Legislation

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.

 

Opponents of the Transportation Security Administration’s invasive pat-downs of airline passengers may be on the verge of obtaining a new weapon for their fight. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is considering changing its definition of rape in a way that could criminalize TSA agents’ groping of passengers’ private parts.

According to the New York Daily News, an FBI panel recommended that the agency change its current definition of rape — “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” — which was adopted in 1929, to a much broader definition: “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

The proposed definition, which awaits approval by FBI Director Robert Mueller, was praised by both law-enforcement personnel and feminist activists. Police believe it will make it easier to report the number of rapes accurately because the FBI’s criteria will now “more closely match the ones that police departments around the country already use,” reports the Daily News. Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which spearheaded the effort to have the definition changed, hailed the news as “a great victory.”

A recent poll reveals that approximately half of Americans are interested in seeing the Transportation Security Administration do away with X-ray body scanners. The survey, conducted by the media group ProPublica, shows that 46 percent of Americans do not believe that the risks associated with the machines outweigh the purported benefits of the machines.


 

It was reported in Tuesday’s Washington Times, among other places, that surveillance technology has taken yet another turn, this time bringing military-grade, high-tech surveillance tools originally intended for intelligence-gathering to the marketplace, enabling even relatively unsophisticated users to snoop on friends, neighbors, significant-others — and political opponents.

 

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began releasing documents last week related to what it calls the “mass surveillance industry,” a little-known but expansive underworld of contractors offering tools for governments — from brutal dictatorships to more moderate Western states — to monitor citizens and hunt down dissidents. Furious activists reacted to the revelations by calling for stricter controls and measures to hold the firms accountable as “accomplices” to mass murder. 

The information released so far covers over 150 companies spanning more than two dozen nations. The documents highlight the nature and growth of a multi-billion-dollar industry that, in addition to supplying espionage assistance to the most murderous regimes on earth, has been quietly turned against citizens in supposedly “free” countries as well.

“Who here has an iPhone? Who here has a Blackberry? Who here uses Gmail? Well you are all screwed,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange told a press conference in London announcing the new project. “The reality is intelligence contractors are selling right now, to countries across the world, mass surveillance systems for all of those products."

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