What Big Ears You Have, Mr. President

This article appears in Volume 4 – Issue 1 of SKUNK Magazine.

YOU MAY HAVE HEARD the old line, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.” Unfortunately, there’s more and more reason to take this as gospel. The amount of data the US government is demanding access to is astounding and well beyond current technology and the human ability to evaluate it all in a timely manner. Nixonian “If the president does it, it can’t be illegal” claims have been met with generally dour responses from the courts, with a few sad exceptions. When those sworn to protect us fail, who were the staunchest supporters and protectors of our right to privacy? Librarians who told the government they would not comply with a clearly illegal order.

And in the spirit of those librarians, it’s story time…

 

And They Huff…

Once upon a time, in the Land of the Free, there was something called the Declaration of Independence and its sister document, the Bill of Rights. From time to time, evil tyrants and wannabes tried to disfigure, alter and treat them with a callous disregard. Still, with a little help from the caring, common folk, these beloved living documents were brushed off; just a little worse for wear.

However, since 9/11, both the Legislative and Executive Branches of the US government have abdicated their roles as leaders and have fallen to mass hysteria, resulting in the absence of Common Sense. While the world stood with them, the US government came out swinging like a drunk in a night bar fight; taking no note of the damage they caused. Despite frequent claims by the US of being a “Christian Nation,” turning the other cheek just wouldn’t feel good enough. The low road was taken and the country is mired in the muck, sinking fast.

The ACLU put out a fact sheet on the Protect America Act of 2007 that they’ve dubbed the Police America Act. They point out that it allows the government to issue warrants for international calls without a court review. It affords no protection, for either American phone calls or emails, caught up in the net. Long gone are the days when the Head of the State Department said, in 1919, that “Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen’s mail.”

 

And They Puff…

“GPS spying may prove irresistible to police.”

Since Judge David Hurd ruled there was no expectation of privacy of your car’s location on a public roadway, there are no search & seizure and no Fourth Amendment implications in the use of GPS devices. They can track you and chemicals & lights you get from the hydro store anywhere, at any time.

“Houston police use drone planes.”

We gave you a heads up about this back in SKUNK Magazine volume 2 issue 6. It’s not something the police wanted known and in fact, when their secret test was filmed by a news station they lied, claiming the airspace was restricted (the FAA denies there was any restriction). The news crew noted that not only were they tracked by the drones, but that these drones could see into peoples’ homes and follow their cars. The PD threw together a news conference and said that while they weren’t ready to discuss it, the drones could be used for “mobility, evacuations, homeland security, search and rescue, as well as tactical.” Executive Assistant Police Chief Martha Montalvo said, “It was too early to tell.”

“Austin Police Department Pot-Hunters Are Data-Mining at Austin Energy”

No joke here, folks. With little or no other supporting evidence, warrants were issued based information provided willingly—even eagerly—with a pat-on-the-head reward. One search gave police 44 pages of account-holder information on 2,000 customers living in 38 zip codes. When asked, Ed Clark of Austin Energy said, “Yes, it’s legal, because we wouldn’t do something that’s illegal.” There’s a relief!

 

And They Blow The House Down

If the skies weren’t cloudy and the sun covered in darkness the day the Congress pasted the Protecting America Act, they should’ve been. It further broadened the government’s right to listen and added legislative support to Bush’s generally unnoticed signing statement on the already embarrassingly unconstitutional Patriot Act, in which he basically stated he had the right to do whatever he saw fit in interpreting the law, obtaining and disseminating information. All subsequent bills have gone toward shoring up this horrific assumption of power in a single branch of government.

Walls and drones are being employed to “guard” us from the dangers outside our borders and unwarranted, illegal abuse of technology meant to serve is being turned against the “enemy within our border.” The government has deemed that “we have met the enemy and they is us.”

To this end, we’re asked to give up the very thing we’re claiming to be fighting for: freedom. We’re told if we have nothing to hide, we shouldn’t mind them listening to our darkest fears; our intimate moments and our secrets that have nothing to do with National Security. They’ve been hammering at this for decades and it has once again, reached a fevered pitch assisted by advances in technology. They watch, listen and data mine mindlessly; letting imaginations run wild as red flags pop up like weasels at an arcade; wasting endless effort and money chasing meaningless leads and ruining countless lives under the guise of protecting our freedom.

All freedom loving people would have hoped that this all had reached its depressing nadir in modern times during the Fearful Fifties and McCarty’s infamous Red Scare Committee days. Or perhaps in the Sexy Sixties with the FBI, while slightly less brazed, locked on to well-defined focus groups such as college students who didn’t want to kill, blacks who wanted respect, women who burnt their bras to demonstrate their liberation from a male-dominated world and other such nefarious. Just plain anybody who wanted to rock the boat by asking questions, changing societal mores, demanding peace, or smoking a little weed.

The end result of all this dodging and posturing is that the “Nation,” defined as “a community of people or peoples living in a defined territory and organized under a single government,” is in crisis. The government has demonstrated a monstrous inability or unwillingness to rescue us from this nightmare of legal wrangling, allowing for culprits to simply ignore what laws there are already in existence and pass amendment; laws that, while more broad and over-reaching, will continue to be ignored if they so desire.

Independent groups, such as the ACLU, have been trying to sound the alarms and call the government to task by filing suits and reminding them that it’s within their authority, as former ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson has said, to “require the President to follow the law.” It’s sad that the President sworn to uphold and defend the laws of this Land must be reminded to follow them.

In August 2006, US District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, in her decision to rule against the National Security Agency, wrote, “It was never the intent of the Framers (of the US government) to give the President such unfettered control particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights.” Naturally, the government appealed in July of 2007 on the basis that the plaintiffs, scholars, journalists and national nonprofit organizations couldn’t “state with certainty” that they’d been spied on – and, being a double super secret program, they never would. The decision effectively “insulates the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance activities from judicial review and deprives Americans of any ability to challenge the illegal surveillance, ”according to ACLU Legal Director Steve Shapiro. The court also didn’t rule on the actual legality of the program.

Through it all, the President continues to claim the “inherent authority” to engage in warrantless eavesdropping and his lawyers acknowledge that there’s nothing stopping him from resuming this surveillance at any time.

Each violation on the national or local level, ignored or tolerated on the premise of a greater good (getting the bad guys,) is another blow to the foundation of this country. While it’s very true that a house divided cannot stand, neither will it stand if the groundwork is washed away from beneath it. Unfortunately, we’re faced with both crises and unless the citizenry demand transparency in government and a return to strong civil rights, the freefall is far from over.

Still, there may be cause for hope. As one reviewer of this article was inspired to write afterwards: “I have a dream… that one day we will not be pre-judged as terrorists in our own country. I have a dream that politicians will one day stand-up for the people. I have a dream that our government will spend more on educating our children than killing our neighbors. I have a dream that one day, our nation will be free and that its people will stand up for what they believe. It doesn’t always have to be a dream. If we open our eyes, minds and mouths it could be a reality. Would our fore-fathers have stood-up against an oppressive tyrant from afar, if they had known we would allow for such domestic tyranny?”

(Not Nearly) THE END