Finding Common Ground In The Fight For Privacy

Sen. Rand Paul’s recent effort to force reforms on the National Security Agency’s data collection practices to protect the privacy of the American people has set off a firestorm of anger among the establishment of the Republican Party. From Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), there is a large parcel of the GOP that would eagerly sacrifice liberty for security. There is, however, one major push designed to limit the power of government that has a large base of support within the Republican establishment — the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad (LEADS) Act.

A bipartisan group of Senators are working diligently to pass the LEADS Act to overturn an extraordinary abuse of power by Eric Holder’s Justice Department. Led by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), and Chris Coons (D-Delaware), these members are trying to establish rules balancing the needs of law enforcement to obtain the contents of electronic communications with privacy protections for citizens in the digital age. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking; and unless Congress acts quickly, only the Supreme Court will be left to restore rights that were taken by the government — if they even take the pending case.

The issue stems from an investigation by the Justice Department against an Irish citizen who stored information on a cloud computing system owned by an Irish company on servers stored on the island nation. If the information requested were a piece of paper instead of a byte of data, the DOJ would be forced, by treaty obligation, to request that the Irish government obtain a warrant on their behalf to obtain the information. Such requests among allies are commonplace and are not much of a hurdle for the government to jump over.

Rather than make such a request, the DOJ subpoenaed Microsoft and demanded they turn over the information because the Irish company is a subsidiary of Microsoft. Microsoft, in an effort to protect the privacy rights of their users, has rightfully refused to comply and filed a lawsuit against the government.

A federal district court in New York ruled for the government, suggesting that as an American company that wholly owns the Irish subsidiary, a simple domestic warrant is enough. Last July, the 2nd Circuit Appeals Court agreed; and in September, Microsoft asked to be held in contempt of the court so it could progress to the Supreme Court.

The ramifications of these decisions are critical for privacy rights, jurisdictional limitations of government power, and the ability of American companies to compete abroad.

Unless overturned by the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice’s argument that most anything stored on the cloud-based computer systems–even by foreign nationals on servers stored outside the United States–falls under their power will stand. Hence, the LEADS Act was introduced.

Support for the LEADs Act provides a perfect opportunity for members of the GOP to demonstrate support for privacy rights while limiting the power of the federal government.

From threatening to indict reporters who refuse to release their sources to Holder’s Department of Justice seizing two months worth of phone records from Associated Press reporters, the Obama administration will go down in history with one of the worst records for domestic civil liberties. The effort to grab control of the cloud computing systems is just the latest chapter in a sad era of the widespread violation of American constitutional liberties.

This is not a partisan issue. It is an issue with profound implications for the Bill of Rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. No matter who is in power, this legislation is a great way to clarify how the United States government wants Americans’ phone records to be treated by foreign nations. The natural right of privacy, and the right to police against law-breaking, are two interests that can be balanced in a way that makes sense and protects all Americans.

Privacy from government intrusion should be a conservative principle. Too many members of the GOP are willing to trust their privacy rights to bureaucrats in the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI. The LEADs Act is a small step in the right direction and creates a unique opportunity for the Republican Party to help restore some of the rights that have been trampled on by big government.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Rand Paul’s New Patriot Act?

Doesn’t the term “patriot” sound so good? Being called a patriot is something that every citizen of every country considers a badge of honor and distinction. So in the political battle of words and semantics, whoever can claim the “high ground” of patriotism would most likely emerge as the victor.

After the terror attacks of 9/11, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft brought before Congress a list of recommended changes in the law to combat terrorism. Some of these measures had long been opposed by members of Congress as infringing on the rights of Americans.

In order to claim the high ground of the debate, the former administration of Republican President George W. Bush introduced a bill that was termed “The Patriot Act.” Rather than look “un-patriotic” most of Congress was willing to grant the former President, and his Democrat successor, many enhanced but unconstitutional powers. That is until now.

Rand Paul of Kentucky demanded a stop to this wordsmithing and came forward with something I call a new Patriot Act, almost single-handedly forcing many unconstitutional practices of U.S. intelligence programs to, in the words of Time magazine, “go dark.” This act of Patriotism, or Patriot Act, Rand Paul proposed brought much-needed attention to the centralized elevation of the executive branch.

Why do I call this Patriotic?  Won’t this make us less safe? “Patriotism” as defined by Webster’s 1828 dictionary is: “The love of one’s country; the passion which aims to serve one’s country, either in defending it from invasion, or protecting its rights and maintaining its laws and institutions in vigor and purity.”

This has always been a struggle between God-given rights and laws, liberties and powers, the Bill of Rights and delegated Constitutional powers, and the people and their government.

You see, if you think government is the source of your rights, then you will have no problem with them taking certain rights from you to keep you safer. Yet founding father Benjamin Franklin inferred: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

This is because our founders believed that rights come from God, and that God instituted governments to protect those God-given rights.

What would a nation become if all authority to govern our God-given liberties was given to a central power that we could not limit–where “independence” is just another word in the war of semantics? Look around the world; this is the stuff that Communist, Socialist, and Totalitarian governments are made of.

“I came here to defend the Bill of Rights, not to be popular,” Senator Paul tweeted. Though he may not be popular with many of his colleagues, I believe the good Senator is popular with the founders of the American View, and the most holy Author of our Liberties.

 

Learn more about your Constitution with Jake MacAulay and the Institute on the Constitution and receive your free gift.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Free Speech, Facebook, And The NSA: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy.”—Writers Against Mass Surveillance

THE GOOD NEWS: Americans have a right to freely express themselves on the Internet, including making threatening—even violent—statements on Facebook, provided that they don’t intend to actually inflict harm.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Elonis v. United States threw out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who was charged with making unlawful threats (it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he posted allusions to popular rap lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page. It’s a ruling that has First Amendment implications for where the government can draw the line when it comes to provocative and controversial speech that is protected and permissible versus speech that could be interpreted as connoting a criminal intent.

That same day, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the legal justification allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to carry out warrantless surveillance on Americans, officially expired. Over the course of nearly a decade, if not more, the NSA had covertly spied on millions of Americans, many of whom were guilty of nothing more than using a telephone, and stored their records in government databases. For those who have been fighting the uphill battle against the NSA’s domestic spying program, it was a small but symbolic victory.

THE BAD NEWS: Congress’ legislative “fix,” intended to mollify critics of the NSA, will ensure that the agency is not in any way hindered in its ability to keep spying on Americans’ communications.

The USA FREEDOM Act could do more damage than good by creating a false impression that Congress has taken steps to prevent the government from spying on the telephone calls of citizens, while in fact ensuring the NSA’s ability to continue invading the privacy and security of Americans.

For instance, the USA FREEDOM Act not only reauthorizes Section 215 of the Patriot Act for a period of time, but it also delegates to telecommunications companies the responsibility of carrying out phone surveillance on American citizens.

AND NOW FOR THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY NEWS: Nothing is going to change.

As journalist Conor Friedersdorf warns, “Americans concerned by mass surveillance and the national security state’s combination of power and secrecy should keep worrying.”

In other words, telephone surveillance by the NSA is the least of our worries.

Even with restrictions on its ability to collect mass quantities of telephone metadata, the government and its various spy agencies, from the NSA to the FBI, can still employ an endless number of methods for carrying out warrantless surveillance on Americans, all of which are far more invasive than the bulk collection program.

As I point out in my new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, just about every branch of the government—from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between—now has its own surveillance sector, authorized to spy on the American people. Just recently, for example, it was revealed that the FBI has been employing a small fleet of low-flying planes to carry out video and cell phone surveillance over American cities.

Then there are the fusion and counterterrorism centers that gather all of the data from the smaller government spies—the police, public health officials, transportation, etc.—and make it accessible for all those in power.

And of course that doesn’t even begin to touch on the complicity of the corporate sector, which buys and sells us from cradle to grave, until we have no more data left to mine. Indeed, Facebook, Amazon, and Google are among the government’s closest competitors when it comes to carrying out surveillance on Americans, monitoring the content of your emails, tracking your purchases, and exploiting your social media posts.

“Few consumers understand what data are being shared, with whom, or how the information is being used,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Most Americans emit a stream of personal digital exhaust — what they search for, what they buy, who they communicate with, where they are — that is captured and exploited in a largely unregulated fashion.”

It’s not just what we say, where we go, and what we buy that is being tracked. We’re being surveilled right down to our genes, thanks to a potent combination of hardware, software, and data collection that scans our biometrics—our faces, irises, voices, genetics, even our gait—runs them through computer programs that can break the data down into unique “identifiers,” and then offers them up to the government and its corporate allies for their respective uses.

All of those internet-connected gadgets we just have to have (Forbes refers to them as “(data) pipelines to our intimate bodily processes”)—the smart watches that can monitor our blood pressure and the smart phones that let us pay for purchases with our fingerprints and iris scans—are setting us up for a brave new world where there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

For instance, imagine what the NSA could do (and is likely already doing) with voiceprint technology, which has been likened to a fingerprint. Described as “the next frontline in the battle against overweening public surveillance,” the collection of voiceprints is a booming industry for governments and businesses alike. As The Guardian reports, “voice biometrics could be used to pinpoint the location of individuals. There is already discussion about placing voice sensors in public spaces, and [Lee Tien, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation] said that multiple sensors could be triangulated to identify individuals and specify their location within very small areas.”

Suddenly, the NSA’s telephone metadata program seems like child’s play compared to what’s coming down the pike.

That, of course, is the point.

Whatever recent victories we’ve enjoyed—the Second Circuit ruling declaring the NSA’s metadata program to be illegal, Congress’ inability to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, even the Supreme Court’s recognition that free speech on the internet may be protected—amount to little in the face of the government’s willful disregard of every constitutional safeguard put in place to protect us from abusive, intrusive government agencies out to control the populace.

Already the American people are starting to lose interest in the spectacle of Congress wrangling, debating and, negotiating over the NSA and the Patriot Act.

Already the media outlets are being seduced by other, more titillating news: ‘Caitlyn’ Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy announcement, and the new Fifty Shades of Grey book told from Christian’s perspective.

What remains to be seen is whether, when all is said and done, the powers-that-be succeed in distracting us from the fact that the government’s unauthorized and unwarranted surveillance powers go far beyond anything thus far debated by Congress or the courts.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Don’t Get Your Hopes Up, Americans–The Government Is Still Spying On You

Government spying hasn’t ended because sec. 215 of the Patriot Act expired. But there are some VERY important things that did happen, and we MUST NOT forget them.

1. Political awareness of government spying is at an all-time high–and there is an all-time high in public outrage over this. The platform that was created by Rand Paul​ and Justin Amash​ is a very important tool to create and maintain the momentum to push this Liberty issue even further.

2. We learned that we can defeat the government machine and that there are people willing to step up and defend Liberty, regardless of the consequences.

3. We have further reinforced WHO the enemies of Liberty are. I don’t care if they actually believe they are working for “the greater good.” Whether it’s evil, ignorance, or folly, the results are still the same. I have vowed my life to stand against ALL who will take Liberty from our children.

4. Now is NOT the time to stop. Now is the time to use this momentum and take Liberty all the way!

5. We can win in small places to make big impacts. Some say this is just a symbolic win, that this is just a morale booster and nothing more. I wholeheartedly disagree. Perhaps these people do not know the history that created our Original Independence movement? Try this history on for size:

James Otis, Jr. stood against warrantless searches in 1761. He was outcast by his community, he was threatened with being banned from practicing law, and he was charged with treason, a crime punishable by death. Otis responded by saying: “I can sincerely declare that I cheerfully submit myself to every odious name for conscience’ sake; and from my soul I despise all those whose guilt, malice, or folly has made them my foes.”

Otis would argue, much like Rand Paul, for 5 hours in a British court against these warrantless searches. He called them “the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that ever was found in an English law-book.” He vowed: “I will to my dying day oppose, with all the powers and faculties God has given me, all such instruments of slavery on the one hand and villainy on the other as this Writ of Assistance is.” At the conclusion of Otis’ arguments, the court would not even give him the courtesy of a proper ruling. The would take the matter “under advisement.” That means that the law would remain until they would decide otherwise…they would never do that.

In 1761, someone might walk away from that situation in utter despair. Otis gave every aspect of his life for this cause. But John Adams would write about that day in 1761, 40 years later:

Otis was a flame of Fire! With the promptitude of Clasical Allusions, a depth of Research, a rapid Summary of Historical Events and dates, a profusion of legal Authorities, a prophetic glare of his eyes into futurity, and a rapid Torrent of impetuous Eloquence, he hurried away all before him; American Independance was then and there born. The seeds of Patriots and Heroes to defend the non sine Diis animosus infans, to defend the vigorous Youth, were then and there sown. Every man of an immense crowded Audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take up Arms against Writts of Assistants. Then and there was the first scene of the first Act of Opposition to the arbitrary Claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independance was born. In fifteen years, i.e. in 1776, he grew up to manhood, declared himself free.

So you see, an event that appeared to be a great loss, at first glance less progress than that achieved by Paul and Amash and the expiration of section 215 of the Patriot Act, actually birthed the movement that would become America’s Independence. And what we do now will determine the future of Liberty in America. Do we gripe and moan and belittle what happened? Do we throw our sucker in the dirt and stop home in defeat? Or, perhaps, dod we do what James Otis, Jr., Dr. James Warren, and Samuel Adams did and turn this small victory into the momentum of full-scale independence from government control?

We MUST take this advancement and move further. We must take this victory and demand the repeal of the ENTIRE Patriot Act. We must kick the DHS out of our communities. We must end ALL government spying on Americans, and we must secure Liberty at all costs. Anyone out there willing to take the James Otis, Jr. Pledge?

I (insert your name) can sincerely declare that I cheerfully submit myself to every odious name for conscience’ sake; and from my soul I despise all those whose guilt, malice, or folly has made them my foes. I will to my dying day oppose, with all the powers and faculties God has given me, all such instruments of slavery on the one hand and villainy on the other as is this government denial of Liberty.

As for me and my house…we will choose Liberty over security, Principle over party, and Truth over personality…to our dying day, with all the power and faculties God has given us. Liberty Matters!

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Breaking: The Senate Just Approved The Controversial New Measure Obama Wanted

The U.S. Senate voted today to pass the USA Freedom Act, which passed the House a few weeks ago. The vote was 67 to 32. The bill will now go to President Barack Obama, who tweeted earlier today that he will sign the legislation as soon as it reaches his desk.

Obama Tweet NSA

The act renews key provisions of the Patriot Act, which lapsed over the weekend.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, one of the ‘no’ votes, had hoped to amend the USA Freedom Act to eliminate some of the reforms it contains that were designed to provide greater control over government surveillance programs; however, the Senate rejected all amendments and passed the House version.

Of the 32 votes against passage of the bill, 30 were Republicans. (See the roll call vote here.)

One of the major reforms in the USA Freedom Act concerns the bulk collection of metadata (i.e. Americans’ phone records).

As reported by Fox News, the act, when it becomes law, will:

-Resume the National Security Administration’s (NSA) data collection program, but only for a transition period of six months. After that, the legislation would no longer allow the NSA to sweep up Americans’ records in bulk. Instead, it would leave the records with phone companies and give the government the ability to seek access with a warrant.

-Continue other post-9/11 surveillance provisions that also lapsed Sunday night. These include the FBI’s authority to gather business records in terrorism and espionage investigations and to more easily eavesdrop on suspects who are discarding cellphones to avoid surveillance.

-Create a panel to provide the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court with guidance on privacy and civil liberties matters.

-Increase transparency for the surveillance court’s decisions.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., filibustered the renewal of the Patriot Act over the weekend, arguing that certain provisions violated Americans’ Fourth Amendment protection from unlawful searches and seizures. The senator voted against the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday, arguing the bill does not go far enough to protect Americans’ privacy.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth