January 27, 2014

The New American Radical: Upholding the Status Quo in Law (IE the Constitution)

So what does that mean... the Status Quo? What I mean by that is the body of law we count on, that we base everything on, already in place: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights (amendments 1-10) and the rest of the Constitutional Amendments. That status quo.

And wanting to just maintain the Status Quo, uphold and use it, as our standard of law, as the basis for what we do in the US? Yea, supporting that is the New American Radical act amongst the New American Radicals (you can count me amongst them as that's the system I signed up for... the one with the Constitution).

How can this be? Asking for such should be a traditionalist thing, leaving the radicals to ask for new amendments, change 'you can believe in' yada yada and other controversial innovations to the law? But no.. it's a radical act in America these days to just ask that we uphold the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Amendments.

DanielEllsberg.pngI realized this is true, the other night, when I went to hear Daniel Ellsberg speak, along with Cindy Cohn of EFF, Shahid Buttar and Norman Soloman, along with Bob Jaffe moderating. And yes.. Ellsberg's an American Radical, but not just because he got the Pentagon Papers out 40 years ago. It's because he believes in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, our other Amendments to be the rule of law. He had some very interesting things to share as well.

Ellsberg talked about how years ago, "Richard" Cheney (as he called him.. I'm so used to "Dick") communicated a desire to change the constitution because he thought it was wrong, and that it should be different. Ellsberg said that that's okay, but then you have to change things through the system. Instead, Cheney and Bush and others have been corrupt, because they got elected, swore an oath to "defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" but then subverted the rules they swore to uphold. (I knew they weren't honorable men, but I never thought about it in these terms.)

So in this case, they are the enemies, these corrupt parties, who subvert the Constitution, by taking, ".. your tax dollars, taken in secret, and spent in secret, to spy on everyone."

NathanHale.pngEllsberg's example of a founding father who parallels the whistleblower / leaker of today is Nathan Hale, the man who was caught by the British and hanged in 1776 for trying to share information with his own countrymen, Americans, about what the British were doing. Hale's famous line is: "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

What if we hanged people like that today, the people who leaked the full breadth of what was happening at Abu Ghraib instead of the public just seeing the sanitized, reduced version that claimed it was just a few isolated incidents, when in fact the torture at Abu Ghraib was huge and widespread and very shameful for us and our government? Or the Extraordinary Rendition program? Or Warrantless Wiretapping?

All these secretive activities changed when they became public. And they changed as a result of whistleblower-leakers sharing information the government didn't want to get out, with the exception of Congress legalizing Warrantless Wiretaps once that activity became public. And now things are changing again because of Edward Snowden and the NSA surveillance information he let out.

Ellsberg said, "To have knowledge of every private communication, every location, every credit card charge, everything.. to have one branch have power over the other two (executive, over legislative and judicial).. Snowden has confronted us with something that we could change.... But Obama is part of the problem. He just assures us that there is nothing to worry about. But who is to be trusted? The people who kept the secrets and lied to us? Diane Feinstein? Or do we trust Snowden? Snowden has done more to support the Constitution than any Senator, Congressman, the NSA ... "

Ellsberg also talked about how when he was in trial, 40 years ago, he was out on bail, and could speak freely with the press. Today, if Snowden were on trial, he'd be in a hole, like Chelsea Manning. We wouldn't hear his thoughts on the issues in the trial, because the government would stop it, in trial and outside.

During Ellsberg's trial, his lawyer tried about 5 times to get motive into the questioning, but the prosecution kept objecting. Motive didn't matter they said, and the judge agreed. The same thing would happen to Snowden, who would never be able to say, on the stand, why he did what he did.

Cindy Cohn who has heroically been bringing law suit after law suit to stop some of these illegal practices, talked about how originally the FISA court started out approving targeted warrants -- so at least they knew who was targeted. But things have devolved, to where the FISA court is now presented with massively expanded, abstract warrants that don't even have the FISA court knowing who specifically is targeted. Smith vs Maryland, which ruled on the pen register method of an unwarranted wiretapping of a single land line, "..doesn't even pass the giggle test" when applied to the massive surveillance we undergo now.

In fact, she said that, "Technology is our friend, encryption is our friend." That while major companies have been compromised, we need to develop technologies to help us, as much as we need to use legislative policy and the judicial system to fix this. Even companies, 5 large tech companies, had to get together last week and tell the government to stop hacking them, or they would lose customers and be severely affected.

Cindy recommended we tell legislators to vote against the sham FISA Improvement Act, and instead support the USA Freedom ACt and the Surveillance State Repeal Acts, which have bi-partisan congressional support.

"The days in which you can separate corporate surveillance and government surveillance are over.... The 3rd party doctrine undermines privacy, because *we all* give our data to 3rd parties." She went on to say that the tools for organizing against each type of collection are different, but the issues are similar.

Lastly she noted that for 9/11, collection wasn't the gap. They knew about the guys. Sharing between agencies was the gap. Yet we haven't solved for that but we are collecting like mad!

One other mention, Shahid Buttar spoke, but also performed a prose rap he's written, and he's running a Kickstarter to raise money (it's up Feb 6 so donate now) to do a professional video. (Reminds me a bit of Eddan Katz's Revolution is Not an AOL Keyword).

Note also that we are doing the Data Privacy Legal Hackthon in 12 days !! Join us to work on this problem technically in SF, NYC and London, or join us online if you can't make it in person.

Whether you support the artistic, legal or technical ways of addressing massive government surveillance and the subversion of the Constitution, stand up for your rights under the constitution.

Feel what it's like to be a Radical American!

Because you probably are a Radical American! Just like our forefathers and foremothers.

If you believe in the Rule of Law and the Constitution.

Posted by Mary Hodder at January 27, 2014 07:06 PM | TrackBack
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