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The Debate Over NSA Spying is Finished. Or is it?

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Jackson Jones Comments are off

On Tuesday, the United States Senate gave final passage to the USA Freedom Act, but not without drama on the floor of the upper chamber. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered three amendments that, if passed, would have weakened the bill.

With the support of hawks in the Senate Republican Conference, McConnell proposed amendments that would have increased the transition period from three to six months, removed essential transparency requirements, and required private companies to notify the federal government if they changed their data retention policies. Each of the amendments failed, falling short of the majority needed for passage.

After the USA Freedom Act passed with significant bipartisan support, a visibly irritated McConnell railed against the bill from the floor, lecturing his colleagues that the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” doesn’t cover phone records.

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“No content. No names. No listening to the phone calls of law-abiding citizens. We are talking about call data records,” said McConnell. “And these are the provider’s records, which is not what the Fourth Amendment speaks to. It speaks to: ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.’”

Part of the legal justification for bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is grounded in a little-known 1979 case, Smith v. Maryland, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the installation of the pen register on the phone of Michael Lee Smith without a warrant was not a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. But as Jim Harper of the Cato Institute has explained, this interpretation of the case is wildly misleading.

“It is not possible to argue honestly that the facts of Smith are anything like the NSA’s bulk data collection. The police had weighty evidence implicating one man. The telephone company voluntarily applied a pen register, collecting analog information about the use of one phone line by that one suspect,” Harper wrote in August 2013. “I can’t think of a factual situation that could be at a further extreme than NSA’s telephone calling surveillance program.”

Add to Harper’s point that Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act allowed only the collection of records related to specific investigation into terrorism. It didn’t permit the bulk collection of all phone records of every American, a fact that was noted recently by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Although several organizations and tech companies backed the USA Freedom Act, the bill wasn’t without opposition because it didn’t go far enough to protect Americans’ privacy. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., made his opposition clear because he wanted the ability to offer amendments to strengthen the bill.

Others, like Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., believe the USA Freedom Act merely shifts the method of bulk collection from the National Security Agency to private phone companies. The USA Freedom Act, Amash said after it passed the House of Representatives in mid-May, “actually expands the statutory basis for the large-scale collection of most data.”

But with debate on the USA Freedom Act now over, at least for now, President Barack Obama’s signature on the bill, some may be asking what’s next. The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the administration is seeking to restart the bulk collection program “temporarily” to transition “the domestic surveillance effort to the telephone companies that generate the so-called ‘call detail records’ the government seeks to access.”

So, just to be clear, the administration will, according to The Guardian, “argue it needs to restart the program in order to end it.” Add that one to the growing list of Orwellian statements from this administration, and put it right under “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” and “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Don’t be surprised when Garland is used as an excuse to renew the Patriot Act

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, National Defense, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Jackson Jones Comments are off

Supporters of the NSA’s domestic spying programs say that a vast data collection effort is needed more than ever to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States, but they are unable to point to any specific example of foiled terrorist plots through these unconstitutional, privacy-violating programs.

In June 2013, Gen. Keith Alexander, then the Director of the NSA, claimed that the spying programs prevented “potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11.” Testifying before a Senate committee in October of the same year, Alexander backtracked after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) grilled him for misleading the American public.

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“There is no evidence that [bulk] phone records collection helped to thwart dozens or even several terrorist plots,” said Leahy. “These weren’t all plots and they weren’t all foiled. Would you agree with that, yes or no?” he asked the NSA chief.

Alexander, realizing he had been put on the spot for peddling misinformation, simply replied, “Yes.”

Of course Alexander was more honest than his colleague, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who lied about the NSA domestic surveillance program in a March 2013 Senate hearing. He was accused of perjury, although the allegation went nowhere in a Congress filled with pro-surveillance members.

Two government panels – President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board – have since determined that NSA’s domestic spying programs have not played a role in thwarting terrorist attacks.

The attack on Sunday evening in Garland, Texas at the “Draw Muhammad” event hosted by an anti-Islam organization will undoubtedly be used as a reason to reauthorize a soon-to-expire provision, Section 215, of the USA PATRIOT Act by which the federal government claims the vast authority to spy on Americans.

But such claims should be met with a large dose of skepticism. One of the suspects involved in the attack had already come across the FBI’s radar. The United States’ top law enforcement agency began investigating him in 2006 on the suspicion that he wanted to join a terrorist group in Somalia.

The alleged attacker lied to federal authorities. He was convicted in 2010 of making false statements and sentenced to three years of probation. He was, however, able to avoid being placed on the “no-fly” list.

The alleged attackers in Garland are precisely are the needle for which the federal government claims that it needs the haystack, and intelligence and law enforcement officials failed to prevent what could have been a mass murder.

The NSA’s resources are spread too thin. Collecting the phone calls of virtually every American – the proverbial “haystack” – even if the people on the call are not suspected of any terrorist involvement, not only betrays the constitutionally protected rights defined by the Fourth Amendment, but also makes Americans less safe because intelligence agencies may not be able to connect the dots efficiently and effectively.

Rather than using the Garland attack as tool to further reauthorization of Section 215, which expires on June 1, lawmakers should seriously reexamine the approach to intelligence, requiring agencies like the NSA to focus on actual terrorism suspects as opposed to innocent Americans calling their families and friends.

Ayn Rand and American Indians

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Libertarian Stances on Issues, Property Rights by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 11 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

QUESTION: How do libertarians feel about this Ayn Rand statement: “[The Native Americans] didn’t have any rights to the land and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using… [W]hat was it that they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence. Their right to keep part of the earth untouched, unused, and not even as property, but just keep everybody out, so that you can live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves above it…. Any white person who could bring the element of civilization had the right to take over this country.”

MY SHORT ANSWER: I’ve never seen this comment before; thanks for sharing! Most libertarians — myself included — would disagree with it.

Native Americans did conceive of, and recognize, property rights for scarce resources, such as Naturefishing rights in rivers, which were generally held and passed down in families. Land property wasn’t usually scarce; property rights usually aren’t well-defined when a resource is abundant, since there is no competition for it. Consequently, Native Americans often did not establish land boundaries, homestead particular parcels, or recognize land claims. Some exceptions included an individual or family’s farmed fields and tribal hunting grounds.

Although by European standards, the Native American existence might be considered primitive, the land wasn’t untouched or unused. Native Americans used the land primarily to hunt, to fish, and to farm, but used sustainable practices to insure future sources of food. Natives living in our rainforests today are in a similar position as Native Americans were; libertarians often donate to a legal fund so that they can litigate for recognition of their homesteading claims.

LEARN MORE: Suggestions for further reading on this topic, from Liberator Online editor James W. Harris:

* “The most ignorant thing Ayn Rand ever said?“ by Timothy Sandefur. Sandefur , a Pacific Legal Foundation attorney, Cato Institute adjunct scholar, author of several books, and Objectivist, thoughtfully examines the quote, Rand’s fallacies on this issue, and the context of her remarks.

SequoyahEXCERPT: “I consider myself an Objectivist; I think Ayn Rand’s philosophical and political arguments are basically correct, and I enjoy her literature tremendously. But I think it’s important for Objectivists to acknowledge when Rand was wrong about something, and there can be no doubt she was wrong [in this quote]… The Cherokee had property rights, as well as a written constitution, newspapers, a formal government, schools, and a capital city. Other tribes had similar institutions… I think it’s safe to say that Ayn Rand knew virtually nothing about the history of American Indians. In part this is no fault of hers, since historiography and cultural anthropology at that time was pretty shabby, and because that was a period when the silly leftist romanticization of Indians was first reaching a height which is only now diminishing.”

* “Dances With Myths“ by Terry L. Anderson, Reason Magazine, February 1997. Anderson is executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) and a leading free market environmentalist. In this article he gives numerous examples of how, at times, American Indians established and defended property rights.

EXCERPT: “American Indian tribes produced and sustained abundant wealth because they had clear property rights to land, fishing and hunting territories, and personal property. Pre-Columbian Indian history is replete with examples of property rights conditioning humans’ relations with the natural environment.”