In the midst of an international manhunt for former NSA analyst Edward Snowden — and the public debate on branding him as a hero or traitor — many Americans have forgotten the root of the real problem: the legal validity of these surveillance programs.
Some believe in the notion the ordinary, law-abiding citizen has nothing to worry about, since the government would never target them (despite the fact that Snowden revealed that these programs have done exactly that — collected mass metadata from typical, run-of-the-mill citizens).
Fortunately, America remains the greatest place in the world to live and call home. We celebrated the essence of that greatness over the weekend for Independence Day — the fabled anniversary of July 4th, 1776, the date that the Founding Fathers declared independence from the tyranny of King George III. It's a celebration of freedom and radicalism, and one that we should take more seriously as a country.
Though it's hard to appreciate the message behind the holiday when actions that subvert our freedom occur every day. Ask yourself: Are we truly free?
Now take this video for example, which went viral this weekend thanks to sites like Reddit:
The nearly 3 million-view video shows 21-year-old Chris Kalbaugh being harassed and constitutionally violated at a DUI checkpoint in Rutherford County, Tennessee by Deputy A.J. Ross and other officers. Despite not having committed a crime nor been charged with one, the officers swarm his car and use a K-9 to issue a "false alert" in order to search it. Kalbaugh ever expressed his rights to the officers, but no such luck. From the video:
Deputy Ross: “Are you an attorney or something? You know what the law is?”
Kalbaugh: “Yes sir, I do."
Deputy Ross: “OK, what is the law?”
Kalbaugh: “The law says at checkpoints I have to stop. And I did. That is all. I’m not required to answer any questions. I have Constitutional freedom to travel without being randomly stopped and questioned."
The officers continued their search unimpeded. When nothing turned up, Deputy Ross says, "He’s perfectly innocent and he knows his rights. He knows what the Constitution says.” Another officer off-camera says, "It wasn't a very good alert."
In a column last week, former congressman Ron Paul expounded upon the potential dangers of implementing an E-Verify system with immigration legislation. His words speak for himself, but there are three critical points to consider:
Currently, the E-Verify system is voluntary. With this legislation, all employers would be required to run their potential employees through the database to ensure their legality. The system is one of the better-run services in the federal government, and therefore has its perks. But as with most things in life, there's a trade-off: Anytime the government mandates that the private sector take part in an activity, the government grows in scope and power.
The information gathered by the proposed E-Verify system in the legislation will go far beyond Social Security numbers and immigration data, and include things like biometric data, as well as other government-held data. In addition to the biometrics, citizens will be required to have a "tamper-proof" Social Security card, essentially a national-ID. This creates privacy concerns among many civil libertarians for obvious reasons.
Mandatory E-Verify participation opens the door to a host of other potential uses by the federal government. With Obamacare about to kick into high gear, there would be little to stop a president or a federal agency to require its use in the health care industry for the purposes of the insurance mandate. Gun legislation could be brought forth that requires E-Verify in the transaction process of purchasing a weapon, ammunition, or other accessories. Could a corrupt administration use the system against their political enemies? The possibilities are far-reaching.
The E-Verify system, in its current state, is useful. I know a number of businessmen who use it in their day-to-day and herald it as the greatest thing since sliced bread. By running these potential employees through the database against their provided Social Security number, the program eliminates all legal burden on the business-owner and puts it squarely in the hands of the federal government. Any changes to the program would stifle hiring and irrevocably damage individual liberty and privacy. We should be wary of any additional features to the E-Verify system in the future as the immigration debate continues.
The Department of Homeland Security — a gargantuan leviathan of alphabet soup agencies: TSA, FEMA, USCIS, ICE, USSS, etc. — is undergoing a change of leadership with the resignation of Janet "Big Sis" Napolitano.
Serving under the Obama administration since 2009, Napolitano has been ravaged by attacks from both political parties, from supporters of state action and civil libertarians alike, who have lampooned and demonized the agency since its creation in 2002 under George W. Bush.
From the beginning, the agency's mandate to protect "the homeland" was too unwieldy and bureaucratic. It managed everything from immigration to airport security, from disaster relief to secret service operations, protecting the American people from "enemy combatants" in the "war on terror" and “war on drugs” (and the yet-to-be-coined war on Sharknados?).
She was assailed by Democrats for her draconian deportation program and derided by Republicans for her lax enforcement of border security. She was lauded for her replacement of the security color-code system, only to be styled a child molester for initiating enhanced pat-downs of six-year-olds. And all she wanted to do was protect Americans from terrorists entering the nation by the mountainous wilderness that is the Canadian border. Perhaps the secretary just needs her own summer of love in the land of milk and honey.
Utah Internet Service Provider (ISP) XMission courageously refuses to provide the government with records containing personal information about its users without a warrant. Under Utah law, the office of the attorney general is able to request records via an "administrative subpoena," which (unlike a warrant) need not be signed by a judge. The founder of XMission, Pete Ashdown, believes these subpoenas violate the Fourth Amendment. Ashdown is right, and there's much at stake in this row.
Naturally, the debate over these administrative subpoenas has been framed around the issue of fighting child pornography, a tactic which bolsters the government's argument since few are willing to criticize a practice aimed at the Hillary-esque it-takes-a-village imperative of "protecting the children." The trouble with such efforts to rescue said children is that child pornography won't be the last or only target of these laws. Unpopular political speech is next on the list, and was likely the state's real goal anyway. The state could assert that certain kinds of political speech harm the mental development of children during their formative years, after all.
Take, for instance, Twitter's recent decision to cave to pressure from the French government and, in turn, special interest groups (also known as NGOs) to hand over the identities of users accused of sending "racist" tweets (as defined by those NGOs, of course). We've all seen how language can be twisted by forces seeking to malign the defenders of liberty, and if they're attacking the Fourth Amendment now, it won't be long until they come for the First.
As you may know, the First Amendment's Establishment Clause states that the federal government may not establish a national religion. How has this simple statement gone from beautifully liberating to increasingly tyrannical?
The Establishment Clause was added into the Constitution so that the new government could not create a national religion, and to ensure that the requirements to hold office would not be restricted by religious affiliation. Today, however, the Establishment Clause restricts the expression of religious beliefs as far as the tax dollar can see. Schools, hospitals, and many other government-subsidized entities — along with private organizations such as churches — have been under assault thanks to failed analysis of the First Amendment.
The Establishment Clause states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. — The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. — Fifth Amendment to the Constitution
One would think that the rules spelled out in the Constitution — simple, easy rules written to restrain the then new, federal government — would be familiar to federal agents. But that might be asking too much, right?
Apparently, the CBP checkpoint I drive through is for "suspicion-less detention;" at least that's what the agent told me. Watch the video:
Federal usurpation of power will continue unabated unless people check that illegitimate power.
It is fair to say that in recent weeks conservatives and supporters of reasonable immigration reform have become increasingly pessimistic about the direction of the bill based on the compromises Republicans have made in the Senate. Call me hopelessly optimistic, but I am confident that the chances of passing a high-quality immigration reform bill are still very high.
There is no denying the bill that has emerged from the Senate is absolutely not what conservative Americans want, but what everyone needs to understand is that the agreement reached by the so-called "Gang of Eight" was more about political theater than it was about producing a piece of legislation that had any chance of becoming law.
Put yourself in the position of a Republican senator from a moderate state who must make a decision on the immigration reform bill. You know that passing a bill that requires border security prior to any immigration reforms going into effect will never pass the Democrat-led Senate on the first try. You would also know that any attempt to push through a liberal immigration reform bill, one where border security is not a trigger for the legalization process to begin, will ultimately be shot down in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives — and that any attempt to block any immigration reform from happening will be a colossal political failure given that the vast majority of Americans support action being taken immediately.
The Georgia Department of Driver Services plans to amend its Rules and Regulations, Ch. 375-2-3-.02, regarding "Special Prestige License Plates" (also known as "vanity plates") to prohibit any references to guns on the plates.
When I looked up the state constitution of Georgia, I discovered that there is indeed a bill of rights section which contains a right to keep and bear arms (Article I, Section I, Paragraph VIII) as well as protections for the freedom of speech (Paragraph V). Of course, government agencies motivated by a desire to impose politically correct speech codes, especially in reference to guns, are unlikely to let inconvenient documents like constitutions stand in the way of their ambitions.
It is revealing that the agency seeks to include guns with a set of items or activities that conventionally draw disapproval, such as alcohol, profanity, drugs, and sexual themes. How is it that a gun, which is a tool that saves lives, has come to be regarded as something obscene? When did this cultural shift take place and who stands to gain from it?
In the spirit of compromise, though, liberty activists should offer a counter-proposal to the Georgia Department of Driver Services: just get rid of license plates altogether, vanity and otherwise. Sure, the agency stands to lose some of its beloved revenue and a convenient tool for tracking citizens' lives, but that is why they call it "compromise." At least no one on the road will feel scandalized by anything they see on the tags.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords recently visited New Hampshire asking for politicians to display what she called "courage" in passing expanded gun control laws. Courage!? Talk about an invasion of Orwellian newspeak into the public discourse.
Those who promote gun control legislation usually argue that they seek to "enhance public safety," or to "protect the children," or some similar paternalistic sentiment. Giffords' call for "courage" is truly ironic given that gun control proponents are, at base, motivated by the irrational fear that somewhere, somehow a gun might be misused. And, of course, Giffords' allies believe that only governmental action can rescue citizens from the risk of gun-related violence. It's doubly shameful that Giffords issued her call to (no) arms in New Hampshire, the "Live Free or Die" State.
The recipe for true courage in the realm of the Second Amendment issue is this: Remind the public that government as an institution cannot possibly protect everyone at all times and in all places. It's a bad idea to even wish that government could accomplish such a feat, since that level of omnipotence would be indistinguishable from a police state.
It's called "self-defense" for a reason, after all. Life in a free society requires personal responsibility and even a willingness to endure exposure to a certain level of risk; true courage resides in facing this reality, not in pleading with politicians to help evade it.