Tag: American Civil Liberties Union

The Taxman Listeneth

Just fucking great:

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has claimed that agents do not need warrants to read people’s emails, text messages and other private electronic communications, according to internal agency documents.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request, released the information on Wednesday.

In a 2009 handbook, the IRS said the Fourth Amendment does not protect emails because Internet users “do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications.” A 2010 presentation by the IRS Office of General Counsel reiterated the policy.

The 2010 presentation is critical because it took place after the Warshak decision said that people do have an expectation that e-mails will be private. The ACLU is still awaiting FOIA requests to see if other agencies are similarly thumbing their nose at Warshak.

Congress is supposedly working on legislation to put a warrant requirement on e-mails but they really shouldn’t need to. When you think about it, this should have been the subject of a 9-0 Supreme Court decision at some point. If the IRS broke into my house and confiscated letters, no one would tolerate it (we hope). But let an e-mail be stored on a server and suddenly it’s open season.

This is worse than it sounds, actually. Our government agencies will charge people with conspiracy and lying to investigators in circumstances where no actual crime was committed. So if they snoop through your e-mails and find an exchange with your accountant that looks suspicious, you could end up charged with a crime without actually having evaded any taxes based entirely on evidence obtained without a warrant.

(The IRS has issued a non-denial denial claiming they don’t “use emails to target taxpayers”. That careful wording avoids the point. We’re interested in why they target a taxpayer; we’re interested in what they do once they’ve targeted him.)

At some point, we have to stop putting up with this crap … in any context. Liberals can’t ignore this one because it’s the IRS getting tax cheats. Conservatives can’t ignore other contexts because it involves drug dealers or terrorists. No government agency should be allowed to read the entire contents of my spam folder without a warrant. Period.

Detention Hall

I’ve been warning for some time that the regime of indefinite detention of terror suspects — started by Bush and continued by Obama — would not stay confined to foreign terrorist (it never really was, as Jose Padilla could tell you). Well, here we go:

Either Monday or Tuesday the Senate will vote on a bill that allows the US military to imprison civilians with no formal charges and hold them with no trial.

The ACLU reports even US citizens wouldn’t be immune as the legislation aims to declare national territory part of the “battlefield” in the War on Terror.

The bill gives the President unilateral power to detain anyone, mandates detention of civilians outside of military control and transfers control of detention to the Department of defense.

Mark Udall and Rand Paul are trying to strip this provision from the defense bill and Obama is threatening a veto. The ACLU has more here.

McCain and Levin — the authors of this provision — respond here. Almost all of their points address concerns that we’re not giving the President enough power to declare anyone to be a terror suspect and turn him over to DoD indefinitely. The closest they come to addressing civil liberties concerns is a claim that they are simply codifying what the President is already doing:

No provision in the legislation expands the authority under which detainees can be held in military custody. On the contrary, it codifies detention authority that has been adopted by two administrations and upheld in the courts. The bill states clearly that it does not expand or limit the president’s authorities under the original 2001 authorization of the use of force against al-Qaeda.

Even if this were true — and the ACLU thinks it isn’t — the detention power the Presidents have assumed since 9/11 already goes too far, is too arbitrary and has no review or oversight. To call it “Star Chamber justice” is to insult star chambers. It grants our president the power no president should ever have: the ability to declare someone an enemy and throw them into a prison for as a long as he wants. This includes American citizens caught on American soil.

Notice something else about the McCain-Levin op-ed. It includes a plethora of phrases that Terror Warriors use to try to frighten us into surrender:

the unprecedented kind of war that came to our shores on Sept. 11, 2001 … the threat posed by al-Qaeda … al-Qaeda terrorists who participate in planning or conducting attacks against us …

Whenever I see these asides in an article, post or speech, I know what follows is likely bullshit. They are the War on Terror’s answer to liberal asides like “corporate power” and “wealth disparity”. They are the grease for the multi-pronged dildo that is to follow.

Al-Qaeda is waning as a threat. This President has taken out their nominal leader and most of their upper echelons. And the response is … to increase our government’s anti-terror powers? What McCain and Levin are unwittingly revealing is what civil libertarians have been claiming all along: that this was never about terrorism; this was about increasing government’s power.