Saturday, September 29, 2007

Some civil liberties-related posts

The responses to my two recent posts about Star Simpson got me thinking again about the fact that we are losing a very important something, something which can sometimes be hard to describe exactly, but which is still important to us: a certain sense of freedom, a certain awareness of privacy. I have no desire to re-argue the issue of Star Simpson, but looking back on the debate from a day or two away, it still strikes me how some seemingly fair-minded people insisted, sincerely, that drawn machine guns were not only a rational response, but in fact the only rational response to a funny-looking gadget that in a less-fearful time would very likely not have gotten a second glance except to say "hey, look at the funny-looking gadget."

Oh, and please, don't anyone argue "yeah, but times have changed." Times may have changed, but the physical appearance of a suicide bomb has not, at least not that much. If you justify the police response on the grounds that the times are different, you in fact are admitting that the thing did not look like a bomb and it's only that undercurrent of fear which we've pumped into our collective nervous system that would turn it into one in anyone's mind and so drive the official response and our reaction to that response.

Which brings me to what I wanted to talk about in this series of posts. I asserted more than once in comments on the Simpson case that the climate of fear that exists is a far greater risk to our civil liberties than the terrorists are. I thought I should back that up some by noting a few of the events and actions chipping away at our civil liberties and privacy that have been going on recently under cover of "protecting" us. I am of course not claiming this is any kind of extensive overview and even less that this has only just started (I would argue rather the opposite on that last point), especially since I've posted about privacy issues before (what's at that link being far from a complete list), but only that these are a few recent, illustrative examples.

And even those do not include the Congressional collapse on FISA or the serious charge by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) that
congressional Republicans promoted “bogus” intelligence about a reputed terror threat on Capitol Hill last summer, inflaming debate over the Bush administration’s proposal to dramatically expand the U.S. government’s electronic surveillance powers. ...

In the days before the vote on the surveillance bill in early August, the U.S. Capitol Police suddenly stepped up security procedures, and one top Republican senator, Trent Lott, seemed to allude to the report when he claimed that “disaster could be on our doorstep” if the Congress didn’t immediately act. Inside the Congress, “there was a buzz about this,” Harman told NEWSWEEK. “There was an orchestrated campaign to basically gut FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], and this piece of uncorroborated intelligence was used as part of it.”
In fact, the report was quickly discredited and never taken seriously - but that didn't prevent it from being bandied about as, it appears, a means of instilling fear.

And yes, there has been some good news, some push back, on the civil liberties front recently, and if I feel up to it later, as I hope I will, I will get into that. But for right now, I want to get this up and out, so here in a string of short items are some quick jabs to the body of our freedoms.

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