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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Monday, November 14, 2005

"Patriot" [sic] Act Abuses

In the past, Julian Sanchez has ridiculed neocon demands for an example of USA PATRIOT Act abuses.

[National Review Editor Rich] Lowry's demand amounts to: "Show me just one classified, top-secret abuse of power!" As such, the request is disingenuous at the very least. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the uses of PATRIOT powers last August, and was rebuffed. "It is literally impossible," observes ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer, "to know in what contexts the government has used these powers unless they tell us of their own accord, which they have so far refused to do."

Well, now Julian says maybe there is some information coming in. And it ain't pretty:

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans....

The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks -- and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state, local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private sector entities," which are not defined....

Senior FBI officials acknowledged in interviews that the proliferation of national security letters results primarily from the bureau's new authority to collect intimate facts about people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. Criticized for failure to detect the Sept. 11 plot, the bureau now casts a much wider net, using national security letters to generate leads as well as to pursue them. Casual or unwitting contact with a suspect -- a single telephone call, for example -- may attract the attention of investigators and subject a person to scrutiny about which he never learns.

A national security letter cannot be used to authorize eavesdropping or to read the contents of e-mail. But it does permit investigators to trace revealing paths through the private affairs of a modern digital citizen. The records it yields describe where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work.

Of course, as Julian says,

Maybe that doesn't count as an "abuse," at least as far as PATRIOT apologists are concerned, in the sense that it all appears to be within the letter of the law.

Hell, it's not a bug, it's a feature!

And via Brad Spangler, a more personal example from Doug Thompson of Capitol Hill Blue: "An Enemy of the State"

According to a printout from a computer controlled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice, I am an enemy of the state.

The printout, shown to me recently by a friend who works for Justice, identifies me by a long, multi-digit number, lists my date of birth, place of birth, social security number and contains more than 100 pages documenting what the Bureau and the Bush Administration consider to be my threats to the security of the United States of America....

Although the file finds no criminal activity by me or members of my immediate family, it remains open because I am a “person of interest” who has “written and promoted opinions that are contrary to the government of the United States of America.”

And it will remain active because the government of the United States, under the far-reaching provisions of the USA Patriot Act, can compile and retain such information on any American citizen. That act gives the FBI the authority to collect intimate details about anyone, even those not suspected of any wrongdoing.

In other words, this coming Independence Day we libertarians need to publicly burn the Declaration of Independence and tell George III we're sorry. Because if the patriots on Lexington Green had had any idea that the people they were fighting for would one day accept a regime like this with such docility, they'd have thrown their flintlocks to the ground in disgust and headed for the nearest tavern.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

They had no excuse for not knowing. They were told all this at the time by people like Burke, Samuel Johnson, Chalmers and the Anglican priest who really said "better one tyrant three thousand miles away than a thousand not three miles away" (his words were put in Mel Gibson's mouth in the film). Also, according to wikipedia Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys got their act together over booze in a tavern - and they weren't so foolish as to commit to the USA, but wanted an autonomous British protectorate for Vermont.

The patriots were just those who wouldn't be told. The loyalists knew what was what, even if they came late to understanding that they could well simply be falling into a bigger mess; read Benedict Arnold's apologia.

November 15, 2005 8:58 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Unfortunately, the Brits were turning much closer attention to the colonies. And it wasn't simply a matter of a tyrant three thousand miles away, but the attempt to "terraform" the colonies with a domestic ruling class. And the domestic constituency for such efforts was the very same people who pushed the Federalist-mercantilist agenda in the 1780s and '90s.

The federalists were little Walpoleans who wanted to recreate a British Empire in North America without Britain. On the other hand, the anglo-republican ideology of Trenchard and Gordon, and of Wilkes, at least had a fighting chance transplanted onto new soil.

November 16, 2005 12:29 PM  

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