Legislation

With so many of our most essential liberties under attack from the oligarchy on the Potomac, it is little wonder that the freedom of the press and speech are next on the government guillotine.  The Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center (NOC) released its Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative last year and in that report the intelligence-gathering arm of the DHS, the Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS) gives itself permission to “gather, store, analyze, and disseminate” data on millions of users of social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) and business networking sites (Linkedin).
 
 
 
 

Google announced Tuesday a new social networking maneuver that will rummage through photos and commentary on its budding social network, Google+, so search results can provide more personal information for web browsing. The addition, which was employed the same day it was announced, will tailor search results by filtering content to the unique interests of each user browsing the Internet.

The company’s six-month-old Plus product is a social networking service Google offered to counter the sweeping popularity of Facebook’s online parlor and Twitter’s status-updating hub. The new feature, called "Search, Plus Your World," was partially activated Tuesday (some users will not see the change immediately) for all searches administered by users logged into Google; deactivating the individually catered results will require changing settings under the user’s personal preferences. Personal search results can also be suspended on a search-by-search basis by clicking an icon on the results page.

Google Fellow Amit Singhal detailed in a blog post three areas that will be affected by the new feature:

In a decision a plaintiffs' lawyer called an effort “to put lipstick on a pig,” a panel of the in San Francisco upheld Thursday a congressional grant of immunity from law suits to telecommunications companies that had surrendered records of their customers phone calls and electronic communications to warrantless government searches. The three-judge panel unanimously affirmed  a lower court ruling holding the congressional action constitutional. The case consolidated 33  lawsuits filed against various telecom companies, including AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp, on behalf of the companies' customers.

The legal battles grew out of presidential order signed by George W. Bush in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance on Americans and others inside the United States in search of evidence of terrorist activity. The presidential directive authorized searches without either the domestic court warrants required for criminal investigations or those issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for investigation of activities of foreign persons or organizations, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman has called for states to mandate a total ban on cellphone usage while driving. She has also encouraged electronics manufacturers — via recommendations to the CTIA —The Wireless Association and the Consumer Electronics Association — to develop features that "disable the functions of portable electronic devices within reach of the driver when a vehicle is in motion." That means she wants to be able to turn off your cellphone while you're driving.

With very little evidence, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims that there were some 3,092 roadway fatalities last year that involved distracted drivers. Americans ought to totally reject Hersman's agenda. It's the camel's nose into the tent. Down the road, we might expect mandates against talking to passengers or putting on lipstick while driving. They may even mandate the shutdown of drive-in restaurants as a contributory factor to driver distraction through eating while driving. You say, "Come on, Williams, you're paranoid. There are already laws against distracted driving, and it would never come to that!" Let's look at some other camels' noses into tents.

Travelers hoping to retain their dignity by taking buses, trains, or cars instead of airplanes are in for a rude awakening. “The Transportation Security Administration,” writes the Los Angeles Times, “isn't just in airports anymore. TSA teams are increasingly conducting searches and screenings at train stations, subways, ferry terminals and other mass transit locations around the country.”

“We are not the Airport Security Administration,” Ray Dineen, the air marshal in charge of the TSA office in Charlotte, North Carolina, told the Times. “We take that transportation part seriously.”

Indeed they do. No longer content to violate the rights of airline travelers alone, the TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams “have run more than 9,300 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations in the last year,” the newspaper says. That’s 9,300 times the government has deliberately ignored the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that it have probable cause and a warrant to search someone and has instead engaged in mass searches of the traveling public. The number of individuals searched during these operations surely reaches into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Add to that the roughly 700 million airline passengers also probed by the TSA in a year, and it’s clear that, as far as the government is concerned, the Constitution is no obstacle to getting what it wants.

“It’s infuriating,” Bruce Schneier remarked. “We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this — and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.”

Schneier could, of course, have been referring to any of dozens of government programs. In this case, however, he was speaking of the federal government’s post-9/11 airport security measures — measures that Schneier, a security expert, has dubbed “security theater,” defined as “actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job.”

 

Mitt Romney has a plan. A plan to solve the “immigration problem.” And it will come as no surprise to those following the GOP presidential debates that the answer of Romney — the former Governor of Massachusetts and father of the “individual mandate” — is more government.
 
At last week’s debate, Romney announced his idea for dealing with the more than 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States in defiance of applicable federal and state laws.
 
On stage in Sioux City, Romney laid out for Republicans his plan for a national identification card system to distinguish between those here without permission and those legally permitted to live and work in the United States.
 
As an additional protection against encouraging further illegal entrance, Romney proposed an expansion of the E-Verify program, which requires employers to investigate the immigration status of potential workers.
 
In October at a town hall meeting in Sioux City, Iowa, Romney addressed the role he envisions the federal government playing in preventing businesses from hiring those without proper work visas.
 

Are African elephants an endangered species?  Like so many questions, the answer depends on who’s giving it. Villagers in northern Uganda whose food the animals devour would likely call them an endangerment — or worse. “[After] I found the elephants eating my crops in the garden, I started banging an empty jerry can to scare them but one of the big elephants charged at me. I was lucky because I ran in between the trees and the elephant stopped. I gave up my garden of millet and rice,” said Mateo Ojok. He’s one of the “internally displaced persons (IDPs) … struggling to resettle because persistent elephant incursions into their fields are threatening their livelihoods, and sometimes, their lives.” Mr. Ojok added, “[Life in] this place is a struggle between the elephants and human beings. The elephants are giving us a hard time, they are really aggressive.”

So aggressive, in fact that “the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates … the annual cost of elephant raids to crops in Africa” at “US$60 in Uganda … per affected farmer.” That’s a sizable chunk of wealth in a country where the “gross national income per capita” for 2009 was $511.9 in “current US [dollars].”

The narrative continues over smartphone privacy issues involving the data logging program Carrier IQ, which was recently found to be installed on about 150 million handsets worldwide, including many popular Android, iOS, Nokia, and Blackberry devices. Controversy over the invasive software stemmed from allegations that Carrier IQ has the ability to record an array of device information, including keystrokes, text messages, web browsing, and user location, all without the user’s knowledge or expressed consent.

Uproar over the smartphone "spyware" emerged in late November when Trevor Eckhart posted on his blog two videos unraveling how the Carrier IQ program he discovered on an HTC smartphone was able to track virtually every function on the phone. Following Eckhart’s purported revelation, several cellphone providers, including Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T, admitted they have used the program on their phones for performance-tracking purposes.

In turn, the software developer and several cellphone providers have been issued a class action lawsuit for violating the Federal Wiretap Act, the Stored Electronic Communications Act, and the Federal Computer Fraud Abuse Act. The filing alleged that the companies committed an "unprecedented breach in the digital privacy rights of 150 million cell phone users" and that the defendants deliberately pre-installed the Carrier IQ software into their products, without any form of consumer disclosure.

As Americans become increasingly opposed to the intrusive and unconstitutional searching techniques of the Transportation Security Administration — including recent allegations by several women that they were strip-searched by airport security — two New York lawmakers on Sunday proposed the creation of "passenger advocates" at airports. However, their solution is highly controversial. The two men — U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris — have stated that such a position should be created by the TSA itself, which critics point out would virtually undermine its purpose of passenger advocacy.

 

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