From BOB BAUMAN
Huffington Post Union of Bloggers
Perhaps you recall the major uproar over President George W. Bush’s use of massive telephone and wire tap surveillance in cooperation with major telecommunications companies after the New York and Washington 9-11 terror attacks.
Ultimately the Congress adopted FISA legislation in 2006 that was supposed to curb these wiretaps by judicial review, with then U.S. Senator Barack Obama one of Bush’s leading critics.
Last Monday a three-judge federal appellate court dealt a serious blow to the Bush/Obama tactic for shielding government’s unconstitutional eavesdropping from judicial review by trying to place secret executive surveillance above and beyond the rule of law.
The unanimous court ruled that the plaintiffs’ fear that they will be subjected to expanded warrantless eavesdropping is reasonable given the sweeping powers the law vests in the Executive, that these fears substantially impede their work, and that these impediments constitute actual harm sufficient to allow them to challenge the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments.
The court’s ruling was a major victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in their continuing constitutional challenge to newest FISA law.
Note that I referred to the “Bush/Obama tactic” of conducting illegal surveillance.
Bi-Partisan & Unconstitutional
Nothing like “bipartisan cooperation” in Washington, eh?
Another horrendous example: last month the extension of the Bush-era PATRIOT Act jointly was assured by the most important Democratic power brokers (the Obama White House and Senators Feinstein and Leahy), plus the congressional Senate and House Republican leadership.
That’s the same sort of bipartisan coalition that has repeated for the last decade as constitutional civil liberties in the U.S. steadily have been eroded in the specious name of fighting “terrorism.”
Only 26 of the 241 House Republicans, larded with scores of new Tea Party supposed pro-US constitutionalists, voted against extension of the PATRIOT Act. Did they even read it?
Repressive Laws, Here & There
On the very same day that President Obama demanded that Egypt repeal its repressive 30-year-old ”emergency law,” he joined with those House Republicans to extend America’s own emergency law, the PATRIOT Act, for three more years — with no new judicial or congressional oversight.
Another example: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admonished Egypt’s faltering Mubarak government for imposing an Internet blackout during what would be successful protests, calling it a baseless attempt to limit free speech during a time of social upheaval.
But can you believe that President Obama wants another new law that would give him the power to use an Internet kill switch? The law would allow the president to block access to the world wide web if an Egypt-style revolt or other unrest occurred in the U.S.
Obama Wants to Read Your Email
Not to be outdone, the Obama U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) also wants another new law too. This one would require Internet companies to retain data and records of user activity online. In doing so, the Obama administration is supporting measures advocated by the Bush administration that pose a grave threat to free speech and the freedom of the Internet. The sweeping legislation would cover cell phone service, Internet records, and email.
Data retention legislation would jeopardize the privacy of millions of Americans who use the Internet. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes, “A legal obligation to log users’ Internet use, paired with weak federal privacy laws that allow the government to easily obtain those records, would dangerously expand the government’s ability to surveil its citizens, damage privacy, and chill freedom of expression.”
Once again, congressional Republicans are more than happy to cooperate in passing such a dangerous law; anything to go after those awful terrorists — even if it shreds the U.S. Constitution.
Although they can cite no legal basis for their high-handed actions, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security claims that its agents have the right to look though the contents of a international traveler’s electronic devices, including laptops, cameras and cell phones, and to keep the devices or copy the contents in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S., regardless of whether the traveler is suspected of any wrongdoing.
Documents obtained by the ACLU in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for records related to the DHS policy reveal that more than 6,600 travelers, nearly half of whom are American citizens, were subjected to electronic device searches at the border between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010.
No law authorizes this power nor is there any judicial or congressional body overseeing or regulating what DHS is doing. And the citizens to whom this is done have no recourse — not even to have their property returned to them.
FBI Run Amok
In a review of nearly 2,500 pages of documents released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed what I would call alarming trends in the Bureau’s intelligence investigation practices. The documents suggest that FBI intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than previously assumed.
These FBI flagrant legal violations included submitting false or inaccurate declarations to courts, using improper evidence to obtain federal grand jury subpoenas and accessing password protected documents without a warrant. In at least one fifth of the cases specific violations of the U.S. Constitution were cited.
Based on a review of reports by the FBI top its own Intelligence Oversight Board, from 2001 to 2008, the FBI admitted approximately 800 violations of the Constitution, laws, executive orders, or regulations governing intelligence investigations, although it is likely that significantly under-states the actual number of violations.
From 2001 to 2008, the FBI investigated, at minimum, 7000 potential intelligence violations. Based on the proportion of violations reported to the IOB and the FBI’s own statements regarding the number of violations, the actual number of violations that may have occurred from 2001 to 2008 could approach 40,000 possible violations of law, executive order, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations.
One year ago, the Inspector General’s Office, the independent DoJ audit arm, issued a lengthy report detailing that the FBI, for the years 2003-2005, had used “National Security Letters” (NSLs) to gather information on thousands of Americans in violation of the law. Under the PATRIOT Act, “NSLs” permit the FBI and other federal agencies to obtain all sorts of invasive information from telecoms, Internet and email providers, even health care providers, without any judicial warrants or any other oversight of any kind.
Last year’s IG report documented thousands of cases where the FBI abused the extraordinary power of NSLs — the FBI made false statements to obtain the information, did so where the information had nothing to do with any pending investigations, obtained far more data than even The PATRIOT Act allows.
And if you think this power is being aimed solely at suspected terrorists, think again. No wonder that some Swiss and other offshore banks refuse to discuss by telephone their accounts with Americans.
Freedom of Speech Curbs
The so-called Shield bill, now introduced in both houses of Congress in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures, would amend the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it a crime for any person knowingly and willfully to disseminate, “in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States,” any classified information “concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States.”
Although this proposed law may be constitutional as applied to government employees who unlawfully leak such material to people who are unauthorized to receive it, it would plainly violate the First Amendment to punish anyone who might publish or otherwise circulate the information after it has been leaked. At the very least, the act should be expressly limited to situations in which the spread of the classified information poses a clear and imminent danger of grave harm to the nation.
A Plague on Both Houses
And by that I mean both political parties and both houses of the U.S. Congress – both of which have lost their understanding of American history and an appreciation for the genius and meaning of our Constitution and our constitutional system.
Be assured that the Sovereign Society in this time of great troubles will continue to give you not only a truthful account of the threats we face, but specific legal ways and means to protect yourself, your family and your wealth.
What bothers me most, as a conservative, as an attorney and as a student of American history, is that the great mass of U.S. citizens are oblivious of the fact that their rights and liberties are being destroyed. Most seem unaware, and those who do know a little about what’s happening, seem unconcerned.
Dark days for Americans and for our freedoms.