolve this? A police “back door” for all smartphones is undesirable — a back door can and will be exploited by bad guys, too. However, with all their wizardry, perhaps Apple and Google could invent a kind of secure golden key they would retain and use only when a court has approved a search warrant. Ultimately, Congress could act and force the issue, but we’d rather see it resolved in law enforcement collaboration with the manufacturers and in a way that protects all three of the forces at work: technology, privacy and rule of law.

In short, the WaPo wants the technically impossible: a backdoor that isn’t really a backdoor. And we should entrust this backdoor into every phone in the country to law enforcement — comprising God knows how many people. We should entrust this backdoor to a group of people who recently did this:

For years, local law enforcement agencies around the country have told parents that installing ComputerCOP software is the “first step” in protecting their children online.

Police chiefs, sheriffs, and district attorneys have handed out hundreds of thousands of copies of the disc to families for free at schools, libraries, and community events, usually as a part of an “Internet Safety” outreach initiative. The packaging typically features the agency’s official seal and the chief’s portrait, with a signed message warning of the “dark and dangerous off-ramps” of the Internet.

As official as it looks, ComputerCOP is actually just spyware, generally bought in bulk from a New York company that appears to do nothing but market this software to local government agencies.

Calling it “spyware” is a nice term of art. A more precise description is that it is a keylogger which transmits to third-party servers — without encryption — every key typed on a computer. Passwords, private communications, credit card numbers … all of that is transmitted in clear text. If your child (or you) use a laptop with this malware and someone has a basic packet sniffer nearby, they could take over your life.

(The cops have responded to the EFF, claiming that only an “ultra-liberal” organization who is “more interested in protecting predators and pedophiles than in protecting our children” should care that their software is one of the most unsafe things you could put on your computer.)

This is the group we should trust with backdoors to every cell phone in the country, according to the WaPo.

The Forest Service Charges for Freedom

What on Earth?

The U.S. Forest Service has tightened restrictions on media coverage in vast swaths of the country’s wild lands, requiring reporters to pay for a permit and get permission before shooting a photo or video in federally designated wilderness areas.

Under rules being finalized in November, a reporter who met a biologist, wildlife advocate or whistleblower alleging neglect in any of the nation’s 100 million acres of wilderness would first need special approval to shoot photos or videos even on an iPhone.

Permits cost up to $1,500, says Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers, and reporters who don’t get a permit could face fines up to $1,000.

First Amendment advocates say the rules ignore press freedoms and are so vague they’d allow the Forest Service to grant permits only to favored reporters shooting videos for positive stories.

Well, duh. The Forestry Service is claiming they are protecting the wilderness from being exploited for commercial gain, as dictated in the Wilderness Act of 1964. I don’t have the exact language of the law in front of me, but that reeks of bullshit. The Act has been in place for fifty years and we haven’t needed this. It’s one thing to enact rules to prevent a camera crew from traipsing through and destroying protected areas. But requiring a permit reeks of censorship. Mataconis:

What if, for example, a national or local television news reporter were covering a story based on allegations of malfeasance by Forest Service officials that made taking video on Forest Service land relevant? How, in that context, is a reporter supposed to apply for a permit to begin with? From the descriptions of the process, it appears that media outlets are required to provide some kind of justification for why they need the video in question, and in this case that would require the reporter to either lie to a government official or potentially reveal the story they are working on to people who are the focus of that investigation. In a case like that, if a permit is denied, the strong implication would be that the agency had something to cover up because of the manner in which it was restricting press access.

Gee. I have no idea why a government agency might want to vet what’s being reported out of their bailiwick.

Don’t think is happening in a vacuum. If the Forest Service can restrict media access to public lands, other agencies will start restricting media access as well. This is a trial balloon by the Feds. And it needs to be popped.