Big Brother is Watching Archives

More Generally: Politics (157)

November 23, 2010

John Locke, Ron Paul, and Airport Security

It has been rather a long time since I wrote on politics. As you can probably imagine, I'm pretty worked up about this whole body scanner business. As recently announced in a post on Homeland Stupidity, Ron Paul and two co-sponsors have introduced a bill in the House which would remove immunity from airport screeners and other federal employees who engage in certain sorts of behavior associated with airport screening. That is, it ensures that the screeners at airports are subject to the same laws regarding battery, sexual assault, child pornography, etc., as everyone else. I think there is something...
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January 5, 2010

How Great is the Threat of Aircraft-Based Terrorism?

In my recent post Preventing Terrorism "At All Costs", I argued that it is necessary to consider the genuine risks of terrorism and balance them against the cost and inconvenience of proposed security measures, rather than merely taking a knee-jerk "anything to make us safer" approach. In the course of the post, I compared the risk of aircraft-based terrorism to other risks we take every day, such as driving on Los Angeles freeways. In a recent post, Big Numbers and Air Travel (HT: Uncommon Priors) on his blog Good Math, Bad Math, Mark Chu-Carroll examines the question of just how risky air travel really is...
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December 31, 2009

Preventing Terrorism "At All Costs"

Insofar as there is any debate about airline security measures at all (and there is not as much as there should be), the debate typically assumes that we ought to prevent terrorism "at all costs". But this is simply false. Last night I saw a segment on the local news here in Johnstown, PA, where a "terrorism expert" (it wasn't clear exactly what his qualifications were) said that we could catch terrorists much more effectively by engaging in religious profiling. Apparently a federal legislator recently said the same thing. What these people are pointing out is something that should be...
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July 9, 2008

R.I.P. Lex Americanorum (Sept. 17 , 1787 - July 9, 2008)

Lex Americanorum, the King of America, passed away this afternoon on the Senate floor. Lex had been ill for some years and White House-ologists in Moscow have long suspected that one or more cabinet members had in fact taken responsibility for most major decisions. The exact identity of this person had not been firmly established, but most experts agree that it is Vice President Dick Cheney. Lex was born on September 17, 1787 and became king shortly thereafter upon election by representatives of the 13 American colonies. Lex was able to survive and maintain power for nearly 221 years...
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March 12, 2008

Telecom Immunity and "Lex est Rex"

The most recent Electronic Frontier Foundation newsletter contains a couple of links on telecom immunity which allude to an argument against telecom immunity that I want to expand upon. Many people think that the basic principle of democracy or of a free society more generally is "majority rule" or some such. However, this is not historically how the matter has been viewed, and history in fact furnishes plenty of cases in which majority rule has not been particularly consistent with freedom. Classic liberals - the early modern thinkers who gave us the foundations of western democracy - had a different view...
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July 31, 2007

REAL ID Update is reporting on recent action in the Senate regarding REAL ID. I had previously reported on several states (particularly in the northwest) passing resolutions against REAL ID compliance. According to the article, the number of these states is now seventeen. What has happened in the Senate is that an amedment to a spending bill offering $300 million in grants to help defray the cost of compliance for states was defeated, and an amendment introduced by Montana Democrat Max Baucus (hurray for the northwest again!) prohibiting using any money in the spending bill for "planning, testing, piloting, or developing a national identification card" was adopted unanimously. We may be getting closer to what is really needed: a complete repeal of this terrible law.
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March 13, 2007

The Northwest to Remain Free?

It will come as little surprise to regular readers that I am not a fan of the Real ID act, a law passed by congress mandating certain standards of identity verification for all state-issued IDs (including drivers' licenses), requiring states to share data collected in this process with the federal government, and requiring that one have such an ID in order to board planes, enter national parks, or enter federal courts (see also the ACLU's FAQ on the subject). The law orders states to come into compliance within three years or not have their IDs accepted by the federal government...
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July 18, 2006

No Manslaughter Charges Filed in Jean Charles de Menezes Case

An official press release from the UK's Independent Police Complaints Commission announced yesterday that, following an investigation of the brutal execution without trial of innocent Tube passenger Jean Charles de Menezes, the London Police Commissioner will face charges of "failing to provide for the health, safety and welfare" of Mr. Menezes under the "Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974." There will be no murder or manslaughter charges...
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June 22, 2006

Another Suspicious AT&T Operation

Homeland Stupidity is pointing to a article about yet another suspicious operation being undertaken by AT&T. In this case, an entire building in Bridgeport, Missouri has been secured in a manner suggestive of NSA involvement. Salon reports that, "according to one of the former workers, Bridgeton serves as the technical command center from which the company manages all the routers and circuits carrying the company´┐Żs domestic and international Internet traffic." According to Homeland Stupidity's source, Russel Tice, there is an "arduous six-month clearance process" for employees who work in this building. Building security requires fingerprinting and retinal scans on...
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June 6, 2006

Arguments From EFF's Motion for Preliminary Injunction Against AT&T

I reported last week on the unsealing of documents related to the ongoing litigation against AT&T by the EFF relating to the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillaince program. I have just now had a chance to read EFF's motion for preliminary injunction, which brings out some new arguments relevant to my previous discussion of why this program is bad. I think that these two new (to me) arguments substantially refute my previous claim that the program is a violation of libertarian rights if and only if the companies' privacy policies represent to the customer that they will not voluntarily release the...
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May 30, 2006

AT&T-NSA Documents Unsealed

Update (5/31/06, 7:04PM): From CNET via Hammer of Truth: AT&T's brief is also available in a 'censored' PDF. Unfortunately for AT&T, it turned out to be not so censored: users of xpdf and Apple's Preview application (including the Safari plugin) can read the blacked out text by copying and pasting it. The EFF is reporting that censored versions of AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein's Testimony and EFF's own preliminary injunction motion in the AT&T lawsuit have been unsealed by the court. The Klein testimony document looks like a summary of the documents published by Wired, which I reported on last...
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May 23, 2006

AT&T Spying Documents Published

Wired magazine has published a collection of evidence leaked by former AT&T employee Mark Klein thought to have substantial overlap wiith the sealed documents related to the Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit (a PDF of the complete file is also available). These documents do not relate directly to the NSA telephone call database (which is bad), but rather show that AT&T has installed 'secret rooms' at several hubs designed to intercept internet communications. This is rather less troubling than the alleged telephone spying, because it's not difficult to intercept unencrypted messages over the internet, but the thought that the government has...
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May 17, 2006

Telecoms Deny Turning Call Records Over to NSA; FBI Spies on ABC News

As Lauren mentioned in the comments to my previous NSA wiretapping post, Verizon, along with BellSouth, has officially denied sharing call records with the NSA. Rumor has it AT&T has denied involvement as well, but I couldn't find an official report on that. A number of people including USA Today are skeptical of the companies' claims. We'll see how things play out... Meanwhile, in related news, The Blotter (Official Blog of ABC News) is claiming that the FBI has used national security letters to spy on reporters in order to find sources who reveal classified information. Now, revealing classified information...
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May 15, 2006

Why is the NSA Data Mining Operation Bad?

In the comments to my first post on NSA domestic spying, Jeremy said, This is exactly why I think libertarianism is completely nuts. If it's going to place some absurd sense of an absolute right to privacy so much higher than the extremely important obligation of the government to protect its people, then I want nothing to do with it ... It just seems silly to me to complain that my rights are being violated simply because information the government can already get if there's reason to suspect me of any criminal activity is more readily available in the event...
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May 12, 2006

More on NSA Domestic Spying

This morning's New York Times is now online (it's still weird being 7 hours ahead of New York and not having the Times out when I wake up) with more responses to yesterday's NSA domestic spying revelations. Before further discussion, let me clarify something about the NSA's program that seems to have confused some readers on my last post: there seem to be two separate warrantless spying programs. One program listens to international phone calls without warrants. Another program keeps records of the source, destination, time, and duration or all local and long distance phone calls within the United States...
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May 11, 2006

NSA Domestic Spying Revelations

Update (5/12/2006, 11:26 AM): This story has been picked up by Hammer of Truth and Homeland Stupidity. Homeland Stupidity also has a second article explaining the details of what is in the records and who can see them. The author is a former MCI employee. There is also an AP Article on the (limited) congressional response that has already begun (HT: Sister Toldjah) For those of you who might not know, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued telecom giant AT&T alleging that AT&T improperly assisted the NSA in listening to Americans' phone calls without the proper warrants. On April 28,...
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December 30, 2005

Homeland Security Visit to UMass Student a Hoax!

The story I reported here regarding the UMass Dartmouth student who reported having been visited by federal agents in connection with his request for Mao's Little Red Book has been revealed as a hoax. See here and here. Perhaps he just needed an extension on his paper......
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December 19, 2005

And Here I Thought Joseph McCarthy Was Dead...

From The Standard-Times, via slashdot: A senior at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth received a visit from federal agents two months ago, after requesting a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's Little Red Book through his school's inter-library loan program. Details are sparse, but it appears that some branch of the federal government (presumably the Department of Homeland Security) was monitoring the inter-library loan system, apparently without a warrant. The agents told the student, whom the Standard-Times had the courtesy not to identify, that the book was on a "watch list" (is that the same as a "blacklist"?). Buyer beware! Apparently everyone...
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