Decaying Freedom

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"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
--Benjamin Franklin

News and research on the decaying state of freedom in the United States. Sources are provided and, where possible, verified with other sources. Quotes are taken directly from the source where possible to avoid biased rewording, but cut down to summary level. For more in depth information, visit the sources themselves and the links to further information. Since much of the information here is quoted from other sources under fair use provisions, its copyright lies with the original author and is not free to reproduce like the rest of the Strange Loops website.

Last updated: 07-08-04

News From 2003
Guantanamo Bay Prisoners
Echelon System (NSA)
Carnivore System (FBI)
CAPPS II Data Mining System
LifeLog (DARPA)

NOTE: NO LONGER UPDATED Too much work, others do a better job of keeping track of this stuff, and honestly it is depressing. I still feel the news of government actions, along with technological and other social changes, is converging on a loss of privacy and other freedoms, but trying to track and document all that stuff by myself is not worth the effort.
Dem. VP Candidate Edwards Endorses New Domestic Spy Agency MSNBC [Link], Jul 07. John Edwards, recently chosen as the Vice Presidential candidate for John Kerry's campaign, has pushed for the formation of a new domestic spying agency along the lines of Britain M.I.5. His plan has alienated the FBI, which some say would hinder investigations by creating new bureaucratic rivalries. Edwards argues that the FBI - which is Constitutionally limited in how it can collect evidence - cannot properly handle terrorism investigation. Civil liberties groups have expressed concern that the new agency would have a high potential for abuse in the area of domestic spying which has traditionally been kept within tight bounds to remain Constitutional. Edwards has suggested requiring approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order for the agency to spy on First-Amendment protected activities like political and religious groups as a check on excesses. However, critics claim that the FISC acts as a rubber stamp: in 2002, for example, all 1,228 applications presented to the FISC were approved.
Immigrant Kept In Solitary For Months For Taking Pictures New York Times [Link], Jul 03. Purna Raj Bajracharya, 47, came to the US from Nepal in 1996 on a tourist visa and stayed on to work at odd jobs - at a pizzeria, a florist's - so that he could take some money home to show for all his travels. On October 25 of 2001, he was out on the streets of Queens, taping New York street scenes to take back to his wife and sons in Kathmandu. And he had no clue that the tall building that had drifted into his viewfinder happened to include an office of the FBI. Bajracharya was taken in and soon after placed in solitary confinement at a federal detention center in Brooklyn because of his videotaping. He was kept there for almost three months despite the FBI agent in charge of the investigation finding him harmless a few days after he was initially taken into custody. By the time he was finally returned to Nepal in January of 2002, he had spent almost three months in a 6-by-9-foot cell kept lighted 24 hours a day. The unit of the detention center in Brooklyn where he was kept has become notorious for the abuses documented there by the Justice Department's inspector-general, who found a pattern of physical and mental mistreatment of detainees. Videotapes showed officers slamming detainees into walls, mocking them during unnecessary strip searches, and secretly taping their conversations with lawyers.
Department of Defense to Begin Domestic Spying Newsweek [Link], Jun 21. Defense officials recently slipped a provision into a bill before Congress that could vastly expand the Pentagon's ability to gather intelligence inside the United States, including recruiting citizens as informants. Military intelligence agencies operate under tight restrictions inside the United States. But the new provision, approved in closed session by the Senate Intelligence Committee, would eliminate the restriction that they comply with the Privacy Act, a law that requires government officials seeking information from a resident to disclose who they are and what they want the information for. Agents would still be legally barred from domestic 'law enforcement'. But watchdog groups see a potentially alarming mission creep. "This... is giving them the authority to spy on Americans," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies.
American Airlines Gives Passenger Data To Government Associated Press [via Cryptome], Apr 09. The world's largest airline, American, admitted that in June 2002 it shared approximately 1.2 million passenger itineraries with the Transportation Security Administration and four private research companies vying for TSA contracts, all without informing or obtaining consent from the passengers. This comes only months after JetBlue and Northwest airlines admitted to sharing passenger data with a Defense Department contractor and NASA, respectively.
Congress Moves To Criminalize Peer-To-Peer File Sharing Wired News [Link], Mar 26. A draft bill that has circulated among members of the House Judiciary Committee would lower the burden of proof in prosecutions against file sharers and create penalties that include prison time up to ten years for file sharing. Also, in March Senators Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy introduced the PIRATE Act ("Protecting Intellectual Rights Against Theft and Expropriation"), which would allow the Justice Department to bring civil suits against file sharers (rather than making the industry bring their own civil suits). In the first three months of 2004 alone, Leahy received $178,000 in campaign contributions from the entertainment industries; Hatch received $152,360.
Bush Calls To Renew Patriot Act Washington Post [Link], Jan 20. In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush alluded to the temporary 'sunset provisions' of the PATRIOT Act set to expire in 2005, claiming that "the terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule." He urged the people of Congress that they "need to renew the PATRIOT Act."

*News From 2003 top
Check here for short summaries of news relating to freedom and liberties from 2003.

CLICK HERE for news from 2003.

*The USA-PATRIOT Act top
Legislative proposals in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were introduced less than a week after the attacks. President Bush signed the final bill, the USA-PATRIOT Act, into law on October 26th. Though the Act makes significant amendments to over 15 important statutes, it was introduced with great haste and passed with little debate, and without a House, Senate, or conference report [the Senate vote was 98-1]. As a result, it lacks background legislative history that often retrospectively provides necessary statutory interpretation. The act introduced a plethora of legislative changes which significantly increased the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement agencies in the United States. It did not, however, provide for the system of checks and balances that traditionally safeguards civil liberties in the face of such legislation.

CLICK HERE for Details, Sources and Further Information on the USA-PATRIOT Act.

*The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 [a.k.a. The USA-PATRIOT Act II] top
In January of 2003 a draft was leaked of a bold, comprehensive administration sequel to the USA Patriot Act which would give the government broad, sweeping new powers to increase domestic intelligence-gathering, surveillance and law enforcement prerogatives, and simultaneously decrease judicial review and public access to information.

CLICK HERE for Details, Sources and Further Information on the USA-PATRIOT Act II.

*Guantanamo Bay Prisoners top
Following the events of September 11, 2001 and the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military transferred more than 660 captives (suspected terrorists or those suspected of supporting the Taliban regime in Afghanistan) to an outdoor-cell military detention facility known as Camp X-Ray (later moved to a similar facility called Camp Delta), located at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. None of the detainees have been charged with any crimes, nor are they given prisoner of war status; instead, the administration refers to them as "unlawful combatants". The U.S. refuses to apply the Geneva Conventions to many of the detainees, who are refused basic rights that POWs would get, such as access to lawyers or trials. In fact, since the base is located off U.S. soil, the administration claims that the detainees have no recourse to appeal at all under U.S. federal law. In 2004, the Supreme Court disagreed, but in response to the decision the Pentagon merely set up military review panels without lawyers or due process. Many groups have questioned the harsh treatment of the detainees, and the administration has hinted at execution of prisoners by low-standard military tribunals.

CLICK HERE for Details, Sources and Further Information on the Guantanamo Bay Prisoners.

*The Echelon System (NSA) top
Echelon is the term popularly used for an automated, global, quasi-total surveillance system operated by the intelligence agencies in five nations: the United States (NSA), the United Kingdom (GCHQ), Canada (CSE), Australia (DSD) and New Zealand (GCSB). Echelon intercepts huge amounts of ordinary phone calls, e-mail messages, Internet downloads, satellite transmissions, etc., gathering all of these transmissions indiscriminately and distilling the information that is most heavily desired through artificial intelligence programs. Some sources have claimed that Echelon sifts through an estimated 90 percent of all traffic that flows through the Internet. The United States government has gone to extreme lengths to keep Echelon a secret, even after the governments of Australia and New Zealand admitted to its existence. Echelon is a highly classified operation, which is conducted with little or no oversight by national parliaments or courts, so there is no way to know how the information is used, and whether that use is lawful or not. Significant privacy concerns have been raised by Congress and many other governments and institutions.

CLICK HERE for Details, Sources and Further Information on the Echelon system.

*The Carnivore System (FBI) top
On July 11, 2000, the existence of an FBI Internet monitoring system called "Carnivore" was widely reported. Not much is known about this device, which appears to have been developed with little or no public oversight. The Carnivore system is installed at the facilities of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and can monitor all traffic moving through that ISP. The system accesses and processes a great deal of ISP traffic, the vast majority of which contains the communications of Internet users not targeted for surveillance and not named in any court authorization. The FBI claims that Carnivore "filters" data traffic and delivers to investigators only those packets that they are lawfully authorized to obtain. Because the details (such as source code) remain secret, the public is left to trust the FBI's characterization of the system and the FBI's compliance with legal requirements.

CLICK HERE for Details, Sources and Further Information on the Carnivore system.

*The CAPPS II Data Mining System top
The Transportation Security Administration has unveiled a new program known as the Computer System Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), for the purpose of profiling and categorizing every airline passenger flying to, from or within the U.S. on the basis of a vaguely determined security threat level. Unfortunately, the rules for determining risk are not being revealed, and at least some of the information would come from secretive intelligence and law enforcement databases. Passengers would be unable to learn their own status, let alone learn what information it was based on and correct any errors.

CLICK HERE for Details, Sources and Further Information on the CAPPS II system.

*LifeLog (DARPA) top
In May of 2003, news broke of a new project underway by DARPA (tech research and development for the Pentagon) to create a system to gather every conceivable bit of information about a person's life, index all the information and make it searchable. The LifeLog program would put everything an individual does into a giant database: every email sent or received, every picture taken, every Web page surfed, every phone call made, every TV show watched, every magazine read. This would be combined with a GPS transmitter to keep tabs on where that person went, audio-visual sensors to capture what he or she sees or says, and biomedical monitors to keep track of the individual's health. DARPA bills it as an intelligent digital assistant and memory aid. However, many people are asking whether there are significant privacy concerns in such an intrusive technology.

CLICH HERE for Details, Sources and Further Information on LifeLog.

*Possible Future Entry Subjects top
-Questionable and secret detention related to Sept. 11, 2001.
-The "Special Registration Program" requiring mass registration and fingerprinting, and leading to mass arrests and deportation.
-A directive from the Chief Immigration Judge to all Immigration judges requiring the closure of all proceedings to the public and the press when directed by the Justice Department.
-Court ruling allowing suspects held incommunicado indefinitely with no access to lawyers.
-Torture practices, and the sending of suspects to countries that use torture.
-The Pentagon's "Total Information Awareness" 'super-snoop' program aimed at all citizens.
-FBI Magic Lantern technology.
-Archaic laws (against consensual sex, swearing, blasphemy, etc.) upheld.
-Children's Internet Protection Act and similar censorious net legislation.
-The Homeland Security Act of 2002, and similar legislation introducing the Department of Homeland Security.
-National threat level of red as martial law; proposed Constitutional amendment involving "benevolent martial law"