“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.” — George Orwell, 1984
On May 5th, speaking at Ohio State University, Barack Obama lamented that “Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”
Obama has it exactly wrong. It is not that our experiment in self-rule is a sham, or that it can’t be trusted, it is that the experiment has been undermined by the growing power of government in our lives, the very danger of which the Founding Fathers warned us. James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” declared that “The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Obama tries to convince us of just the opposite; namely, that we should place our trust in a benevolent government which will take care of us, and all we have to do is give up a little freedom.
The specter of terrorism, especially on the American homeland is very frightening. These fears are especially acute in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack such as the bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.
More recently and prior to this latest attack, however; according to a recent Gallup poll, terrorism received 0% when asked about America’s greatest problem. Sen. Mitch McConnell said in response to the mathon bombing: “I think it’s safe to say that, for many, the complacency that prevailed prior to September 11th has returned. And so we are newly reminded that serious threats to our way of life remain.”
Is Sen. McConnell right? Have Americans become complacent to these “serious threats”? Are Americans to blame for failing to be vigilant? Should we demand the federal government “do something” more to protect us?
Written by Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
A year ago, almost to the day, I blogged about a legislative package on cybersecurity being proposed in the Senate. “Soviet-Style Cybersecurity,” I called it, because of the “centralizing and deadening effect” it would have on the many and varied efforts to respond to the many problems lumped together as “cybersecurity.” President Obama’s new executive order, titled “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity,” has similar, if slightly more sinister, qualities.
To understand my thinking in this area, you must first understand the concepts in a superlative law review article I first read when I was doing oversight of the regulatory process as a congressional staffer. “Administrative Arm-Twisting in the Shadows of Congressional Delegations of Authority” is by University of Flordia law professor Lars Noah. In it, he described the administrative practice of imposing sanctions or withholding benefits in order to elicit “voluntary compliance” from regulated entities. The upshot? There is no “voluntary” when businesses are repeat players or under ongoing supervision of an agency.
The cybersecurity executive order has arm-twisting all over it.
We’ve complained long and hard about the TSA and it’s terrible “security” practices for years. It’s a horrible agency that should have never been instituted. Fortunately, Rand Paul is on the case:
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he will very likely re-introduce legislation to drastically scale back the Transportation Securities Administration’s reach by privatizing TSA security screening operations at airports and creating a series of passenger protections, Politico reports.
“I think we are going to,” Paul said when asked if he would take another crack at the agency. “We have two different bills, one to privatize the TSA and then we have another one which is a passenger bill of rights.”
Paul’s introduced TSA privatization and flier bill of rights legislation last summer after resisting a pat-down, which postponed his flight and caused him to miss a speech at a March for Life rally.
One bill would have ended the TSA screening operation and require airports to choose companies from the private sector to do screening. The other bill would have allowed certain people to opt out of pat-downs, required distribution of a list of fliers’ rights, and greatly expanded an expedited screening program for frequent fliers.
Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
It had the makings of a shockingly reasonable legislative bargain: Two outdated federal privacy statutes would be reformed together, removing some unnecessarily stringent restrictions on sharing video records while finally imposing a clear warrant requirement for government searches of e-mail and other private files stored in the “cloud.” Then Congress, perhaps in homage to Darth Vader, decided to alter the deal: A bill weakening the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 has been sent to the president for his signature, but without the corresponding badly-needed reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.
There are dumb ideas…and then there are really dumb ideas. And then there are, so to say, Congressional politicians. We’re not quite at that level yet, but it seems like it. I am of course, referring to a rather silly piece in Slate magazine titled “Let’s Nationalize Facebook,” written by one Phillip N. Howard, a professor of communications and information technology from the University of Washington. His reasons for doing so are:
Over the last several years, Facebook has become a public good and an important social resource. But as a company, it is behaving badly, and long term, that may cost it: A spring survey found that almost half of Americans believe that Facebook will eventually fade away. Even the business side has been a bit of a disaster lately, with earnings lower than expected and the news that a significant portion of Facebook profiles are fake. If neither users nor investors can be confident in the company, it’s time we start discussing an idea that might seem crazy: nationalizing Facebook.
You’d think Congress would learn its lesson. After much of the nation revolted in protest this year, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was killed in the House, as was its counterpart (PIPA) in the Senate. Americans don’t want government regulating and policing the Internet. Beyond that, the bill was bad for technology.
SOPA got pulled. We won. We sent a clear message that Congress should keep its grubby paws off the Internet. Victory is sweet!
But now it’s happening again.
Lamar Smith, the stubborn Republican from Texas is pushing his Intellectual Property (IP) legislation back into the forefront, and it seems that his latest effort, the Intellectual Property Attache Act, is on the fast track to be rushed through Congress before the public really understand what’s going on.
TechDirt reported yesterday about how the IP attaches that would be created would be for pushing maximalist policy globally:
Their role is not to support more effective or more reasonable IP policy. It is solely to increase expansion, and basically act as Hollywood’s personal thugs pressuring other countries to do the will of the major studios and labels. The role is literally defined as pushing for “aggressive support for enforcement action” throughout the world.
On Thursday, Georgia’s Austin Scott introduced H.R. 5925, the Preserving Freedom From Unwarranted Surveillance Act, a bill with the stated purpose of protecting privacy against unwarranted intrusion by use of drones.
When I saw the headline, I was skeptical. Scott’s a good guy; I’ve met him a handful of times, and though I think his intentions are usually good, he’s been a pretty big disappointment since he got to Washington. When he was campaigning (in the Georgia gubernatorial race first, and then for Congress), he said all the right things that made me think he’d be good to have in Washington. Once he got there, however, his tune changed, and he quickly sold out to the establishment.
That’s not to say that everything he’s done in the last 2 years has been a disappointment, but I was shocked to see that he was leading a charge to protect the Fourth Amendment. To be fair, I’ve not read this bill because it’s not available online as of this writing, so it might be wonderful legislation. The reports I’ve seen, however, list some exceptions in the bill that are troubling.
The legislation, according to this report, says that there are “several exceptions for the use of drones without warrants, including the patrolling of U.S. borders or during the threat of a terrorist attack.” On the surface, maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but this is similar to some other legislation that violates the Fourth Amendment:
NDAA: “Indefinite detention only applies to you if we think you’re involved in terrorism. Otherwise you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches this Sunday, I cannot help but feel it will be a commemoration of not one, not two, but at least three different tragedies that have befallen the American people. The first is the obvious tragedy of the attacks themselves, which took thousands of lives in an act of barbarism and insanity. The second tragedy is what happened to the American consciousness afterwards. And the third is what our children understand about it.
I read earlier this week about a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The results were disquieting, to say the least. Some of the highlights:
- 71% of Americans favor surveillance cameras in public
- 47% support the government reading emails outside the US without a warrant
- 30% support the government monitoring emails within the country
- 58% support random searches involving full-body scans or patdowns at airports
- 35% support racial or ethnic profiling at airports
- 55% support the government snooping into financial transactions without a warrant
- 47% support a national ID card to show to authorities on demand (a “Show-Me” Card, if you ever watched Fringe)
- 64% believe it is “Sometimes necessary to sacrifice some rights and freedoms” in order to fight the war on terror
- 53% think you can’t be too careful dealing with people (which is a slight improvement from 2002, I suppose, which was 58%, but…)
- 54% would, between counterterrorism and civil liberties, come down on the side of civil liberties
Like I said, disquieting. All but the last should be far lower; the last should be far higher. Only 54% would go for civil liberties? That means 46% would put counterterrorism operations above what it actually means to be an American?
The Atlantic is reporting on a bill working its way through Congress that could potentially be disastrous for civil liberties and privacy on the Internet. The innocuously-named bill, the “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011” requires that all ISPs maintain 12-month records of literally every element of your Internet activity. To obtain this info, all police have to do is ask for it - even for other crimes entirely unrelated to child porn.
This is the kind of nice-sounding, yet massively over-broad law that creates far more problems that it intends to solve. And yet it’s hardly surprising that the government is making a power grab under the banner of “protecting children”. That’s right up there with “helping poor people” and “stopping terrorism” in the list of excuses the state has used as a cover for invading our rights.
Clearly, this bill cannot become law. Anything we can do to alert people to it would certainly go a long way to shedding a light on this very problematic legistation.
Thanks go to Jayvie Canono (@OneFineJay) on Twitter for pointing me to this.