Legislation

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."

The U.S. government has found another way to invade privacy in the name of fighting terrorism by proposing legislation that would track prepaid debit cards. As usual, the real losers would be, not terrorists who won’t comply anyway, but innocent Americans, or travelers, and card issuers burdened with yet another layer of record keeping and compliance procedures. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a branch of the Treasury Department, has drafted rules, taking effect Sep. 27, to establish a “more comprehensive regulatory approach for prepaid access.”

It’s important to distinguish between these prepaid debit cards and the debit cards attached to your bank account. Once known as “stored-value cards” the cards will be renamed “prepaid access cards” — because they aren’t tied to a bank account, the money paid for them in advance could be anywhere, currently outside the reach of monitoring by the government. Which is precisely the point. An assessment of financial security threats in 2005 by the Treasury Department noted that the 9/11 hijackers opened bank accounts, signed signature cards and received wire transfers, which left a financial trail.

No one was home when the FBI began visiting the Mayfield residence in Aloha, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, early in the spring of 2004. The agents did, however, see plenty of Brandon Mayfield, a Portland lawyer, his Egyptian-born wife, Mona, and their three children. According to court records, the agents had been following the Muslim family to and from their mosque, at the children’s schools, and at various family activities. They obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court what is commonly called a “sneak and peek” warrant that permits the search of property without notifying the suspect party until six months later. Investigators planted electronic listening devices in the “shared and intimate” rooms of the Mayfield home and in Mayfield’s law offices. They photographed files and downloaded hard drives. They placed wiretaps on both home and office phones. The application for the FISC order was personally approved by John Ashcroft, then the Attorney General of the United States. Why was our government so interested Mayfield’s files, activities, and conversations? A U.S. citizen born in Kansas, Mayfield is a convert to the Muslim faith. He was aware that the FBI had been investigating Muslims in the Portland area, particularly a group that became known as “The Portland Six,” whose members were convicted on money-laundering and weapons charges related to their efforts in support of the Taliban fighting U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. One of them, Jeffrey Battles, had retained Mayfield as his lawyer in a child custody case.

In the wake of criticism over privacy issues on Facebook, the social network has responded by indicating it will make significant changes to its site in order to protect individual privacy. In fact, Facebook officials went so far as to pay hackers — whom they call “independent researchers” — $40,000 to find holes in the site’s security system to assure that they have addressed all issues.

According to Facebook’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, the social network has launched a “Bounty Bug Program” in order to discover any flaws in the system’s software due to “software complexity, programming errors, changes in requirements, errors in bug tracking, limited documentation or bugs in software development tools.”

Facebook posted the following explanation of the program:

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