We lack in this country a major party that offers wholehearted and universal support for the protections embodied in the Bill of Rights, and the choices offered are often highly constrained. To take the last two presidential elections as an example, the more pro-civil-liberties of the major-party candidates has launched more Espionage Act prosecutions than all previous presidents combined; indefinitely detains legally innocent people, for fear of what they might do if released; allows agencies to gin up fake terror plots; calls the idea of actually prosecuting torturers “sanctimonious“; and would prefer a cosmetic surveillance reform that legitimates most of what the deep state is doing and that, of course, wouldn’t punish anyone. The less pro-civil-liberties candidates argued for unending war in the Middle East, invited warmongers and torturers to introduce them at campaign stops, and argued that affording due process to prisoners of war would be a kind of treason.
There’s a reason for this constrained choice set: The elites of both parties no longer, if they ever did, believe that laws apply to them, their colleagues, their funders, or the intelligence agencies. As a result of this culture of lawlessness, no candidate that genuinely seeks to have laws apply universally will garner the insider support needed to advance their candidacies.
We will see the effects of this constrained choice set in the new Congress most clearly in the field of prosecutions for US government acts of torture.
Let’s review the history.
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The tenth biennial Hackers on Planet Earth Conference starts today and runs through Sunday at the Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC.
We’ll be there as part of the Restore The Fourth delegation (I’m the national chair of Restore The Fourth). I and Zaki Manian will be hosting a radio show 10am-11am on Radio Statler, the HOPE community radio station. We’re honored to have on our show controversial Maine-born artist Essam Attia. If you can’t be at the conference, check out the stream on radio.hope.net!
You can also check out the Restore The Fourth booth (I’ll be covering it Saturday afternoon), sign up as a member here ($60 individual/$20 student), or come hear a talk on our research into the effects of the Snowden revelations on search engine behavior.
See below the fold for more on the Attia case!
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In Lawfare today, Benjamin Wittes covers our new empirical research on the effect of the Snowden revelations on search engine behavior.
A new empirical research paper I have coauthored with Catherine Tucker of MIT-Sloan examines the question of how Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations have shifted the way people search for information on the Internet. We look at Google searches in the US and its top ten trading partners during 2013. We identify a roughly 5% drop in search volume on privacy-sensitive terms. In the US, UK and Canada, the countries in our data who were most involved with the surveillance controversy, search volume fell for search terms likely to get you in trouble with the government (“pipe bomb”, “anthrax” etc.), and for searches that were personally sensitive (“viagra”, “gender reassignment”, etc.). In France and Saudi Arabia, search volume fell only for the government-sensitive search terms. This paper, though at an early stage, provides the first systematic empirical evidence of a chilling effect on people’s search behaviors that is attributable to increased awareness of government surveillance. I will be presenting this paper at the Privacy Law Scholars’ Conference in DC in June, 2014. I would welcome comments at email@example.com.
Brian Fung, on the Washington Post’s “The Switch” blog, “reported” recently on Google’s “Zeitgeist” list of the top 100 search terms for 2013. His main interest in it, it appears, was to make the point that “Edward Snowden” wasn’t one of them, and therefore that the public really doesn’t care that much about the surveillance abuses uncovered by his whistleblowing.
A picture of Snowden courtesy of a newspaper in south India – because the world doesn’t care, right?
You know what’s funny? Snowden is on the list. True, he’s at #97. But you’d think that if you were going to write a whole article about how unimportant this silly little man is, and if you were going to use presence on Google’s list as the sole determinant of what people care about, then you’d actually bother to find out whether he was on it first.
Not, clearly, if you’re Brian Fung of the Washington Post. Facts are for the little people. So if you actually want to know what’s on the list – you won’t find the full list anywhere else on the Internet – keep reading.
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This Saturday, DC saw something it had never seen before.
A city that treats the superficial hatreds of party politics as its lifeblood, saw thousands of people from across the political spectrum gather to denounce NSA mass spying. We heard, and roared approval for, the words of feminist Naomi Wolf, Dennis Kucinich (Democrat), Justin Amash (Republican), and Gary Johnson (Libertarian). Kymone Freeman spoke movingly about the impact of surveillance on minority communities and the civil rights movement. Whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Russell Tice were there, and Edward Snowden sent a message to be read by leading whistleblower-protecting attorney Jesselynn Radack. Tea Party people up from Richmond, VA, proudly put on Code Pink stickers labeled “Make Out Not War”. The press reported wonderingly that it was not put together “by any of the “usual” well-connected DC organizers.” I should know: I’m proud to say that, in a small way, I was one of them, and this was the first time most of us had done anything like this.
That wasn’t all. Here in Boston, activist Joan Livingston put together a solidarity rally at Park Street Station:
and ACLU organizer Raquel Ronzone arranged for the rally to livestream at the Digital Media Conference in Cambridge.
If you want updates on the StopWatchingUs campaign going forward, text “PRIVACY” to 877877. Stay tuned for the next stage of the campaign, which will be to pass the “USA FREEDOM Act.” Personally, just to hammer home the point, I’d have preferred the “USA FREEDOM Fourth Amendment Restoration – Objective: Undermining Tyranny Act of 2013”, because I too can do acronyms, but such frivolity is apparently frowned upon in the legislature that gave us the Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 in the first place.
UPDATE: Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. I’m the tall guy to the left of Rep. Amash!