Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

Justice for Martin, Zimmerman is More Important than Anyone’s Damned Political Agenda

Rumor, conjecture, race, debate over the appropriateness of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” (SYG), and the debate over concealed carry among other discussions in the media and social media have taken on lives of their own in fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. Protests have sprung up around the country demanding “justice” for the “murder”* of Martin allegedly committed by George Zimmerman who claims that he fired the fatal shot(s) in self defense. Others wonder why this story, because of the racial aspects, receive so much national media attention while cases involving white victims with black suspects do not, implying a politically correct double standard.** To inflame the debate even more, leading presidential candidates have weighed in thus (perhaps) turning this case, not only into a black vs. white issue, but also red vs. blue (or Right vs. Left if you prefer).

These all may be relevant issues for another debate, but should not determine the level of “justice” that will hopefully be determined in a court of law rather than the court of public opinion. Unfortunately, it seems that most people have taken sides without knowing all of the relevant facts of the case. Personally, I haven’t “taken sides” because there is plenty of conflicting accounts of what happened that fateful night and I don’t trust everything that is being reported***.

The real question in the case is, did George Zimmerman truly act in self defense and stand his ground as he claimed? This depends entirely on what actually happened; the factual details in this case (known and unknown) is all that really matter. Neal Boortz wrote perhaps the most balanced piece I have read so far on this case. Here he outlines three possible scenarios of the night in question.

As for the SYG law and the Trayvon Martin case, I haven’t seen anyone else bring this up, but both Trayvon and Zimmerman had the SYG law on their side under the three possible operating scenarios here:

1. George Zimmerman. If Zimmerman was attacked by Trayvon, as he claims, he had the legal authority to use deadly force to repel the attack. BUT .. and this is a big but here .. if he was pursuing Trayvon, as he said he was, the SYG law would not protect him from prosecution. Zimmerman wasn’t standing his ground. He was in pursuit. I see no reason for repeal of SYG here because the law will not stand as a defense for what Zimmerman did. By the way …. I heard Juan Williams on Fox News Channel say – not once, but several times — that George Zimmerman had been told by the police to stop his pursuit of Trayvon. First of all, there is no evidence that the 911 dispatcher Zimmerman was talking to was was a police officer. Secondly, the dispatcher didn’t say “Don’t do that.” The dispatcher said “You don’t need to be doing that.” Telling someone that they don’t need to be doing something is quite different from telling someone NOT to do something. Williams should understand this.

2. Trayvon Martin: How would the SYG law stand to protect Trayvon? If Trayvon had noticed he was being followed, and if he elected to flee his pursuer he would have every right to do so. He would also have every right to turn and to confront his pursuer. That would be “standing your ground.” So the rumored testimony of this eyewitness who said he saw Zimmerman on the ground with Trayvon pummeling him does not necessarily implicate Trayvon. If he was standing his ground he was acting within the law.

3. Now here’s where it could get complicated. What if Zimmerman had ceased his pursuit of Trayvon and retreated to his car. What if Trayvon then pursued Zimmerman to his car and attacked him. Trayvon would then lose his protection under SYG, just as Zimmerman did when he initiated a pursuit. But if Zimmerman than became the pursued instead of the pursuer, does he then have the SYG law to rely on? That’s an interesting question, and one that I think would have to be put in front of a jury.

Obviously, the number of scenarios of what might have really happened cannot be limited to these three but I think these can serve as a useful starting point for a productive debate.

Can we all agree that if Zimmerman pursued (which by nearly all counts and by the 911 call seems to be the case at least initially) and confronted Martin, Zimmerman was not acting in self defense?

Can we also agree that IF Zimmerman was following Martin and gave reason for Martin to believe Zimmerman was meaning him harm that Martin also had every right to stand his ground and use lethal force if he believed it necessary to defend himself? Would those of you who wholeheartedly believe that Zimmerman was acting in self defense when he fired the shot(s) be defending Martin had HE shot and killed Zimmerman because Martin was in fear for his life?

The third scenario is the most difficult quandary of all but could a reasonable person conclude that maybe they were both in the wrong? Could Zimmerman’s wrongful pursuit be “canceled out” by Martin’s pursuit and attack if Zimmerman was returning to his vehicle? In the event that they both contributed to Martin’s death, what would be the appropriate verdict? In my lay opinion, convicting Zimmerman of murder would be inappropriate here; a good case could be made that he could be guilty of manslaughter though.

With all the conflicting reports in the media, it seems to me that this is hardly a cut and dry case of murder or standing one’s ground. People on all sides of this issue should resist making this about every civil rights sin ever committed by members of various races. This case is about two individuals, George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Not Al Sharpton, nor the New Black Panthers, nor bigoted white people racially profiling.

For those of you who are marching for “justice” for Martin, is this truly what you want or do you want revenge? Are you willing to accept the possibility that after a jury (be it grand jury or a jury deciding if Zimmerman is guilty of murder or a lesser charge) hears the evidence that they might determine that there isn’t enough evidence to prove Martin guilty of murder? Like it or not, in our system the accused is supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. This means that sometimes people actually do get away with murder. If the state fails to prove Zimmerman is guilty, don’t blame the jury, blame the state for failing to prove his guilt.

For those of you who are certain that Zimmerman was in the right, I pose the same above question to you. Additionally, are you willing to modify your views if the facts turn out to be opposite of your initial thoughts on the case?

It’s high time for everyone to take a deep breath and let the process work and let the chips fall where they may. Justice is more important than your damned political agenda.

» Read more

Signs of Intelligent Life in the Colorado Senate

Several members of the Colorado Senate introduced a bill yesterday that would reduce drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor, favoring drug treatment programs over incarceration in state prisons.

Lynn Bartels reporting for The Denver Post writes:

Senate Bill 2012-163 deals with drug offenders who primarily are users and addicts rather than dealers, and enhances their access to treatment.

“We have so many people throughout this country who are the casualties of a failed war on drugs,” said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder. “And in one sense, when you get a felony, not only do you get a criminal penalty, but what you have is a sentence to life without employment.”
During a news conference at the Capitol, Levy presented the bill with Sens. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, and Pat Steadman, D-Denver, and Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield.

[…]

“Let’s be clear. This is not legalization. This is not decriminalization,” Mitchell said. “This is simply a smarter approach to fighting the evils of drug abuse in our society.”

While this bill doesn’t go as far as I would like, this is certainly a step in the right direction. I’m not a big fan of forced drug treatment programs but it’s a far better alternative than a felony conviction that never goes away. In addition to this proposed legislation, Coloradans will have an opportunity to legalize marijuana (with the same regulations as alcohol) in November. If both of these become Colorado law, this would be a pretty significant blow to the war on (some) drugs and the prison industrial complex IMO.

Will either of these reforms pass? It’s hard for me to say but I’m a little skeptical. Still, the fact that these sorts of reforms are being proposed outside of libertarian debate societies by people who can actually change the criminal code is quite exciting and quite encouraging.

Quote of the Day: Obscene Edition

The sweater vested theocrat Rick Santorum has struck again, this time promising to “vigorously” enforce obscenity laws. Tom Knighton at United Liberty thinks that there are higher priorities facing the next president than lax enforcement of pornography statutes writing:

Take a look around for a moment. We have a nation that is falling apart. The constitution is practically on life support, and Congress is doing it’s best to pull the plug on it. American citizens can be detained indefinitely thanks to the NDAA. There are constant assaults on the internet through laws like SOPA. Now, the Secret Service can declare anywhere it wants as being off limits to free speech, and speaking your mind can constitute a felony. And where does Rick Santorum’s line in the sand fall? Apparently, on yet another action that involves consenting adults.

[…]

He’s talking about preventing me and my wife from watching something that was created by consenting adults, for consenting adults, sold to a willing customer who was also a consenting adult. That’s where this man’s priorities are?

I couldn’t agree more! Santorum’s priorities may be in line with some of the evangelicals in the GOP but I’m quite certain that most voters in the general election have very different priorities. This is yet another example of why if Santorum wins the nomination, Barack Obama will serve a second term as president.

ACTION ALERT: Tell Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to Allow Thomas Arthur to Prove his Innocence Prior to Execution

Here’s another one of those no brainer cases where the question of guilt or innocence could be determined once and for all in a death penalty case if the state would only allow the condemned the opportunity to have DNA test run at no cost to the state. The Innocence Project makes the following plea to all who are concerned with matters of justice on behalf of Thomas Arthur who is scheduled to be put to death by the state of Alabama:

Thomas Arthur is on Alabama’s death row, convicted of a crime that another man has since confessed to committing. Despite this confession and many other irregularities that have surfaced, the state has set his execution date for March 29, just weeks away.

After the confession, the Alabama Supreme Court stayed Mr. Arthur’s execution and remanded his case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing. The court ordered limited DNA testing of the wig that all parties agree was worn by the perpetrator. Although DNA was found on the wig, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences lacks the technology to develop a profile. Thomas Arthur and his attorneys want to re-test the wig, using more advanced DNA technology. But the state of Alabama won’t allow it, even though the defense is willing to pay for the testing!

It is unacceptable that the state of Alabama is prepared to put a potentially innocent man to death rather than let him conduct a simple test that could prove his innocence. Write Governor Robert Bentley and urge him to allow Thomas Arthur’s legal team to conduct the DNA testing that could spare his life.

To petition Gov. Bentley with a prewritten message, follow this link. It will only take a couple of minutes if that.

When the state can kill one of its citizens, it’s important that the state turns over every rock first. In the case of Thomas Arthur, there is a rock and I don’t think asking the governor to turn it over is too much to ask.

SCOTUS: Police Placing GPS Tracking Device on a Vehicle Without Warrant Violates the Fourth Amendment [or Does it?]

How about some good news on the civil liberties front to kick off the week for a change? Robert Barnes writing for The Washington Post reports that SCOTUS ruled 9-0 in United States v. Jones stating that the police placing a GPS tracking device on a person’s vehicle and tracking said vehicle over days, weeks, or months without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the justices left for another day larger questions about how technology has altered a person’s expectation of privacy.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the government needed a valid warrant before attaching a GPS device to the Jeep used by D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones, who was convicted in part because police tracked his movements on public roads for 28 days.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search’ ” under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.

[…]

Alito’s point was that it was the lengthy GPS surveillance of Jones itself that violated the Fourth Amendment and that “the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.”

“For such offenses,” he wrote, “society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not — and indeed, in the main, simply could not — secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.”

The only disagreement among the Justices was whether or not the decision went far enough to protect individuals in a 21st century world based on a 18th century law (i.e. the Fourth Amendment).

Hey, even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in awhile and in even rarer cases, 9 Supreme Court Justices.

***Correction/Further Analysis***
If you followed the link to The Washington Post article, you might notice that the parts I quoted don’t match up exactly. This is because the article has since been edited with a more complete explanation of what United States v. Jones really means. It appears that I put entirely too much trust into what was being reported in the media here and elsewhere (and I still haven’t gotten around to reading the opinion for myself).

Doug Mataconis (who is a lawyer; I am not) was the first to point out that the coverage of this ruling isn’t quite as good from a civil liberties perspective as the media would have us believe:

I think all you can really say is that, under circumstances of this case, the Court found that the use of the tracking device without a warrant was impermissible. As the majority opinion notes, however, the Government attempted to raise in their arguments to the Supreme Court the theory that the search was supported by reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to believe that Jones was the leader of a drug gang. Under such a theory, the use of the tracking device would have theoretically been justified even without a warrant.

You can read a more detailed analysis from Doug here Outside the Beltway.

Doug also pointed me to this article by Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy post entitled “What Jones Does Not Hold”

It seems that I wasn’t the only one mislead about the true impact of this ruling. Even Radley Balko at The Agitator had to make some corrections to his post regarding this case and made reference to the same post by Kerr as well as an even more discouraging analysis from Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog.

Romney Would Have Signed the NDAA; Trusts that President Obama “Would not abuse this Power”

In last night’s debate, Gov. Mitt Romney said something quite incredible when asked if he would have signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):

Yes I would have [signed the NDAA] and I do believe it’s appropriate to have the capacity to detain people who are threats to this country who are members of Al Qaeda. Look you have every right in this country to protest and to express your views on a wide range of issues but you don’t have a right to join a group that is challenged America and has threatened killing Americans, has killed Americans and has declared war against America. That’s treason. And in this country we have a right to take those people and put them in jail.

And I recognize in a setting where there are enemy combatants and some of them on our own soil that could possibly be abused. There are a lot of things that I think this president does wrong – lots of them. But I don’t think he’s going to abuse this power and I know that if I were president I would not abuse this power. And I could also tell you in my view, you have to choose people who have sufficient character not to abuse the power of the presidency and to make sure that we do not violate the Constitutional principles.

But let me tell you, people who join Al Qaeda are not entitled to the rights of due process under our normal legal code. They are entitled instead to be treated as enemy combatants.

There are so many problems with Gov. Romney’s answer but let’s start with the issue of treason. The Constitution actually deals with the issue of treason (one of the few crimes mentioned in the document) in Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Where in this section does it say anything about jailing alleged traitors without due process? From my reading of this, the bar for proving treason is quite high but at a very minimum requires a trial (as opposed to the president’s declaration someone is a traitor or “enemy combatant”).

Perhaps the bigger issue is Romney’s throwing out any notion of the rule of law and replacing it with the rule of men. We are supposed to trust the president, even the very president who he says has done “lots of things” wrong. The onus is on us to make sure the “right” person is elected so that this power isn’t ever abused and does not violate Constitutional principles rather than constrain him with the rule of law (i.e. the Constitution).

I’ve got some bad news for you Gov. Romney. I don’t believe you have “sufficient character not to abuse the power of the presidency.” Your very acknowledgement that you would have signed the NDAA proves that you cannot be trusted to defend the Constitution as your oath would require.

Related:
National Defense Authorization Act Passes Complete With Indefinite Detention Provisions
The Late David Nolan’s Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Fears One Step Closer to Being Realized

Rick Santorum is Not as Pro-Family as He Would Have Us Believe

If someone were to pose the question: “Among the candidates running for president, who would you say describes himself as the most ‘pro-family’?”

I suspect that most people would say Rick Santorum and for good reason. To Santorum, the decline of the traditional, nuclear family is the root cause for every problem facing America right now. Even (perhaps especially) individual rights take a back seat to his family values.

While I obviously disagree with this view, I don’t think there is any question that children have a better chance of becoming productive, successful adults when they grow up in a healthy and loving family environment than those who do not. Whether such an environment requires both a father and mother is subject to debate (and maybe a topic for another time).

With the premise that Rick Santorum is the great defender of the family in mind, a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) asked the former senator a very good question as he was wading through the crowd shaking hands:

“As a champion of family values and keeping America strong, would you continue to destroy families by sending nonviolent drug offenders to prison?”

To which Santorum responds:

“Uh…wow…the federal government doesn’t do that.”

Jacob Sullum’s response is right on:

“That will come as a surprise to the nearly 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison, who account for almost half of all inmates. (Another 400,000 or so are in state prisons and local jails.) Does Santorum think only violent drug offenders go to federal prison? There is no such requirement.”

Perhaps Santorum should take a moment to visit someone from Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and find out if tougher federal drug laws are destroying families.

This is a perfect opening for the Ron Paul campaign to point this out to his rival who is obviously clueless on this issue. Between Rick Santorum’s continued support for the war on (some) drugs and his eagerness to start up a war* with Iran we cannot afford, I think it’s time to question his pro-family bona fides.

Related: Reforming America’s Prison System: The Time Has Come

» Read more

Rest in Peace: Siobhan Reynolds

On Saturday Dec 24th, an important voice in the cause of freedom was silenced. Siobhan Reynolds, founder of the Pain Relief Network, tireless foe of the monsters promoting the War on (Some) Drugs, and the financially ruined victim of secret court proceedings that outrage the conscience and will rightly be held in infamy in coming years, was killed in a plane crash.

I can think of no finer eulogy than the one given by Radley Balko on The Agitator:

There aren’t very many people who can claim that they personally changed the public debate about an issue. Reynolds could. Before her crusade, no one was really talking about the under-treatment of pain. The media was still wrapped up in scare stories about “accidental addiction” to prescription painkillers and telling dramatic (and sometimes false) tales about patients whose lazy doctors got them hooked on Oxycontin. Reynolds toured the country to point out that, in fact, the real problem is that pain patients are suffering, particularly chronic pain patients. After Reynolds, the major newsweeklies, the New York Times, and a number of other national media outlets were asking if the DEA’s war on pain doctors had gone too far. …

She was tireless. I often thought she was a bit too idealistic, or at least that she set her goals to high. She told me once that she wouldn’t consider her work done until the Supreme Court declared the Controlled Substances Act unconstitutional. …

Reynolds started winning. She deserves a good deal of the credit for getting Richard Paey out of prison. She got sentences overturned, and got other doctors acquitted. …

Of course, the government doesn’t like a rabble rouser. It becomes especially wary of rabble rousers who begin to have some success. And so as Reynolds’ advocacy began to move the ball and get real results, the government bit back. When Reynolds began a campaign on behalf of Kansas physician Stephen Schneider, who had been indicted for overprescribing painkillers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tonya Treadway launched a shameless and blatantly vindictive attack on free speech. Treadway opened a criminal investigation into Reynolds and her organization, likening Reynolds’ advocacy to obstruction of justice. Treadway then issued a sweeping subpoena for all email correspondence, phone records, and other documents that, had Reynolds complied, would have been the end of her organization. …

So Reynolds fought the subpoena, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And she lost. Not only did she lose, but the government, with compliance from the federal courts, kept the entire fight secret. The briefs for the case are secret. The judges’ rulings are secret. Reynolds was barred from sharing the briefs she filed with the press. Perversely, Treadway had used the very grand jury secrecy intended to protect the accused to not only take down Reynolds and her organization, but to protect herself from any public scrutiny for doing so. …

Despite all that, the last time I spoke with Reynolds, she working on plans to start a new advocacy group for pain patients. She was an unwearying, unwavering activist for personal freedom.

And she died fighting. Rest in peace.

Read the whole thing.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Institute for Justice’s Bone Marrow Donor Compensation Legal Challenge Prevails

Here’s a follow up to a story I linked back in 2009 concerning the Institute for Justice’s legal challenge to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 and the act’s applicability to bone marrow transplants. This is very good news for the roughly 3,000 Americans who die every year while waiting to find a bone marrow match:

Arlington, Va.—The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today issued a unanimous opinion granting victory to cancer patients and their supporters from across the nation in a landmark constitutional challenge brought against the U.S. Attorney General. The lawsuit, filed by the Institute for Justice on behalf of cancer patients, their families, an internationally renowned marrow-transplant surgeon, and a California nonprofit group, seeks to allow individuals to create a pilot program that would encourage more bone-marrow donations by offering modest compensation—such as a scholarship or housing allowance—to donors. The program had been blocked by a federal law, the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), which makes compensating donors of these renewable cells a major felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Under today’s decision, this pilot program will be perfectly legal, provided the donated cells are taken from a donor’s bloodstream rather than the hip. (Approximately 70 percent of all bone marrow donations are offered through the arm in a manner similar to donating whole blood.) Now, as a result of this legal victory, not only will the pilot programs the plaintiffs looked to create be considered legal, but any form of compensation for marrow donors would be legal within the boundaries of the Ninth Circuit, which includes California, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and various other U.S. territories.

[…]

Rowes concluded, “This case isn’t about medicine; everyone agrees that bone marrow transplants save lives. This case is about whether individuals can make choices about compensating someone or receiving compensation for making a bone marrow donation without the government stopping them.”

National Defense Authorization Act Passes Complete With Indefinite Detention Provisions

Despite some valiant efforts of a handful of senators, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 passed by an astonishing 93-7 vote. Earlier today, Sen. Dianne Feinstein offered yet another amendment to the bill that would have limited the military’s jurisdiction to detain suspects captured outside the U.S.; the amendment failed by a narrower 55-45 margin.

In the first video below, Mark Kirk (R-IL) in his floor speech explains how Sections 1031 and 1032 violate the principles of the Bill of Rights by reading the applicable amendments. Sen. Kirk makes some geography based distinctions in determining whether U.S. citizens have due process rights (which I disagree with; geography should not matter) but otherwise does a great job of explaining to his fellow senators why keeping these sections in the bill is a terrible mistake.

Though he voted against the offending sections of the bill, Sen. Kirk ultimately voted with the majority in supporting the overall legislation.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on the other hand supported neither. Paul’s floor speech is equally compelling and perhaps even more chilling than that of Kirk’s. Could you find yourself an innocent victim of this bill? Do you have any missing fingers? Do you have more than a seven day supply of food? How many firearms do you own and if so what kind of ammunition do you use? Depending on your answers to these questions, it’s possible that you could find yourself detained, perhaps at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere, indefinitely with very little legal recourse according to Sen. Paul.

Related Posts:

The Late David Nolan’s Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Fears One Step Closer to Being Realized

Are You or Someone You Know a Victim of the Drone Mentality?

Nolan Exposes McCain’s Antipathy for Civil Liberties in Arizona Senate Debate

Quote of the Day: Americans Cheer the Assassination of the Fifth Amendment Edition

Obama: Judge, Jury, and Executioner in Chief

The Late David Nolan’s Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Fears One Step Closer to Being Realized

Back in the 2010 mid-term election, Libertarian Party co-founder David Nolan ran as a Libertarian against Sen. John McCain for his seat in the U.S. Senate. Sadly, McCain easily won the election and Nolan died several weeks after the election and just two days before his 67th birthday.

During his debate with Sen. McCain, Nolan warned voters of what he called a “dangerous, evil, un-American” bill which McCain co-sponsored called S. 3081, the “Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010.” This bill would authorize indefinite detention of American citizens without trial. Nolan was so outraged by this bill he said that this was one reason he decided to run against Sen. McCain.

Sen. McCain brushed off Nolan’s comments saying that Nolan “may be a little bit biased.”

Fast forward just over a year later, Sen. McCain has sponsored another piece of legislation hidden in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 that is very similar. One of the more concerning aspects of the bill is Section 1031:

SEC. 1031. AFFIRMATION OF AUTHORITY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES TO DETAIN COVERED PERSONS PURSUANT TO THE AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF MILITARY FORCE.

(a) In General- Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.

(b) Covered Persons- A covered person under this section is any person as follows:
(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
(c) Disposition Under Law of War- The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following:
(1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
(2) Trial under chapter 47A of title 10, United States Code (as amended by the Military Commissions Act of 2009 (title XVIII of Public Law 111-84)).
(3) Transfer for trial by an alternative court or competent tribunal having lawful jurisdiction.
(4) Transfer to the custody or control of the person’s country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity.
(d) Construction- Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
(e) Requirement for Briefings of Congress- The Secretary of Defense shall regularly brief Congress regarding the application of the authority described in this section, including the organizations, entities, and individuals considered to be `covered persons’ for purposes of subsection (b)(2).

The next section, Section 1032 adds some confusing language as to whether American citizens can truly be held indefinitely:

SEC. 1032. REQUIREMENT FOR MILITARY CUSTODY.

(a) Custody Pending Disposition Under Law of War-
(1) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in paragraph (4), the Armed Forces of the United States shall hold a person described in paragraph (2) who is captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) in military custody pending disposition under the law of war.
(2) COVERED PERSONS- The requirement in paragraph (1) shall apply to any person whose detention is authorized under section 1031 who is determined–
(A) to be a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force that acts in coordination with or pursuant to the direction of al-Qaeda; and
(B) to have participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners.
(3) DISPOSITION UNDER LAW OF WAR- For purposes of this subsection, the disposition of a person under the law of war has the meaning given in section 1031(c), except that no transfer otherwise described in paragraph (4) of that section shall be made unless consistent with the requirements of section 1033.
(4) WAIVER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY- The Secretary of Defense may, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if the Secretary submits to Congress a certification in writing that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States.
(b) Applicability to United States Citizens and Lawful Resident Aliens-
(1) UNITED STATES CITIZENS- The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.
(2) LAWFUL RESIDENT ALIENS- The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to a lawful resident alien of the United States on the basis of conduct taking place within the United States, except to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States.

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel of the ACLU points out that the language contained in Section 1032 only applies to Section 1032. To put it another way, according to Section 1031 U.S. citizens can be detained indefinitely and even sent to another country without the normal civil liberties protections guaranteed in the Fifth, Sixth, and possibly Eighth Amendments.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced Amendment No. 1107 to the bill that would have mitigated much of the civil liberties concerns found in 1031 but it was soundly defeated by a 61-37 vote. Only two Republicans, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rand Paul of Kentucky voted in favor of the Udall amendment.

Now the vote for the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 is set for today, December 1, 2011. There isn’t much time left to stop this horribly unconstitutional bill from being passed.

This being said, President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if these sections are still in place when it hits his desk. I’m not quite sure how the president can say on one hand he can send drones to kill American citizens while on the other say he opposes indefinite detention of American citizens but a veto would be the correct response regardless.

President Obama might well veto this bill but I have no confidence that any of the Republican challengers would veto similar legislation in the future save Gary Johnson (who is sadly very much a long shot at this point), Ron Paul, or perhaps Jon Huntsman.

We can now see that David Nolan’s concerns he expressed in the 2010 debate were well founded after all.

Ron Paul CNN National Security Debate Highlights and Observations

For those of us who value our liberties, there were a plethora of things said in last night’s debate from candidates not named Ron Paul to be very distressed about. For starters, there was the debate about the USA PATRIOT Act and whether it should be renewed, strengthened, or abolished. Unsurprisingly, Paul explained how civil liberties have eroded due to the act and lamented how willing the other candidates were to surrender even more liberty in the name of security. Paul held up Timothy McVeigh as an example of a terrorist who was tried in the traditional criminal justice system and ultimately convicted. In response, Newt Gingrich said “Timothy McVeigh succeeded.” (How he would have stopped the OKC bombings is anyone’s guess but I can’t imagine it would have been inside the framework of the Bill of Rights.) Paul’s response was spot on.

Then Rick Santorum advocated the notion of racial, religious, and ethnic profiling. Paul once again brought up Timothy McVeigh as an example of someone who would not have fit Santorum’s profile and pointed out some of the “careless use of words” being used by the other candidates (i.e. “we are at war,” naming individuals “terrorists” without due process etc.) is further compromising our liberty.

Other topics included Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the foregone conclusion that the U.S. should intervene anywhere and everywhere there is a regime our government doesn’t like, the assumption that not a single penny should be cut from the “national defense” budget, and the drug war violence in Mexico (I really wish someone would have brought up Fast and Furious).

Overall, the debate was very unsettling but Ron Paul once again was the voice of reason and responded well to his challengers.

Herman Cain is Either a Liar or Has a Very Short Memory

Just when I was starting to give Herman Cain another look, he lies to Rep. Paul’s face in last night’s debate concerning comments he made concerning the need to audit the Federal Reserve.

Yeah, there goes crazy Uncle Ron again with these crazy misquotes he picked up off the internet!

I’m not sure if the crowd was laughing at Cain or Paul at this point but it wasn’t that difficult to find audio of his “misquotes” on YouTube from when he was guest hosting The Neal Boortz Show.

But this wasn’t the first time Cain has been busted on a flip-flop followed by an accusation that he was misquoted or received “misinformation”. The next example: Cain changes his mind as to whether the president can target an American citizen for assassination without due process.

The Flip:

The Flop:

I never said that [President Obama] should not have ordered [the killing]. I don’t recall saying that. I think you’ve got some misinformation. Keep in mind that there are a lot of people out there trying to make me sound as if I am indecisive.

I don’t know all of the compelling evidence that the intelligence agencies and the military had. I’m convinced — I’m convinced that they have enough intelligence information that said he’s a threat to the United States of America. You don’t try to prosecute or capture him simply because he’s a United States citizen.

What will he say when he is confronted with these audio and video clips? Would he have us believe that these were imposters?

If Cain would have said on either of these issues “You know, I after thinking about it a little more, I was wrong…” I might be able to respect that. But to accuse people who challenge him of misquoting him when it’s so easy to prove otherwise is disturbing to say the least.

Obama Breaks Medical Marijuana Promise; How will his G.O.P. Challengers Respond?

Nearly two years ago, President Obama’s Justice Department announced a hands off approach concerning the states that passed “compassionate use” laws which legalized selling and using marijuana for medical purposes provided that all parties concerned operated within the state’s law. This seemed to give those who wanted to go through the legal processes to either operate a dispensary or acquire the paperwork to use marijuana within state guidelines the green light to proceed without worrying too much about federal drug laws – at least as long as Obama was president. Now it seems that the Obama administration is changing this policy, leaving patients and suppliers who operated in good faith on very shaky legal ground.

According to The Associated Press, at least 16 California dispensary owners and landlords received letters putting them on notice that they must close down their operations within 45 days or face criminal charges and confiscation of their property.

In the same article, Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the president’s drug czar is quoted as saying “This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The administration is simply making good on multiple threats issued since President Obama took office.”

To be fair, I don’t recall ever reading anything from the administration that explicitly promised they wouldn’t prosecute individuals under federal law but it certainly seemed that at the very least, medical marijuana patients and providers would be a very low priority for prosecution. Patients and practitioners had to know that there would be at least some legal risks even with Obama in office and realize that the next president could just as easily change the policy.

This presents a very interesting opportunity to find out which G.O.P. presidential candidates are truly committed to the notion of federalism (especially where the Tenth Amendment is concerned) and those who are not. Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Gary Johnson obviously favor ending the war on (some) drugs and would clearly restore state sovereignty on this and other issues. Gov. Rick Perry in his book Fed Up! (as quoted here) writes:

Again, the best example is an issue I don’t even agree with—the partial legalization of marijuana. Californians clearly want some level of legalized marijuana, be it for medicinal use or otherwise. The federal government is telling them they cannot. But states are not bound to enforce federal law, and the federal government cannot commandeer state resources and require them to enforce it.

Rick Santorum seems to be the least committed to the notion of state sovereignty as he pillories Gov. Perry for this and other positions regarding state laws he deems to be “moral wrongs.”

It’s certainly Gov. Perry right to believe marriage can be redefined at the state level, that marijuana can be legalized and that tax dollars should be used to give illegal aliens special college tuition rates, but that’s completely out of touch with what most Americans believe.

So says the man who is polling at 2.7% (RCP Average).

Regardless of what one thinks about medical marijuana legalization at the state level or federalism in general, those who find themselves in legal limbo deserve to have a clear answer to where they stand. The candidates should all agree that this vague, unpredictable policy is unacceptable.

Quote of the Day: Americans Cheer the Assassination of the Fifth Amendment Edition

Glenn Greenwald writes in response to the overall positive reaction of the drone assassination of American born Anwar al-Awlaki:

What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government. Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists — criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture. It not only finds way to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process). It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.

Sadly, among those that cheered this assassination of an American citizen are none other than pro war on terror libertarians Neal Boortz and Larry Elder. When Boortz heard that Ron Paul and Gary Johnson condemned the assassination, he called that notion “a bunch of horse squeeze.” After playing Ron Paul’s very well reasoned response explaining his objections, Larry Elder said that Paul “doesn’t get it” and “we are at war.”

I’m sorry gentlemen, I wasn’t aware that there was a “war on terror” exception to due process. But hey you guys are both attorneys who claim to hold the Constitution in high regard so what the hell do I know?

If there is anything our government does well its convicting people, putting them in prison, and/or executing them. If the government really had the goods on this guy, there’s virtually no chance he would have been found not guilty.

President Obama not only ordered the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki but the Fifth Amendment as well.

Related: Obama: Judge, Jury, and Executioner in Chief

With Less than 24 Hours Remaining Before the Execution, Doubts Persist About the Guilt; Innocence of Troy Davis

Despite seven of nine eyewitnesses recanting their testimony, the failure to find the murder weapon, DNA or other forensic evidence, and despite jurors from the original trial who say they would not sentence Troy Davis to death if they had it to do over again, the State of Georgia will execute Troy Davis for the murder of Mark MacPhail on September 21, 2011.

As I have pointed out before, eyewitness misidentification is a leading cause for wrongful convictions. The New Jersey Supreme Court has even gone as far as requiring that jury instructions advise the jury of the human fallibility of memory based on roughly thirty years of research.

Besides the eyewitness testimony the other evidence linking Davis to the murder were shell casings found at the scene that linked Davis to another shooting for which he was convicted. The problem is apparently, ballistics evidence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. It’s certainly by no means as solid as DNA evidence.

As someone who is opposed to the death penalty on principle, I believe that Troy Davis’s sentence should be commuted to life. The fact that seven witnesses recanted their testimonies is very troublesome whether they were mistaken the first time or coerced to give the testimony the police and prosecution wanted to hear.

But is this enough to say that Troy Davis is innocent of this horrible crime? As much as I would like to say yes, I’m afraid the answer is no.

Proving someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and proving someone innocent are two very different things. Once someone is found guilty, the burden of proof is shifted from the state to the convicted (i.e. no longer innocent until proven guilty but rather guilty until proven innocent). While it is disturbing that, for one reason or another, seven witnesses recanted their testimony the fact remains that two did not. Whether or not Davis could have been convicted on the strength of two witnesses rather than nine is impossible to say.

The shell casings in of themselves are circumstantial as is the testimony of the remaining two witnesses. However, when enough circumstantial evidence is put together, reasonable doubt gets less and less reasonable even to someone like me who would enter the jury box very skeptical of the state’s case (though I’m not certain that this would be enough in this case).

And what about the jurors who changed their minds about voting for the death sentence? Those who wish to see the execution carried out might suggest that these jurors could have been pressured (along with the witnesses perhaps) by anti-death penalty activists and/or Davis’s lawyers. As much as I hate to admit it, they would have a valid point. It’s not difficult to imagine a juror having second thoughts about condemning a man to die – guilty or not.

If you asked me, failure to meet the burden of proof of actual innocence notwithstanding, “do I personally believe that Troy Davis is guilty of murdering Mark MacPhail?” my answer would be simply “I don’t know.”

And I really don’t know and I don’t believe my friends in the anti-death penalty movement know either.

This is why I would not be comfortable holding a sign saying “Troy Davis is Innocent” or wearing the t-shirt that some are wearing at the protest which read “I am Troy Davis.”

I will gladly sign the petitions to whomever to have the sentence commuted on basic principle but I am by no means willing to say that Troy Davis is innocent of this crime. To my fellow travelers who oppose the death penalty on principle, I urge caution on this one as to arguing Davis is innocent.

I don’t know if Davis committed the murder or not but neither do those who insist that Troy Davis must die tomorrow. All the more reason why the execution should be cancelled and the sentence commuted.

An Innocent Man Was Probably Executed on Gov. Rick Perry’s Watch…Not That Anyone Cares

Is it possible that the G.O.P would nominate and/or the American people would elect for president a man who as governor more likely than not executed an innocent man?

An even more disturbing question would be: Could Gov. Rick Perry be elected president despite his efforts to keep investigators from learning the truth about the Cameron Todd Willingham case both before and after Willingham’s execution?

It seems we will have an answer to these questions in the 2012 campaign.

Apparently, these questions were not of much concern among Texans. According to a recent Politico article written by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison who ran against Perry in the gubernatorial primary in the 2010 campaign asked focus groups what they thought about the idea that an innocent man may have been executed on Gov. Perry’s watch. For the most part, the question was a non-issue. According to several (unnamed) former Hutchison staffers, they quoted one individual as saying “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”

Of course Gov. Perry continues to insist that Willingham was guilty of setting the fire that killed his three girls even though nine independent leading fire experts who have since reviewed the case all say the prosecution’s expert relied on science that has since been discredited.

Gov. RICK PERRY (R), Texas: This is a guy on his- on- in the death chamber, his last breath, he spews an obscenity-laced triad [sic] against his wife. That’s the person who we’re talking about here. And getting all tied up in the process here is, frankly, a deflection of what people across this state and this country need to be looking at. This was a bad man.

These are Willingham’s last words Gov. Perry was referring to:

No question, the words that Willingham directed at his wife are pretty rough. Willingham could have taken the high road but he didn’t. A bad man? Maybe. But to suggest that because Willingham’s last statement, which I agree is obscene and arguably low class, somehow “proves” that he killed his own children tells me that the Texas governor has a very low standard of proof.

Willingham’s spouse believed in his innocence in the beginning but as the execution date drew nearer, she changed her mind and made statements in the media that she believed he was guilty. How many men, innocent or not, in a similar situation would feel betrayed say something similar?

At Gov. Perry’s first debate appearance at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, when challenged about his executive order that would have required girls age 12 and over to get the HPV vaccine, he said that the way he went about it was wrong but explained that he was concerned about these young girls getting a deadly cancer. He “errs on the side of life,” a statement I couldn’t believe he could actually say with a straight face given his unwillingness to err on the side of life with regard to capital punishment.

Toward the end of the debate, Brian Williams asks Gov. Perry the following:

Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. [Applause] Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

Gov. Perry responds:

No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which—when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.

Never struggled with the thought that there’s even the slightest possibility that an innocent man has been executed on his watch at all? The fact that five men who were once on death row who were exonerated on his watch doesn’t give Gov. Perry even a little pause? Five men who would have been executed had Gov. Perry had his way? And even after the recent revelation via exculpatory DNA evidence that an innocent man, Claude Jones was executed just before Gov. George W. Bush handed the governorship to Perry and ascended to the presidency?

If Gov. Perry is so certain of the guilt of every single individual who has been executed on his watch, why does he continue to stymie investigations into the Willingham case? Perhaps even more importantly, why does Gov. Perry continue to block efforts to allow Hank Skinner to have DNA testing which would determine once and for all if Skinner is the murderer Gov. Perry thinks he is before executing him this coming November?

What is Gov. Perry so afraid of?

Gov. Perry would have us believe that the “very clear process” in Texas is so perfect that there is just no way that a wrongfully convicted person could be executed. He is either in denial or doesn’t care if the occasional innocent person is killed by the state (and even if Willingham wasn’t a murderer, he was still “a bad man” so who cares right?). The death penalty is just the sort of a punishment that neither Gov. Perry nor the State of Texas can live without. Judging by the thunderous applause at the very mention of Texas’ 234 executions at the Reagan Library, sadly Gov. Perry is hardly alone in a Republican Party where the majority of its members ironically and hypocritically call themselves “pro-life.”

West Memphis 3 Freed with Alford Plea

MSNBC Reports a very big development in the West Memphis 3 case:

JONESBORO, Ark. — Three men convicted of killing three 8-year-old Cub Scouts were freed Friday after nearly two decades in prison and after a judge OK’d a deal with prosecutors.

Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley agreed to change their pleas from not guilty to guilty in the 1993 killings in West Memphis, Ark.

They did so using a legal maneuver that lets them maintain their innocence while acknowledging prosecutors likely had enough evidence to convict them.

After the closed hearings before a judge, Baldwin told reporters that he had been reluctant to plead guilty to crimes he maintains he didn’t commit, but that he went along so as to help Echols, who was on death row.

“That’s not justice, however you look at it,” he said of the deal.

Echols called the 18 years of prison and appeals “an absolute living hell.”

“It’s not perfect,” he said of the deal. “It’s not perfect by any means. But it at least brings closure to some areas and some aspects. We can still bring up new evidence.”

I confess – I’ve never heard of an Alford plea until today. The article goes on to explain:

Friday’s move was a complicated legal proceeding that protects Arkansas from a potential lawsuit should the men win a new trial, get acquitted, and seek to sue the state for wrongful imprisonment, Prosecutor Ellington said.

The men agreed to what’s known as an Alford plea. Normally, when defendants plead guilty in criminal cases, they admit that they’ve done the crime in question.

But in an Alford plea, defendants are allowed to insist they’re innocent, says Kay Levine, a former prosecutor who now teaches at Emory University in Atlanta. She is not involved with the Arkansas case.

It seems to me that this was a compromise that neither the WM3’s defense team nor the prosecutors could refuse. The defense team and their clients believed they would ultimately prevail with the discovery of DNA evidence that was supposed to be presented in December of this year. On the other hand, the possibility of losing (again) would have put Damien Echols at risk once again of receiving a death sentence. Turning down the opportunity to have their freedom back must have also been nearly irresistible – even if it meant pleading guilty to a heinous crime they continue to maintain they did not commit.

For the prosecution this move was IMO about saving face and protecting West Memphis from being exposed to lawsuits or compensation the WM3 may otherwise have been entitled to. The prosecution would not have been able to get away with the kinds of shenanigans they got away with the first time due to the media attention the case has received and would continue to receive.

It’s a damn shame that this is the closest to just result as this case will ever get. No compensation from West Memphis to the wrongfully convicted. No real closure for the families. And perhaps most importantly, there will be no justice for the 3 boys who were killed by unknown person(s) who will now almost certainly get away with their murders.

While it’s true that justice wasn’t served with this plea deal, it’s certainly better than these young men spending another second in prison. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley are now free men and can continue the pursuit of clearing their names once and for all.

The video below is the press conference that was held earlier today with the WM3 and their legal team.

Related Post: Disturbed Offers New Single Download to Support ‘West Memphis 3’

5 New Orleans Cops Convicted on 25 Counts in Post-Katrina Shootings

A new chapter in one of the more disturbing occurrences following hurricane Katrina came to a close today in a jury verdict that found 5 New Orleans cops guilty on 25 counts.

The AP reports (via The Houston Chronicle):

NEW ORLEANS — A federal jury on Friday convicted five current or former New Orleans police officers of civil rights violations in one of the lowest moments for city police in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: the shooting deaths of a teenager and a mentally disabled man as they crossed a bridge in search of food and help.

[…]

Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon were convicted of civil rights violations in the shootings that killed two people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the storm. They face possible life prison sentences.

Retired Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman and the other four men also were convicted of engaging in a brazen cover-up that included a planted gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports. The five men were convicted of all 25 counts they faced.

[…]

Faulcon was found guilty of fatally shooting Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, but the jury decided his killing didn’t amount to murder. Faulcon, Gisevius, Bowen and Villavaso were convicted in the death of 17-year-old James Brissette. Jurors didn’t have to decide whether Brissette was murdered because they didn’t hold any of the defendants individually responsible for causing his death.

The documentary series Frontline had an investigative report on this case entitled “Law & Disorder” (episode below).

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

Call to action: Stop the police cyber-state

There is a scary bill working its way through Congress right now: H.R. 1981 – the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011

While this sounds like a worthy goal, the bill features a repressive data retention requirement that would open ordinary Americans to abuse from government as well as cyber-criminals. Specifically, the bill requires that the temporary IP address of users of commercial ISP access be retained along with identifying information for 18 months.

Here’s a quick primer on how your computer gets on the internet with the average commercial ISP:

  1. You plug the phone line/TV cable into this modem.
  2. The modem establishes a connection with the ISP through the phone line/TV cable.
  3. The modem is assigned an IP address (e.g. 71.119.121.143)
  4. You hook a computer or a router into the modem.
  5. This computer or router is assigned an IP address (either 192.168.xxx.xxx or 10.xxx.xxx.xxx)
  6. If you hooked up a router, then the computers hooked to it will be assigned IP addresses by the router.

The important thing here is that only the IP address of the modem is visible to the ISP. There could be one, five, or fifty computers sitting behind that modem, but to the ISP all that traffic would be coming from a single IP.

Let’s look now at a couple of cases in which child pornography might be requested by a machine behind an IP without the ISP customer’s knowledge:

  1. The WiFi Stealer: The customer is running a poorly-secured wireless access point. A neighbor looking to download child porn cracks the security and uses the access point to download the material.
  2. The Virus: A computer virus makes it on to one of the customer’s machines. It is programmed to fetch data from child porn websites and relay it to the virus creator.

Note that in both cases, the customer of the ISP and those living in his household wouldn’t even know their connection had been used to download child porn until they got the knock on the door. Aside from the thousands of families each year whose lives would be disrupted by purely mistaken prosecutions, setting this standard in law would make it possible to deliberately set people up to undergo a time-consuming and costly legal battle.

If that weren’t bad enough, the requirement to retain “identifying account data” is troublesome as well. What could be so bad about keeping the name of the customer for 18 months? Nothing, except keeping the name alone won’t do what the bill wants. As someone who’s designed software to match identities, I can say with certainty that in practice this requirement would force retention, at a minimum, of customer name, address, and date of birth. Most ISPs would probably go farther and retain a unique ID number such as a Social Security Number or a financial ID number such as a credit/debit card number or checking account number.

But wait a minute, you say. Don’t ISPs already have all this?

Yes, they do. Today, they are not required to relate the assigned IP addresses for the last 18 months to it. This requires storing the customer data in such a way that it can be related to the IP addresses, as well as being recalled later for use by law enforcement.

The simple fact of making it usable for law enforcement makes it less secure. The logs have to be linked to the customer accounts, meaning that the data is likely exposed to the internet. All the data has to be recalled as plain text, meaning that weaker encryption practices must be used. Even if everything is done perfectly right, an interface must be built to get the data out and to law enforcement, meaning that a bad actor inside an ISP has a ready-made portal to all sorts of personally-identifiable information.

Sounds pretty bad, right? It’s worse than you think. Corporate records are not subject to the same Fourth Amendment protections as individual records. Currently, to find out everything an ISP user is doing, law enforcement needs to prove its case and get a warrant. Under this bill, your internet activity would be pre-existing corporate records. No more warrants. Government wants to find out about your IP address, they subpoena the ISP for that record and they get information about you without having to prove a thing.

This bill is bad, folks. We need each of our readers to step up and contact your Representative and encourage them to say NO to this bill that treats all internet users as criminals.

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