Legislation

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has long turned a deaf ear to criticism and complaints. Whenever its groping of toddlers sets the country howling, the TSA responds that employees “followed proper … procedure.” Ditto when they inspect a 95-year-old invalid’s diaper or drench a survivor of bladder-cancer in his own urine — twice. Last week they even searched trucks and busses in Tennessee to huge outcry nationwide and a sharp rebuke from the heroic Ron Paul. But you can bet such opposition will only increase the number of these internal checkpoints.

Likewise, the more passengers protested the agency’s computerized strip-searches at airports, the more it insisted that its “whole-body imagers” didn’t violate anyone’s modesty. It even changed the porno-scanners’ name to convince us:  “AIT [advanced imaging technology] machines … have built-in safeguards to protect passenger privacy,” administrator John Pistole repeatedly asserted. Indeed, he called those safeguards “rigorous” in an editorial for USAToday.

Yet now the agency’s adding software to protect privacy it swears didn’t need protecting. The software supposedly substitutes a generic figure that resembles a genderless gingerbread-man for the picture of our naked bodies the scanners produced — pictures the TSA’s “area director” in Denver, Colorado, admitted “were graphic, no doubt about it.” Mr. Gingerbread appears on the monitor as a stand-in for all passengers, or so claims the TSA, which lies about everything, all the time; yellow boxes highlight any contraband. If you leave your cell-phone in your hip pocket, Mr. G blushes yellow there.

First it was airports. Then it was bus and train stations. Now, under the Transportation Security Administration’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program, even the highways aren’t safe from the TSA’s prying eyes and probing fingers.

“Tennessee is now the first state ever to work with the TSA to deploy a simultaneous counterterrorism operation statewide,” according to Nashville’s WTVF-TV. That operation, which involved the TSA along with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TDSHS) and state and local police, was deployed at “five weigh stations and two bus stations across the state,” the station reports.

It was a two-pronged approach, the report adds. Government agents were “recruiting truck drivers … into the First Observer Highway Security Program to say something if they see something.” At the same time, “the Tennessee Highway Patrol checked trucks with drug and bomb sniffing dogs during random inspections.”

One might expect the searches to make recruiting more difficult; but at least one truck driver, Rudy Gonzales, seemed willing to assist the TSA just the same. He told WTVF reporter Adam Ghassemi: “Not only truck drivers, but cars, everybody should be aware of what’s going on, on the road.”

Oh happy day! A check from the government! No, not a welfare check or a “stimulus” check, but a refund check to your editor from the U.S. Department of the Treasury — for tax year 2007. Seems the IRS — a division of the Treasury — with which this scribbler has had a running feud, has surrendered. After years of dunning me with claims that I owe thousands in back taxes and penalties, the good folks at the IRS have shown mercy; they have agreed with me that I overpaid my taxes. And they have generously deigned to return several thousand dollars of my meager salary that they had previously confiscated — with interest, no less!

What’s not to love about a government so kind, and munificent? Of course, in order to obtain the refund (of my own money), yours truly was forced to spend a couple hundred hours of indentured servitude researching, copying, and documenting records and receipts. Not to mention hundreds of dollars in accounting fees. Even worse though is the incredible invasion of privacy one faces for the decision to itemize deductions and business expenses, in the hope of retaining a fraction more of one’s hard-earned income. But after all, Big Brother must know of, and approve of, every penny earned and spent by the taxpayer — to keep us all honest, and keep us all paying our “fair share,” so that the government can keep doing all the wonderful things it does for us, right? That’s the “American way,” yes?

Sam Antonio interviews John Hallman, Legislative Affairs Director, Florida Campaign for Liberty.

Apologists for the State often excuse its surveillance by claiming that those who’ve done nothing wrong have nothing to hide. This implies that only criminals object to Leviathan’s all-seeing eye.

We’d have to head to Congress for anything more illogical or disgustingly craven. Meanwhile, a mystical and perhaps mythical Chinese philosopher from 2600 years ago deftly skewers this nonsense: “The more laws are enacted and taxes assessed,” Lao Tzu wrote, “the greater the number of lawbreakers and tax evaders.” A government big enough to spy on us is big enough to legislate on just about every subject. Which means we all fracture many laws each day, often unwittingly, whether jaywalking, relaxing with some weed, or bending the IRS’s byzantine rules in our favor.

Criminalizing huge swaths of behavior is one of government’s favorite weapons. Not only does it bring much of life under rulers’ control, it also silences dissent. Authorities can easily muzzle critics by investigating them. Given an endless list of laws and the likelihood of having broken some, which of us wouldn’t quail at the threat of such a fishing expedition?

Facebook continues to be the subject of controversy over issues of privacy, this time because Facebook cookies were found to be accidentally tracking other sites users visited after they had logged off. The information is then sent to Facebook via the cookies, provoking concerns over users’ privacy violations.

 According to The Daily Mail, the cookies “send Facebook your IP address — the ‘unique identifier’ address of your PC — and information on whether you have visited millions of websites: anything with a Facebook ‘like’ or ‘recommend’ button on it.”

One Facebook spokesperson admitted, “We place cookies on the computer of the user,” and that some of those cookies do in fact send back the address of the users’ PCs and sites they visited, even while logged out. “Three of these cookies inadvertently included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook. We did not store these for logged out users. We could not have used this information.”

The malfunction was made public by Australian blogger Nik Cubrilovic, who was disgruntled with the recent changes made to Facebook.

Opponents of ObamaCare have long argued that the law poses a grave threat to Americans’ privacy. Although that argument was based on informed speculation, a new rule proposed by the Obama administration provides concrete evidence that privacy concerns were indeed well-founded.

The rule, proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), would require “insurance companies [to] submit detailed health care information about their patients,” according to a Washington Examiner op-ed by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.). If enacted, the rule would enable the government “to collect and aggregate confidential patient records for every one of us,” declares the Congressman. “This type of data collection is an egregious violation of patient-doctor confidentiality and business privacy,” he maintains, likening it to “J. Edgar Hoover in a lab coat.”

The navigation company OnStar is attracting strong criticism after announcing last week that it would continue to monitor drivers’ speeds and GPS locations — and sell the information to third parties such as law enforcement — even after customers end their contracts. Outrage ensued and even U.S. lawmakers have now entered the fray.

OnStar is a subsidiary of General Motors, which is still partly owned by the U.S. and Canadian governments after receiving billions in bailouts

Almost immediately after OnStar announced the changes to its privacy policy set to take effect in December, privacy activists and civil-liberties groups expressed concern. Indeed, the company has been deluged with bad publicity about the changes in recent days. Critics attacked the schemes as everything from “spying” to “Big Brother.”

I’m not much of a football fan. In fact, we can broaden that to say I loathe every sport but Scrabble. If the entertainment involves chasing a ball, count me out.

Thank God I’ve endured only one football game in my life, when a friend with two free tickets dragged me to see Giants or Yankees or something. But I managed to grab a book before he trussed me and threw me in the back of his car. Burying my nose in its pages kept me from dying of boredom while men who were old enough to know better scrimmaged for home runs or whatever it is they do.

So I could be wildly mistaken in my impression of football’s average enthusiast. But I’ve always assumed he’s blessed with an abundance of testosterone. And that he doesn’t take kindly to another guy’s even noticing his “junk,” let alone massaging it on the preposterous pretense that explosives lurk there.

A 35-year-old Navy veteran, Luis Lebron, is suing the state of Florida over its policy that all welfare applicants be drug tested prior to receiving benefits. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), America’s legislative lobbying and litigation artisans whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States," will be representing Lebron.

The Orlando resident is currently pursuing an accounting degree at the University of Central Florida, while taking care of his four-year-old son and mentally disabled mother. One of many victims of the Great Recession, Lebron was laid off in 2008, and has been unable to find another job since. After exhausting his veteran’s benefits, he applied earlier this summer for welfare benefits.

"It made me feel really bad; I just felt like everything was caving in on me," Lebron lamented. "I felt like, I served my country for four years; doesn't that mean anything anymore? I've worked for pretty good companies. I'm going to school; I'm supposed to graduate. I shouldn't be in this position."

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