Even Neocons Are Noticing How Big Big Brother Is Getting…well sort of

Posted by Jason | Posted in Government | Posted on 24-03-2010

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Are the neocons now starting to see the error of their ways? Do they realize that you cannot give up liberty for security, for as Franklin told us, you’ll have neither? Here is a post from Hot Air, where it seems like they are actually catching on.

This should prove an interesting conundrum for those who supported the NSA’s warrantless terrorist-surveillance program. The FBI and local law enforcement agencies have been accessing cell-phone tracking data, possible with the newer generations of GPS-embedded smart phones, in order to solve regular crimes as well as in the national-security arena, using a low bar for cause on warrants. Does this constitute an intelligent leverage of new technology, or a danger to civil liberties?

Of course it’s a threat to civil liberties. If the government turns tyrannical, well more tyrannical than it is, and if we condone this or pass laws like say the Patriot Act to give the government the power they claim to need, then they can use those powers to squash any group of citizens who do not like what the government has become. While you may be able to accept handing some powers to the government when you think it’s your side running the government, “your side” is not always going to be in power. This is the fundamental reason for Franklin’s famous quote. The Hot Air post goes on to quote an article from Newsweek.

Amid all the furor over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program a few years ago, a mini-revolt was brewing over another type of federal snooping that was getting no public attention at all. Federal prosecutors were seeking what seemed to be unusually sensitive records: internal data from telecommunications companies that showed the locations of their customers’ cell phones—sometimes in real time, sometimes after the fact. The prosecutors said they needed the records to trace the movements of suspected drug traffickers, human smugglers, even corrupt public officials. But many federal magistrates—whose job is to sign off on search warrants and handle other routine court duties—were spooked by the requests. Some in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas balked. Prosecutors “were using the cell phone as a surreptitious tracking device,” said Stephen W. Smith, a federal magistrate in Houston. “And I started asking the U.S. Attorney’s Office, ‘What is the legal authority for this? What is the legal standard for getting this information?’ ”

The Justice Department doesn’t keep statistics on requests for cell-phone data, according to the spokeswoman. So it’s hard to gauge just how often these records are retrieved. But Al Gidari, a telecommunications lawyer who represents several wireless providers, tells NEWSWEEK that the companies are now getting “thousands of these requests per month,” and the amount has grown “exponentially” over the past few years. Sprint Nextel has even set up a dedicated Web site so that law-enforcement agents can access the records from their desks—a fact divulged by the company’s “manager of electronic surveillance” at a private Washington security conference last October. “The tool has just really caught on fire with law enforcement,” said the Sprint executive, according to a tape made by a privacy activist who sneaked into the event. (A Sprint spokesman acknowledged the company has created the Web “portal” but says that law-enforcement agents must be “authenticated” before they are given passwords to log on, and even then still must provide valid court orders for all nonemergency requests.)

Again, Franklin’s warning comes to mind. Neocons, including myself at the time, thought the warrantless wiretapping was needed. How could Bush track those evil terrorists without it? Well, what happens once you give that power to the government for terrorists? Shouldn’t they use it on child molestors? I mean is there any bigger group of terrorists than child molestors? Heck, what about murderers? How about drug dealers, bank robbers, oh and what about that rich ponzi scheme guy? No, not the government. I’m talking about Bernie Madoff. Shouldn’t we be able to track him? How many lives did he ruin? As you can see, this never ends. Before you know it, to government is tracking you down for your outstanding speeding tickets.

Most of us would understand that law-enforcement agencies have a need occasionally to track a suspect in a criminal matter and certainly for the FBI in counterterrorist operations (give up those liberties for the boogiemen).  However, according to this Newsweek report, the Obama administration and other agencies are using a particularly weak type of claim in order to make thousands of requests a month, most of which have nothing to do with national security:

The grounds for such requests, says Smith, were often flimsy: almost all were being submitted as “2703(d)” orders—a reference to an obscure provision of a 1986 law called the Stored Communications Act, in which prosecutors only need to assert that records are “relevant” to an ongoing criminal investigation. That’s the lowest possible standard in federal criminal law, and one that, as a practical matter, magistrates can’t really verify. …

A potentially more sinister request came from some Michigan cops who, purportedly concerned about a possible “riot,” pressed another telecom for information on all the cell phones that were congregating in an area where a labor-union protest was expected. “We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of abuse on this,” says Gidari.

I’m no fan of labor-union activism, but Americans have a right to peaceably assemble for political purposes without the government conducting covert surveillance.  Just as with the NSA’s program, this is a very powerful tool that law enforcement can and should use — but for legitimate and very limited purposes.   This requires a much higher standard for warrants on law enforcement investigations than what is described in this article.

via Hot Air » Blog Archive » Hmmm: Feds, local law enforcement accessing cell phone tracking “thousands of times a month”.

What a minute. Are you telling me the government was using these laws to track American citizens, who did nothing illegal? No way! Not our government. Not the American government. This is the home of the free and the land of the brave, right? Are you getting the point yet? Governments do not obey rules, and they don’t sit back and say, “Well, the people really meant to give us this power to protect them from overseas boogiemen. We can’t really use it on Americans themselves.” No, they will use every means necessary against their own people to maintain and grow their power. Do not be fooled by their stated intentions of protecting us. All tyrants claim to be looking out for and protecting their people. Do you think for one second Chavez doesn’t claim to be looking out for the Venezuelan people? Of course he does. All governments are the same. They all want to grow and control every aspect of the economy, society, etc. Under Bush it was warrantless wiretaps, and now under Obama it’s ObamaCare, Net Neutrality and Financial reform.

Ok, gotta go. I should have yanked the battery out of my cell phone before starting this blog.

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