Tag Archives: surveillance state

@Snowden: Give That Man a Medal, Not a “Pardon”

In the days leading up to the official premiere of Snowden, Oliver Stone’s eponymous biopic of America’s exiled whistleblower, an international movement came together to pressure US president Barack Obama for a pardon. Executive absolution would make it possible for  Edward Snowden to return from Russia without facing a show trial and a life (or even death) sentence for his heroism.

It’s a fine idea. I support it. But I think it does get things backward and sends the wrong message in certain respects.

Edward Snowden shouldn’t NEED a pardon. He performed a public service of inestimable value by exposing the crimes, the criminals, and the techniques of the largest espionage ring in human history:  A conspiracy directed at the very public expected to pay the gigantic tab the conspirators run up. The National Security Agency’s budget is classified  — of course — but thought to be in excess of $10 billion per year. Talk about adding insult to injury.

So, who SHOULD be seeking pardons?

Well, the  operational ringleaders, including but not limited to the last few directors of the NSA, are clearly habitual felons who, in any society with a functioning justice system,  would be sporting leg irons and orange coveralls and writing their own letters requesting clemency about now.

Those evildoers have superiors who are equally responsible for having let them run wild. The two that come to mind are the president(s) and the congressional Intelligence Committees (the House Intelligence Committee contests the pardon movement with a classified — of course — report which in public summary characterizes Snowden as a mere “disgruntled employee”).

If these characters weren’t (with good reason) convinced of their own immunity to justice, they’d be shutting down their unprecedented warrantless search operations and finding ways to preemptively pardon each other ahead of something like a new Nuremburg Tribunal,  instead of continuing to denigrate and persecute the man who exposed their vile deeds.

The only subject of truly legitimate debate over Snowden’s actions is whether they were military or civilian in character. Otherwise, how are we to know whether he should receive the Medal of Honor (military) or the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal (civilian)?

Perhaps an exception should be made that lets him collect all three. Or perhaps none of them are sufficient and a new award, specific to Snowden and those who will hopefully follow in his footsteps, would be more appropriate.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


People as Packages, Tied Up With String: This is Chris Christie’s Favorite Thing

English: ICE Special Agents (U.S. Immigration ...
English: ICE Special Agents (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) arresting suspects during a raid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Jersey governor Chris Christie deserves huge honesty points for his vision of a new 21st century America. Donald Trump’s paeans to Mussolini-style fascism reside in vague appeals to “national greatness” and his own “leadership.” Christie comes right out and shows us the dark policy specifics of his desire to turn the United States into a technologically advanced  version of Erich Honecker’s East Germany.

His latest: Tracking people “like FedEx packages.”

Granted, he limits the proposal to foreigners entering the US on visas, for purposes of preventing illegal visa overstays. And he’s light on details. An RFID chip in the physical visa or passport, maybe? But what if the foreigner leaves that document in a drawer? How to track him then? Maybe implant the chip beneath the skin on entry and pull it out on exit? Who knows?

The technical details that aren’t that important, although they do sound pretty creepy. The threat is embedded in the idea itself.

As someone — not Thomas Jefferson, although it’s often attributed to him — once said, “a government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”

A government big enough to track every foreigner from entry to exit is a government big enough to track YOU — your location and your activities — from cradle to grave.

A government big enough to track you from cradle to grave is a government big enough to CONTROL you from cradle to grave.

Anyone who proposes such a scheme is crazy, evil, or both … and should never, ever be allowed anywhere near the levers of political power.

Unfortunately, nearly all of the “major party” presidential candidates, and lots of lower-level politicians and bureaucrats, are on board with schemes like this, in one form or another.

“Real ID” to put everyone’s n right to travel under federal government control . “Background checks” to control and monitor gun ownership. “Voter ID” scams to manipulate the electoral impact of minority populations. “E-Verify,” which conscripts employers into unpaid agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement gang. You name it, it’s either done or some prominent politician is talking it up. Christie just happens to be the most vocal and honest representative of that line of thinking.

If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you plan to vote in next year’s presidential election. And if you’re going to do that, why not draw some red lines, come up with some litmus tests, instead of just resigning yourself to the usual futile attempt to discern the lesser evil? Any promise other than to roll back the surveillance state should be an instant disqualifier for the presidency.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Fake Privatization: Shut Down the Red-Light Racket

Red light camera system at the Springfield, Oh...
Red light camera system at the Springfield, Ohio intersection of Limestone and Leffels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Red-light cameras sound like easy money to revenue-hungry city governments. Instead of paying police officers to enforce traffic laws and ticket offenders, they outsource the job to companies like American Traffic Solutions and Redflex. Those firms install the cameras, monitor their output, and sometimes even handle the mailing of traffic tickets to motorists who run red lights, collecting a share of the fines from their government clients in return for their services.

But Americans aren’t very comfortable with receiving traffic tickets from private sector corporations on the basis of remote video monitoring.

Among other problems, they note that it’s generally impossible to establish who was driving a car when it ran a red light without actually pulling the driver over at the scene. They also question the legality of allowing private sector actors, often not even located in the same states as the alleged offenders, to issue traffic citations. And of course there’s the “creepy” factor: Most Americans read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school. We don’t like the idea of being watched everywhere we go.

The cities, and the companies, claim that the cameras are all about safety rather than revenue. They cite statistics claiming reduced fatality numbers at intersections equipped with the cameras. But a 2014 report from Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability says that traffic accidents increase by 12% — and that rear-end collisions of the type occasioned by sudden brake application to avoid running lights increase by a whopping 35% — at such intersections.

Citizen protests — and legislative and judicial responses to those protests — are beginning to cut into the red-light camera racket. On March 16, two Broward County, Florida judges threw out 24,000 red-light camera tickets, representing $6.3 million in prospective revenue. The reason? While local police departments formally issued the tickets, they did so on the assurances of American Traffic Solutions employees in Arizona, not on their own observation of offenses or even on the basis of viewing the videos themselves.

Which brings up a fourth problem. The cities with red-light cameras, and the companies which operate them, note that these systems free up police officers for other duties. They sell that as a feature. I consider it a bug.

Cops who aren’t kept busy enforcing traffic safety laws are freed up to instead enforce laws against victimless “crimes” like gambling, prostitution and drug possession. When we consider the results — a burgeoning US prison population and growing body count of Americans gunned down by police officers on our streets — it may be that red-light cameras cost more than they bring in.

Real privatization is about getting government out of various areas of our lives, not leaving it in charge of those areas while allowing it to shunt the actual work off to unaccountable, rent-seeking “private” actors. If city governments want to privatize their streets, they should put those streets up for auction. Otherwise, they should shoulder the costs and the responsibilities of providing public roadways themselves.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.