Government Overreach

•The House of Representatives has approved a bill that allows (but doesn’t mandate) email and Internet providers to share electronic data with the government, penalty-free, regardless of any contrary state or federal laws. Which the backers absolutely assure is not intended to create a surveillance state, just to make crimefighting easier.
For a look at how that doesn’t work in practice, <a href="•The House of Representatives has approved a bill that allows (but doesn’t mandate) email and Internet providers to share electronic data with the government, penalty-free, regardless of any contrary state or federal laws. Which the backers absolutely assure is not intended to create a surveillance state, just to make crimefighting easier. For a look at how that doesn’t work out, here’s a look at how a previous bill designed to penalize hackers who access high-security sites such as NORAD has been used to target people who, for example, violate terms-of-service agreement. In one case, an alleged hacker faced worse penalties than he’d get for a violent crime.
This is no surprise. Prosecutors and cops love having more and better hammers with which to hit suspects or investigate with. And they hate having their hands tied—why, if they have to Mirandize suspects or wait to get warrants, it’ll be chaos!
The Patriot Act was passed with blithe assurances from the Bush Administration that of course it would only be used in terrorist cases. Before long, cops and prosecutors were using it in non-terrorist cases or refusing to follow even the looser restrictions of the Patriot Act (the FBI’s heightened ability to get financial information was used without any authorization, often just for fishing expeditions). Prosecutors have also stretched the definition of terrorism in absurd ways, for example charging that meth-manufacturing, since it can kill people, constitute making a WMD, ergo terrorism!
Even before 9/11, there were the racketeering acts, designed to make it easier to take down organized crime. They work by claiming two or more offenses (armed assault, extortion etc.) constitutes a pattern of criminal activity, so the culprit’s income, it’s assumed, derives entirely from that activity. Using this argument, it’s possible to confiscate a drug lord or Mafiosa’s entire assets unless he can prove it’s not tied to his extortion, drug-running or whatever.
Then prosecutors used the same laws to target white-collar crooks. And in one Virginia case, a comic-book store: It had sold a couple of books the prosecutor claimed violated state obscenity statutes, ergo a pattern of selling porn, ergo the state could shut down the entire store as a porn producer.
So no, not convinced by these Of Course It Will Never Be Abused claims.
Which leads us to the DoJ’s announcement that it’s going to use the immediate-peril exemption to Miranda to question Dzhokhar Tsarnaev about the Boston bombing. As Glenn Greenwald points out, the exception was originally intended to cover situations of possible imminent danger—though as Thurgood Marshall said in objection at the time (it was a Supreme Court case) that’s legal without an exception, it’s just that the answers can’t be used in court. Under Obama, it’s been broadened to “it’s terrorism, so Miranda doesn’t apply.” (not a verbatim quote, of course). The DoJ and the FBI can ask pretty much anything without a Miranda, not just safety questions like “are there more bombs?”
LGM adds more thoughts, and links (as Greenwald does) to Emily Bazelon’s excellent analysis.
In related links, The New Yorker looks at the accused’s family, and Paul Campos says shutting down the city was the kind of overkill Tsarnaev probably wanted. One blogger questions whether there’s any reason for thinking of it as terrorism other than that Chechens are Muslims (Peter Hart of FAIR makes a related point). To put it another way, if two Muslims had shot up the Columbine high school, would we consider that terrorism too?

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s