It was the “tweet” heard ‘round the world.
It’s a sign of the times when people online declare war on oppressors of freedom. And as we’ve all learned from watching events in Egypt over the last three weeks, a call to arms in cyberspace is no less effective than in a town square.
The end result is the same - an embattled dictator gave up power after stubborn refusals to leave a position he’s held for three decades.
Some say President Mubarak would still be in charge if not for the power of social networking. Sites like Facebook and Twitter served as critical tools for protesters seeking to topple the long-time ruler.
Mubarak knew this...and in a typically dictatorial move, the now-ousted president ordered the Internet shuttered and mobile phone services switched off.
It’s the kind of move one would expect of an oppressor - hardly the world’s poster child for freedom and democracy.
Could it happen in America?
It’s already happening...
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week admonished Mubarak’s government for imposing an Internet blackout, calling it a baseless attempt to limit free speech during a time of social upheaval.
But President Obama is pressing for a similar law that would give him the power to use an Internet “kill switch?” It would allow the president to block access to the web if an Egypt-style revolt or other unrest occurred in the U.S.
This power-grab is only one example of the U.S. government’s latest incursions on our civil liberties.
Democratic power brokers including the Obama White House and Senators Feinstein and Leahy teamed up with Republican leaders in Congress to extend three provisions in the Bush-era PATRIOT Act that give the government sweeping surveillance powers.
Nothing like “bipartisan cooperation” in Washington, eh?
Obama Wants to Read Your Email
Not to be outdone, Obama’s Department of Justice wants a new law, too.
This one would require Internet companies to retain data and records of user activity online. In doing so, the Obama administration is supporting measures advocated by the Bush administration that pose a grave threat to free speech and freedom of the Internet. The sweeping legislation would cover cell phone service, Internet records, and email.
If this legislation is passed, it would jeopardize the privacy of millions of Americans who use the Internet. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes, “A legal obligation to log users’ Internet use... would dangerously expand the government’s ability to surveil its citizens, damage privacy, and chill freedom of expression.”
Once again, congressional Republicans are more than happy to cooperate in passing such a law - anything to go after those awful terrorists... even if it shreds the U.S. Constitution.
Although they can cite no legal basis for their high-handed actions, the Department of Homeland Security claims that its agents have the right to look though the contents of an international traveler's electronic devices, including laptops, cameras and cell phones.
If only the injustice stopped there - agents can also keep the devices or copy the contents in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S., regardless of whether the traveler is suspected of any wrongdoing.
Documents obtained by the ACLU in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for records related to the DHS policy reveal that more than 6,600 travelers, nearly half of whom are American citizens, were subjected to electronic device searches at the border between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010.
No law authorizes this power nor is there any judicial or congressional body overseeing or regulating what DHS is doing. And the citizens to whom this is done have no recourse - not even to have their property returned to them.
FBI Run Amok
The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently reviewed nearly 2,500 pages of documents released by the FBI as a result of the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The EFF revealed what I would call alarming trends in the Bureau’s intelligence investigation practices - FBI intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than previously assumed.
The FBI’s flagrant legal violations included submitting false or inaccurate declarations to courts, using improper evidence to obtain federal grand jury subpoenas and accessing password protected documents without a warrant. In at least one fifth of the cases, specific violations of the U.S. Constitution were cited.
Very Long Distance
Perhaps you recall the major uproar over President George W. Bush’s use of massive telephone and wire tap surveillance after the 9-11 terror.
Well, surprise, dear reader. With little notice, Obama’s Department of Justice now asserts that the FBI can obtain telephone your international call records without any formal legal process or court oversight.
The DoJ’s legal position is flawed and creates a potential loophole that could lead to a repeat of FBI abuses that should’ve stopped with a law that was passed in 2006.
The telephone record controversy is leftover from the Bush administration's war on terror. A hypocritical President Obama is continuing many of those same tactics, which he formerly said he opposed.
One year ago, the Inspector General's Office issued a lengthy report detailing that the FBI, for the years 2003-2005, had used "National Security Letters" (NSLs) to gather information on thousands of Americans in violation of the law. Under the PATRIOT Act, NSLs permit the FBI and other federal agencies to obtain all sorts of invasive information from telecoms, Internet and email providers - even health care providers - without any warrants or oversight of any kind.
And if you think this power is being aimed solely at suspected terrorists, think again. No wonder that some Swiss and other offshore banks refuse to discuss by telephone their accounts with Americans.
Freedom of Speech
The so-called Shield bill, introduced in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures, would amend the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it a crime for any person knowingly and willfully to disseminate classified information “concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States.”
This proposed law is constitutional as applied to government employees who unlawfully leak material to people who are unauthorized to receive it. But it violates the First Amendment to punish anyone who circulates the information after it has been leaked. At the very least, the act should be expressly limited to situations in which the spread of the classified information poses a clear and imminent danger to the nation.
A Plague on Both Houses
And by that I mean both political parties and both houses of the U.S. Congress - both of which seem to have lost their understanding of American history and an appreciation for the genius of our constitutional system.
Be assured that the Sovereign Society in this time of great troubles will continue to give you not only a truthful account of the threats we face - but also specific, legal ways and means to protect yourself, your family and your wealth.
By Bob Bauman JD, Legal Counsel, The Sovereign Society