Ron Paul Speaks on Government Coercion and Failure

In the following video, Ron Paul lays out the conditions upon which Washington has usurped the American dream. Deficit spending, inflationary threats, the Federal Reserve, and wealth redistribution through the primary hub of government bureaucracy are all points of contention needing more open debate and general awareness among the people.  Mr. Paul discusses these with welcomed candor.

In addition, Paul speaks on the Washington’s newest threats to liberty and privacy, passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and most recently, the deployment of drones over American airspace.  It is a proven fact that as any government grows in size and influence, the people’s basic rights diminish at an equal rate.  Just taking a look at recent legislation from the Patriot Act to Obamacare to the NDAA paints a frightful picture of a Washington elite increasingly relying on coercion at a time when their policies are loosing popularity.

Take a look at the video and please feel free to pass it along to all you know.

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TSA Discusses “Big Brother” Type Surveillance

Big Brother (via Google Images)

Last August Forbes blogger Andy Greenberg alerted his readers to a new and even more invasive practice from the TSA.  Scanning technology has now been adapted to fit inside “roving” vans, and talk says that stationary, walk-through units and vans will be used at large-scale events and venues as well as airports.  Officially called Z Backscatter Vans – after the x-ray technology employed – they “bounce a narrow stream of x-rays off and through nearby objects, and read which ones come back. Absorbed rays indicate dense material such as steel. Scattered rays indicate less-dense objects that can include explosives, drugs, or human bodies. That capability makes them powerful tools for security, law enforcement, and border control.”  I am sure it does, but I would not count on our government using these devices to secure our boarders.  Given recent developments with the ATF, one should not count on any degree of border security anytime soon.  According to the Center for Public Integrity, as federal prosecutors built a case against Mexican drug lords, the ATF purposely let hundreds of guns pass into the hands of “straw buyers with the expectation they might cross the border and even be used in crimes.”  Such actions by federal organizations – employing surveillance on civilians while handing over weapons to foreign drug lords – should lead to questions among the public as to our government’s priorities.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) also points to the fact that such surveillance tools have been in the works since 2006. (You can find the report they acquired from DHS here.)  Of particular concern with these surveillance methods is the illegal and invasive deployment – not to mention the potential health effects – of such technology. According to a more recent piece by Greenberg, additional plans for public surveillance have been discussed with various organizations.

“One project allocated to Northeastern University and Siemens would mount backscatter x-ray scanners and video cameras on roving vans, along with other cameras on buildings and utility poles, to monitor groups of pedestrians, assess what they carried, and even track their eye movements. In another program, the researchers were asked to develop a system of long range x-ray scanning to determine what metal objects an individual might have on his or her body at distances up to thirty feet.”

As per their website, Siemens is a global company that deals in renewable/green technologies such as electric cars. Specifically, their site will lead you to believe they deal only with industrial infrastructure, energy technology, and health care.  Perhaps roving vans capable of scanning thirty feet to peer inside one’s bag or purse, inside one’s pockets, or even analyze a person’s eye movement is now considered by those in Homeland Security as a necessary part of infrastructure. Not to mention the fact that these vans will not be marked, but will undoubtedly remain as inconspicuous as an unmarked policy cruiser.  Such practices are not ‘extra’ security measures; they are invasive, offensive, and unacceptable.

Rapiscan Eagle M45

Another organization awarded contracts in the deal is Rapiscan Systems, a long-time favorite of the TSA.  Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, they also have additional facilities in Finland, India, Malaysia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Moreover, their surveillance technology is employed in numerous venues including airports, government and corporate buildings, correctional and prison facilities, postal facilities, military zones, sea ports and border crossings.  In concern over the TSA’s increasingly invasive scanning and pat-down practices, The Hill reported Rapiscan’s presence in the government surveillance industry last year.  In 2009, the company was rewarded a contract worth up to $173 million and has spent nearly $3.6 million in lobbying since 2007.  According to the article, “Their parent company, OSI Systems Inc., “has an active political action committee. During the 2010 campaign, it made more than $60,000 in campaign contributions to candidates and committees, according to FEC records.”  However, more startling figures are available from Reason Magazine. Brian Doherty published the following on March 3rd:

“Rapiscan and its parent OSI Systems, and their subcontractors have donated a combined $1.75 million to federal politicians in the past decade, according to data provided by the MapLight Foundation, of Berkeley, California. Rapiscan and OSI also spent $2.2 million in lobbying from 1998 to 2010, MapLight found.”

Such figures suggest at least the possibility of a moral hazard (and I believe I am being generous here).  Moral hazard or not, such procedures blatantly violate Fourth Amendment rights protecting citizens from unreasonable searches. Regarding the program itself, EPIC’s staff counsel Ginger McCall stated, “These technologies are a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches, as travelers undergo a search without any suspicion of wrongdoing.  Whether or not this program has been rolled out or could be rolled out in the future, it needs to be shut down for good.”  Moreover, EPIC’s lawsuit against the TSA, filed last year, is concerned also with the potential health effects of “backscatter and active millimeter wave technology,” the primary concern being the effects of a concentrated dose of radiation on the skin.  Some fear this could result in increased rates of cancer cell generation.  Hearings begin on March 9 in Washington D.C.

When privacy becomes a matter of political penetration (via orwellsdreams.wordpress.com)

We should all be following this development. If we allow such policies to be implemented, they will certainly follow us (pun intended). One more point to make, and perhaps the most important.  Surveillance of this type is yet another example of government expansion into forbidden areas.  The evidence is out in the open: a decade of eroding our rights and trampling the Constitution beginning with the US Patriot Act, perpetually catering to the elite neoconservative agenda typified by increased defense spending and U.S. interventionism under both parties, and a media organization so embedded within government itself that watching the nightly news is no more democratically effectual than voting for the lesser of two evils.  What we are left with is a country not our own. We pay taxes to an outdated institution based on the traditional feudal notion of aristocratic privilege, and for what?  So that they may safeguard their interests at the expense of ours – and with our tax dollars.  The war on terror begun under President Bush was simply the new panacea of fear that replaced worries perpetuated by the Cold War.  I am not saying such attacks are not a threat.  What I am saying is that such threats are vastly overstated, and to take the word of a Washington bureaucrat whose campaign contributions are dependent upon defense contractors is counterintuitive to liberty and sound judgment.  One must judge each and every situation according to what they know, not what they are told.  Until we learn to learn for ourselves, we are at the mercy of the Court.  Think of your children.  What will their futures be like?

See my related post – TSA: Is Privacy an Ultimatum?

Internet Censorship on America’s Doorstep via COICA: Free Speech in Jeopardy

via Google Images

The worldwide web is perhaps the most democratically friendly invention since the printing press was rolled out by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450.  Besides its more typical uses for entertainment, commerce, and social networking, the internet acts as a universal portal by which I can connect to a friend in Japan or a protester in Libya.  Indeed, the internet is credited with much of the mobilization across the middle east that has resulted in the manifestation of democratic principles. Many of us followed the protests in Cairo via twitter not only because this social medium is live, but more importantly, because it transmitted the protests directly from the protesters themselves – a rare phenomenon among mass media outlets around the world.  As I type this, I Facebook friends in Oregon, search for the latest read on Amazon, and follow the struggle of middle-class America in Wisconsin.  The web has revolutionized everything on the planet because it has revolutionized the one fundamental aspect of our lives – our mode of communication.  In effect, the basic premise of the internet is its inherent decentralization of information and communication – a patently paradoxical development to the centralization of our federal government.

Perhaps then, the recent bill put forward by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to censor internet traffic is considered by those behind the proverbial iron curtain as the next logical step for effective government expansion.  The Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA) has been on the congressional docket since it unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last November (a list of the 19 Senators who voted for COICA).  Backed by the recording industry and much of Hollywood, the feds claim the bill combats growing issues of copyright infringement across the net. Effectively, it would allow the Attorney General to issue an order of seizure for any domain name system (DNS) on grounds of it being “dedicated to infringing activities.” Such ambiguous language is increasingly more typical of federal statutory law and is responsible for much of the outrage, namely that the bill is a threat to free speech and privacy via censorship.  Mike Masnick of techdirt.com does a nice job explaining why COICA is not simply a bill to combat copyright infringement, but is a “bill for censorship.”

Not all of Washington is behind COICA however.  According to Media Freedom International, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) successfully blocked the bill last November.  But in December, Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized eighty-two domain names and ten more last month to much controversy on the legality of such measures.  Electronic Frontier Foundation highlights the implications of ICE’s seizures on COICA.

We’ve gotten an early glimpse of how this provision might play out through recent enforcement efforts by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) involving the seizure of domain names. The latest ICE action highlights an important point about COICA: the bill would take a seizure mechanism available under criminal copyright law and make it explicitly available in a civil context as well….

Criminal copyright infringement is infringement committed “willfully” and in the context of various specific circumstances. Significantly, the websites targeted in the most recent ICE action appear to have merely linked to infringing content. That is, they did not themselves violate any of the exclusive rights of copyright owners that would constitute direct infringement. The ICE agent who signed the affidavit explicitly states that the ten seized domains point to what he calls “linking” websites—i.e., websites that contain “links to files on third party websites that contain illegal copies of copyrighted content.” (He also points out that these linking sites “are popular because they allow users to quickly browse content and locate illegal streams that would otherwise be more difficult to find.” Sound like any search engines you know?)”

The dangers of COICA and any similar legislation are very real for all Americans.  Specifically, COICA mandates compliance from all communications services including encrypted e-mail providers such as Blackberry and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Skype.  Daily Censored’s Irene North explains the disregarded dangers to which many Americans remain ignorant or simply ignore.

“The average voter is almost completely unaware of this situation. They are either uninformed or don’t care about wiretapping. The AT&T scandal passed them by and they believe that their lives are pretty much the same as ten years ago. If they do happen to be informed, they don’t understand that this technology is directed right at them…

Americans in particular should be concerned, given the fact that the government is trying to legalize spying on its own citizens. They can already declare American citizens as terrorists simply by what they say, as well as trying American citizens as terrorists outside of civilian courts. Given the privacy implications to remove secure and private communications, the government can determine on their own whether or not you are a threat. This means any type of political dissent could potentially be quashed by labeling you a terrorist and removing you from public life?”

Moreover, North highlights a repeatedly ignored aspect of broad legislation, namely that the targets of such legislation will be the only parties equipped with effective workarounds.  “Any terrorist who knows what he/she is doing will have written their own encryption that isn’t accessible to any government and they certainly aren’t giving out the master keys for decryption.”  This familiar complaint is also made clear over Second Amendment rights to bear arms. Simply outlawing guns is not going to deter an individual already engaging in illegal activities.  In addition to COICA’s infringement of liberties, it also has economic consequences as well.  The Cato Institute notes the extraordinary burdens this legislation would place on outside parties, particularly increased transaction costs.

“Under COICA, when the attorney general accused a domain name of being “dedicated” to copyright infringement, the courts would issue orders not against the owners of the domain name (who may be overseas) but against domain-name registrars and the operators of DNS servers here in the United States. This means that thousands of systems administrators would be required to maintain a large and constantly-changing list of blacklisted domains. This is a significant and unfair administrative burden on private parties who have absolutely no connection to infringing activities.”

Degrees of ambiguity in legislation leave more room for statutes to be used for equally ambiguous purposes, which often entail additional bureaucratic burdens on outside parties.  Perhaps then such burdens beg the question as to why the legislation is deemed necessary in the first place.  Senator Leahy’s original rational played on the financial fears of the public.  He stated:

“Copyright piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods are reported to cost the American economy billions of dollars annually and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. That is why inaction is not an option, and we must pass online infringement legislation in this Congress before rogue websites harm more businesses, and result in more lost jobs.”

This seems to be the ace-in-the-whole for Washington politicians and bureaucrats alike.  Just scare the public into submission via scenarios of terrorist plots and financial Armageddon, and they will back any legislation proposed, no matter how invasive.

Check back for more to come on this fascinating betrayal of liberty.

Update:

Considering that the COICA bill resurface in the middle of last month, here is a decent list of some more recent sources. Courtesy of the theneointellectual.

TSA: Is Privacy an Ultimatum?

Passport USA

Image by clappstar via Flickr

Scrutiny over the TSA scanners and pat-downs is leading the American public down a familiar road. Talk of replacing the pat-downs with a standardized national ID card (see Alternative to TSA pat-downs), while not on the floor yet, illuminates a similar pattern characterizing post-9/11 America. It presents yet another example of the government taking a public grievance and turning it on itself, as if to say, “If you [the public] refuse option A, then you leave us [the government] no choice but to institute option B.” But this hypothetical, if it becomes reality, is more damaging to our civil liberties than the invasive pat-downs or scanners. Why? First, and one’s opinion on this is purely personal, many view the mandatory issue of a national ID card that carries all pertinent and personal information including travel history, affiliations, and the like, more a gross violation of one’s privacy than intrusive pat-downs. However, some see it the other way, opting to sacrifice one’s personal information over one’s person. This, at least, is the way the mainstream media is framing the issue—personal privacy versus physical privacy. The implication here is that framing the issue this way overlooks and undermines the basic issue of one’s right to privacy.

Hidden beneath this framework is a pattern, whereby the government sets the agenda that provides only an ultimatum to the public, not a dialogue. Consequently, the government imposes an agenda on the people instead of proposing one by the people. And this illuminates the second, more fundamental and subtle, violation of our civil liberties. We must now choose which aspect of our privacy to place on the chopping block, as if the parts do not equal the whole.

Such issues point to the fact that our government is no longer ours and has not been for quite some time. Moreover, so long as the media presents issues in ways that are inherently divisive, they serve to buffer the government from any concentrated public backlash. The ultimatum-type governance presented by the TSA issue is simply another example of the transformation of government by the people to government by the tyrannical minority.

 

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