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Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in Featured, Law, Politics, Society | 14 comments

Is It A Police State Yet?

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Driving the three miles to the office this morning, I passed through a school zone. School is out for the summer and the School Zone signs were off. When school is in session those signs, solar powered, flash yellow lights and tell you to the mph how fast your vehicle is travelling. And they could be easily modified to take photos and issue citations electronically. The trip to work also involved travelling through two stop light intersections, both with camera enforcement. My daughter once got an electronic citation waiting in an intersection to turn left. Speeding is electronically and camera monitored and enforced. Cameras are popping up at key locations in many cities, including mass transit stops, parks and simple street corners.

It’s not just traffic enforcement and street snooping of course. We have recently been reminded of the broad scope of federal government surveillance with the revelations about wiretapping of reporters, collection of “metadata” phone records (I have a question about that in a minute) and rooting about through invasive internet searches including email and social media. Then yesterday we learned that the FBI uses surveillance drones (I have a thought about that coming up here in a paragraph or two as well). Now today Politico reports that FBI Director Robert Mueller thinks the federal government needs to have its surveillance authority broadened even further. This would include forcing tech/communications/internet companies to make their systems susceptible to government snooping, if I’m reading between the lines of the report correctly.

Feel free to add other examples of government intrusion into the private lives of citizens. Airports, train stations, court houses and other public buildings all come to mind.

So here’s my question about this metadata flap. The big excuse for gathering all these phone records is that the government isn’t listening to actual conversations; it’s just “metadata” which doesn’t really intrude on anyone’s privacy…right? So, if metadata is so non-specific and doesn’t provide intrusive information, how is it that it has led to thwarting 50 or so very specific events, plots, conspiracies or whatever. From my perspective, if the truth is being told about one of these things, say ability to prevent specific occurrences, then the truth is likely being fudged on the other representation, that it isn’t really intrusive from a privacy perspective. Don’t mistake what I’m saying. I don’t think anyone is intentionally lying. It’s just that bureaucrats of the security and police mindset don’t generally have the same sensitivity to issues of privacy and constitutional liberty as others of us. What they regard as protecting privacy, for example, I might regard as very weak tea.

Oh yeah, I was going to say something about the FBI’s surveillance drones too. I was puzzled by the admission that the FBI is still developing a policy on drone surveillance, though it is already in use. Using the technology before having the policy in place is an odd cart-before-the-horse approach for anyone who is the least bit serious about privacy and constitutional rights. Like I said, those with a security/police mentality tend to have a different view of civil liberties. This appears to include Director Mueller.

It also reminds the citizenry, to the extent they’re paying attention, that we have armed drones killing folks around the globe. Is anyone else concerned that our president believes he has the authority to put human beings on a “kill list” based solely on the hearsay of an intelligence agency, sometimes second hand hearsay originating with a foreign intelligence agency? So here’s what I want to know. Remember all those people who ranted till they could barely breathe about GWB and “Darth Vader” Cheney torturing people through the use of water boarding?

Aside: to those on the security/police power side of the fence that would be “enhanced interrogation”. See, they really do view these issues differently.

Back to the point. If water boarding is immoral and unethical, where are these same ranting voices when a president claims the authority to construct a kill list and order that it be acted upon? Two perspectives. First, those who were water boarded, and I am not justifying water boarding, at least survived the experience; those on a kill list do not. Second point. It’s no secret that I oppose the death penalty in our criminal justice system. But those sentenced to die and put to death in our execution chambers had the benefit of a trial and appellate process, as opposed to being put on a “kill list” by a politician.

Is it a police state yet? That’s in the eye of the beholder I suppose. I know how it looks through my eyes. What do you think?

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    Well…in answer to your question as to whether or not people who ranted about Bush/Cheney excesses are still ranting: go to and you will find that some are.

  • We have traded liberty for security. We chose this path, it’s where our democratic process has led us. Only our democratic process will get us out of it: begin choosing candidates based on their stand on these issues. Make it an issue in all elections. Not all of this is from the feds, a great deal is from local and state governments as well.

    In some places, it’s already turning around. There are municipalities who are removing them, some because the contracts were flawed and/or corrupt, but others are doing so because of civil liberties and other issues.

  • dduck

    ES said: “So, if metadata is so non-specific and doesn’t provide intrusive information, how is it that it has led to thwarting 50 or so very specific events, plots, conspiracies or whatever.” I like this one: “To find a needle in a haystack, you first have to have a haystack.” If you find a needle (a suspect number), then you may go further with FISA and so on.
    Re. drones. Did anyone think the MIC would miss the opportunity to sell more drones after they ran out of “targets” overseas?

  • The_Ohioan

    I suppose most would assume a warrant was obtained preceding the 50 deflected terrorist attacks which allowed specific information within the metadata to be acessed – leaving the rest of the metadata intact.

    I would further suppose that intelligence based on hearsay is not really intelligence and would not be what is being acted upon but only used for further investigation.

    As far as opposition, go to any civil libertarian website – I would suggest Jonathan Turley’s.

  • sheknows

    We have already been told that the courts have approved every request for further intrusion by the NSA when something pops up. That hardly is a reassuring bit of information from the govt. and certainly justifies nothing in terms of all the metadata collection. Bank records, medical history, investments. political affiliations, personal habits, private emails etc. The list is endless. It is a complete ONGOING dossier of every person in this country on the off chance they may be a terrorist?
    I keep harping back to the Boston bombers but it illustrates a point. On the one hand, we are told this information can and DOES catch terrorist attempts, and yet other articles tell us it is SO limited in it’s scope that may be why it couldn’t catch these guys. Which is it?

    Supposedly, they are looking for the very parameters this surveillance gathers, and yet…it missed what could have been another 9/11. There has never been a satisfactory explanation of just how that could happen that didn’t contradict how great this works in terms of the 50 it has caught.

    These kids weren’t extremely skilled or well trained foreign spies. They were all over the internet, they were under CIA suspicion ALREADY, and they were flying around to places like Chechnya and talking with radical extremists. DUH…. ( you didn’t even NEED high tech surveillance to keep an eye on those two).That angers me and IMO They aren’t being truthful with us about the reason for collecting this metadata, or at the very least explained the NECESSITY for collecting all of this.

  • rudi

    The FISA Court is a joke It’s nothing but a rubber stamp. This link has a table that puts it in perspective. Not a needle in a haystack, but a needle in a hay field…
    Applications Applications Applications
    Presented Approved Rejected
    33949 33942 11
    11 / 33949 = 0.03%

  • slamfu

    I find it funny someone can draw a connection to kill lists and waterboarding. Waterboarding is torture. We don’t torture. That seems a pretty simple conversation to me.

    The “Kill List” is a different scenario entirely. We kill people all the time without trial. Jimmy Lee Dykes didn’t get a trial, yet he is dead and I don’t think anyone really mourns his passing because of the circumstances of it. These targets on the kill list fit similar criteria. They are a lethal threat, they inform us of their intentions, and there is no way to arrest them and bring them to justice while mitigating that threat. So they die. They are more than welcome to avail themselves of our legal system if they want to turn themselves in, but well….

  • Slamfu,

    Over the years we have agreed on a number of things, but not on this. To your two points:

    1. The official government rationalization for water boarding was to uncover and prevent terrorist acts. The official government rationalization for the kill list is to prevent terrorist acts. The comparison isn’t all that far fetched.

    2. Your assertion regarding those on the kill list that “They are a lethal threat…” has not been proved to my satisfaction. By whose standard of proof are they a lethal threat? Pakistani intelligence? That Pakistani intelligence tells us someone is a lethal threat isn’t the end of the conversation to me. Were this all not so damned secret [in this open democracy of ours] perhaps we could better assess what our government is and is not doing with kill lists.

    Just my view. Best as always.


  • justcowboyway

    Mr SWEETE said:

    Your assertion regarding those on the kill list that “They are a lethal threat…” has not been proved to my satisfaction. By whose standard of proof are they a lethal threat? Pakistani intelligence? That Pakistani intelligence tells us someone is a lethal threat isn’t the end of the conversation to me. Were this all not so damned secret [in this open democracy of ours] perhaps we could better assess what our government is and is not doing with kill lists.

    Well said and totally agree. Sounds like guilty until proven innocent.

  • adelinesdad

    “So, if metadata is so non-specific and doesn’t provide intrusive information, how is it that it has led to thwarting 50 or so very specific events, plots, conspiracies or whatever?”

    I agree with your overall point but I have to nitpick on this one. It’s not like they uncovered them with the phone data alone. The phone metadata has to be analyzed in context of other information in order to be meaningful. I’d probably be OK with the data gathering aspect of this as long as we were assured that there were strict policies in place to make sure it’s accessed only when the evidence justifies it, and only for specific queries, and safeguarded against unlawful access. I’m not convinced all of those criteria have been met, though the FISA stats don’t prove anything. I’m not in favor of quotas in courts, and it could be that the intelligence folks are just really careful about what they ask for.

    With regards to the “kill list”, we’ve been over this many times before, so I don’t know if I can say anything new. If there’s an armed and dangerous criminal hiding out somewhere in the US, law enforcement makes every effort possible, even putting themselves at significant risk, to apprehend the person alive and minimize the possibility of casualties to others. Killing the person is a last resort, even when his guilt is undisputed, and would almost never be considered if others could be killed in the process. It’s worth pondering why that is? And why doesn’t that reasoning also apply to people in foreign countries?

    The only justification might be that the people are in a war zone where different rules apply (ie. no presumption of innocence, assumption of guilt-by-proximity, collateral damage is regrettable but acceptable). But when the “war zone” is so loosely defined that it includes many homes, schools, places of business and worship where many civilians go about their daily lives, that becomes problematic. What it comes down to for me is that I’m not willing to tell someone’s widow or orphaned child that their loss is justified so I can feel slightly more secure about my life (as I drive down the road to get a double-cheeseburger and biggie coke).

  • epiphyte

    Elijah – why so circumspect?

    Superstitious about calling it “F……^H^H^H^H^H^H The political philosophy that shall not be named”?

  • epiphyte

    “We have traded liberty for security”

    No. We have traded the possibility of liberty for the illusion of security, which is much, much worse.

    There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

    George Orwell, 1984

  • ordinarysparrow

    Thanks Tidbits— completely follow you on this one..

    Looks like i am much more cynical than most that have commented here.

    My opinion is… this is not about the true concern of security for the citizens of the United States….

    Instead of seeing this as surveillance for security, i see it as surveillance for revenue. Tidbits how much of citizen penalties for breaking traffic laws have turned into cash cows for local and state governments?

    Surveillance towards ones that might create political unrest in the future that would upset the power of the dominate two party system and to insure major corporate and business worlds ongoing stability from unrest and cyber threats.

    The cyber surveillance of the recent exposure, i believe is indicative of the direction of future war which will be predominately technological and cyber than man to man combat or terrorist with hoofs on the ground. Thus once again, it creates a whole new industry which quickly bloats with unrestrained greed to make a profit by providing these highly technical capabilities to the Government ( ” more, more, more” so quickly it losses it’s pure intent for security and turns into ‘ slick palms between government and corporate worlds…Crony Capitalism did not begin or end with Cheney, but the citizens are losing much of their naivety when it comes to how these worlds operate by chumping us time and time again.

    The eyes of the people are opening unless government and corporations clean it up the people will up rise ,maybe not in the near future, but it will come if the current trends of exploitations for profit and power instead of a genuine representation of the U.S. citizens.

    Nearly 3,000 people were killed in 911 and trillions have been spent on Homeland Security.

    Yet since 911 — over 300,000 citizens killed by gun violence in the U.S. and they could not even pass a basic background check bill.

    Simply put this is another example of profit and power over the people.

    Much like with the drones, lift the veils and follow the money, and become social programming works. Most of us so want to believe the U.S. of WWII programming; ‘we are the good guys, the world can count on us, and we are the ones that can stop the bad guys.’ Perhaps it was true then, i still hold on to that, but the U.S. of 2013 is no longer that United States of America.

    Just my two chirps worth.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist


    Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose leak of agency documents has set off a national debate over the proper limits of government surveillance, has been charged with violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property for disclosing classified information to The Guardian and The Washington Post, officials said on Friday.

    The charges were filed under seal on June 14 and unsealed late Friday. American officials said they had asked the authorities in Hong Kong, where Mr. Snowden is believed to be in hiding, to detain him while an indictment and an extradition request were prepared.

    The expected attempt to extradite Mr. Snowden from Hong Kong is likely to produce a lengthy legal battle whose outcome is uncertain, because the extradition treaty between the United States and Hong Kong includes an exception for political offenses, and Mr. Snowden could argue that his prosecution is political in nature.

    Read more here

    Don’t shoot the messenger, folks…

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