Censorship and surveillance

GPS tracking devices do not have power to rewrite Fourth Amendment

Futurists have been predicting for years that there will be diminished privacy in the future, and we will just have to adapt. In 1999, for example, Sun Mcrosystems CEO Scott McNealy posited that we have “zero privacy.” Now, Wall Street Journal columnist Gordon Crovitz is suggesting that technology has the “power to rewrite constitutional protections.” He is referring to GPS tracking devices, of all things.
The Supreme Court is considering whether it was unreasonable for police to hide a GPS tracing device on a vehicle belonging to a suspected drug dealer. The Bill of Rights protects each of us against unreasonable searches and seizures. According to the Fourth Amendment,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In the case before the Supreme Court, U.S. v. Antoine Jones, the requirement to obtain a warrant was not problematic. In fact, the police established probable cause to suspect Jones of a crime and obtained a warrant. The problem is, the police violated the terms of the warrant, which had expired and which was never valid in the jurisdiction where the tracking occurred. Therefore, first and foremost, this is a case about police misconduct.

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Why antagonize China?

From George Gilder’s column in today’s Wall Street Journal, Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the president’s friends at Google are hectoring China on Internet policy. Although commanding twice as many Internet users as we do, China originates fewer viruses and scams than does the U.S. and with Taiwan produces comparable amounts of Internet gear. As an authoritarian regime, it obviously will not be amenable to an open and anonymous net regime. Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department. The full column is here.

Breach the cyberwalls

Congress could increase funding for organizations which enable foreign citizens to breach Internet firewalls operated by closed society regimes, according to Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA). The money would aid groups like the Global Internet Freedom Coalition, maker of the FreeGate software described by Nicholas D. Kristof: … small enough to carry on a flash drive. It takes a surfer to an overseas server that changes I.P. addresses every second or so, too quickly for a government to block it, and then from there to a banned site …. E-mails sent with it can be encrypted. And after a session is complete, a press of a button eliminates any sign that it was used on that computer The coalition is running Read More ›

Media Matters targets Wohlstetter

Over at Media Matters, Raphael Schweber-Koren takes exception to John Wohlstetter’s claim that reauthorization of the Protect America Act is necessary to “allow the government to continue to monitor communications for counter-terror purposes”: In fact, the government would retain the authority to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists after the PAA expires, as Media Matters for America has noted. Rather, what would expire are the PAA’s revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which, among other things, expanded the government’s authority to eavesdrop on Americans’ domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant. Media Matters is really confusing the issue, which is not whether the government can eavesdrop on suspected terrorists pursuant to a court order. The issue is whether to permit Read More ›

Dial ’08 for terrorism

John Wohlstetter references the practical difficulty of making telephone companies responsible for the legality of government requests for surveillance of terrorist communications in a column for the Washington Times: Standard telephone company practice, going back decades in criminal investigations, holds that on being served with a request from the government, it is visually scanned by company officials for facial validity, to determine if it looks like a proper legal document. Absent an obvious facial defect, the document is presumed genuine and lawful. Given the volume of such requests — many thousands per year — imposing any burden on companies beyond a facial scan to ascertain probable authenticity would lead them to decline such requests, thus forcing the government to go Read More ›

Give them immunity

With all due respect for the views of my colleagues (here and here) and commenters at Technology Liberation Front, former Sen. Bob Kerrey had this, and other, mature insights in an op-ed which appeared yesterday in The Hill regarding whether to include immunity for telecom carriers in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization: Consider the atmosphere: the president had gone before Congress and said “one vial, one canister, one crate, slipped into this country, could bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.” So if these companies refused to cooperate, by implication, that dark day could be on their conscience. And now they cannot even defend themselves in court, because the details of the investigations remain Read More ›

Limiting terrorist surveillance

There was an interesting hearing on “Warrantless Surveillance and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: The Role of Checks and Balances in Protecting Americans’ Privacy Rights” in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) claimed that, Essentially, thanks to this law, the government has potentially carved out from Fourth-Amendment protection an entire class of communication — electronic communications going to a person outside the United States, or coming to a person inside the United States. There is — and here again contrary to the public missives by the Administration and its supporters — no requirement whatsoever, implied or express, that even one of the parties to such category of communications subject to warrantless surveillance would first have Read More ›

Regulating television violence

Hasn’t television always been violent? I remember watching Westerns and WWII movies as a child with guns and canons blazing; police dramas (behind my parents’ backs, I suppose) in which all kinds of terrible things happened; even cartoons were violent. This was about the time of the so-called “Golden Age” of television — when there was nothing else to watch. But that was before you could commit a crime and interject a neglected child defense or some other excuse. Rather than focusing on swifter and harsher punishments for wrongdoing, our government is now toying with the idea of limiting free speech. In an article for Technology Liberation Front, I propose a more free-market solution: Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, Read More ›

FCC is Backsliding

A Federal Communications Commission staffer reports that commissioners are considering a 30% cap on the number of households a single cable operator may serve. Multichannel News notes that a cap would primarily affect one company: Citing Kagan Research, Comcast recently told the FCC that it serves 26.2 million subscribers, or 27% of the country’s 96.8 million pay TV subscribers. Under a 30% cap, Comcast could, in a few years, find itself refusing service to customers seeking to sign up for its fast-growing voice-video-data triple-play bundle. The 30% cap would also effectively block Comcast from buying a cable company with more than 3 million subscribers. If cable operators were the only source of video programming, it might make sense to have Read More ›

Social conservatives need to rediscover “personal responsibility”

The Christian Coalition’s idiotic support for net neutrality regulation, in part, prompted Dick Armey to observe:

Dick Armey as Majority Leader

America’s Christian conservative movement is confronted with this divide: small government advocates who want to practice their faith independent of heavy-handed government versus big government sympathizers who want to impose their version of “righteousness” on others through the hammer of law.
We must avoid the temptation to use the power of government to perfect our society and its citizens. That is the same urge that drives the Left and the socialists, and I can assure you that every program or power we give government today in the name of our values can be turned against us when the day comes where a majority of Congress is hostile to us.

Amen. Regulation only begets more regulation.
It’s not just the Christian Coalition, unfortunately, playing with fire and endangering our personal liberties. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales seems to want to preserve Internet customer data to make it easier to combat child sexual exploitation (see my previous post). The Internet admittedly creates or expands opportunies for sexual predators, but it also allows undercover agents to pose as children for the purpose of apprehending predators. Gonzales ought to put more resources into sting operations, which appear to be highly successful. Not force the private sector to maintain data on millions of innocent people — data which invariably will be lost, stolen or mined for some other purpose.

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