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To Resist Tyranny, We Must Celebrate and Stand By Our Whistleblowers

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

To Resist Tyranny, We Must Celebrate and Stand By Our Whistleblowers

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The need for transparency was an important talking point during the 2008 presidential elections, but once the current administration had an opportunity to handle information leaked by whistleblowers such as former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in a constitutional manner, making sure that the National Security Agency’s disregard for privacy was investigated, the Barack Obama administration decided to, instead, start one of the most effective anti-whistleblower campaigns in the history of the United States.

SnowdenAccording to Tech Dirt, the current administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. And what the most recent case of official mishandling of another NSA whistleblower proves is that officials are oblivious of what due process is all about.

Recently, Foreign Policy reported, another NSA whistleblower attempted to “go through the proper channels” in order to report issues she felt that should be addressed by her superiors. Instead of investigating her complaints, the FBI raided her house.

According to Foreign Policy, the FBI suspended the whistleblower’s clearances without giving her any reason. The publication also explained that she “wasn’t allowed at work, and for two years, the NSA made her ‘call every day like a criminal, checking in every morning before 8.’”

The report continues:

“[Elham] Khorasani went to the agency only for interrogations, she says: eight or nine sessions that ran at least five hours each. She was asked about her family, her travel, and her contacts.”

According to Khorasani, the “special” treatment she received from the FBI only came after the NSA whistleblower set up a meeting with Thomas Drake, another whistleblower prosecuted by the current administration. She had decided to meet with Drake in order to learn more on how she should proceed to make an effective complaint regarding what she calls an unfair reassignment. Once she contacted Drake, he explained that too much time had already passed, and that her efforts would be fruitless from that point on.

He allegedly told her that she had “the bull’s-eyes on” her. “You’re done.”

Khorasani’s story may have been covered by Foreign Policy, but countless others haven’t been pursued. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one to have suffered increased scrutiny over her decision to pursue proper channels in order to have her complaints investigated. According to Foreign Policy’s James Bamford, people under suspicion of misconduct such as Khorasani are often given a special red badge, which replaces the blue card used by employees and contractors with access to secure facilities.

This sort of scarlet letter, Foreign Policy reports, often forces employees to live in “purgatory.” During the entire process, they are never told why they are under scrutiny. And in many cases, they are given jobs inside the gardening department or at the NSA’s museum.

To Tech Dirt, the United States doesn’t have enough whistleblowers because the “proper channels” simply don’t work, which is what the Khorasani case shows us.

If more people within the US government had more incentives to speak out and more often, we would be able to hold our officials accountable. “Unrestrained power may be many things,” Edward Snowden wrote recently, “but it’s not American… We, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government.”

If resistance to tyranny is what we’re looking for, Snowden contends, “Change has to flow from the bottom to the top.”

4/20 Weed Sales Prove the War on Drugs is Hindering Economic Development

in Drugs, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

4/20 Weed Sales Prove the War on Drugs is Hindering Economic Development

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

On April 20th, marijuana enthusiasts celebrate what they call a national holiday. With the sales of marijuana products exceeding the $37.5 million mark on this past 4/20, the ongoing efforts to put an end to the drug war and their lucrative consequences show that entrepreneurs have a lot to gain once the substance is rescheduled federally.

Woman_smoking_marijauana (1)Former aide to President Richard Nixon John Ehrlichman, who served time in prison over his involvement with the Watergate scandal, allegedly admitted that the drug war launched by the Nixon administration had two targets, “the antiwar left and black people.”

Ehrlichman allegedly told journalist Dan Baum that members of the Nixon White House “knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

As US states disrupt the ongoing federal effort to put an end to drug consumption in America by passing their own marijuana legalization laws, the drug war is finally unwinding, at least partially.

According to Fox News, marijuana retailers registered a 30 percent increase in retail transactions on 4/20. The report comes from a software company that provides global cannabis businesses seed-to-sale tracking systems known as MJ Freeway. The startup, which was launched in 2010, is able to sift through data from cannabis retailers, producing an accurate analysis of 40 percent of America’s cannabis market.

As more states join the legalization bandwagon by passing recreational marijuana bills, legal retail sales are estimated to reach $6.7 billion by the end of 2016. As entrepreneurs heap the benefits, the industry promotes economic growth by offering great employment opportunities for residents of the states where weed is legal.

On April 20, MJ Freeway has disclosed, legally-licensed cannabis retail locations across the country sold $10,822 worth of products on average. The days before and after 4/20 have also seen a boost in sales. According to MJ, legal weed retailers sold $6,208 on April 19 and $5,442 on April 18 also on average.

California saw the largest dollar amount sold on April 20, beating others like Colorado and Washington, where recreational weed is legal. Colorado ended up beating all other states by having higher sales on average on April 20th.

While these numbers seem promising, it’s hard to assess just how much wealthier the country would be if all drug laws put in place in the name of an undeclared war on immoral behavior were lifted.

While discussing the health consequences associated with drug use is important, the burden should be shared by local communities, where individuals have access to religious entities and other privately-organized groups that support addicts, not in the hands of law enforcement.

As the country becomes increasingly enamoured with the idea of bringing the drug war to a halt, libertarian advocates claim that even gun violence would suffer a major blow once laws criminalizing drug consumption and sales are dropped.

According to Cato Institute’s Adam Bates, the only “common sense” approach to the gun violence issue in America is to end the drug war. After all, more than 2,000 homicides a year are gang-related, the government estimates. What is Washington waiting for?

Man Accused of Stealing Tomatoes Sues Off-Duty Cop Over Unlawful Arrest, Brutality

in Criminal Justice, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

Man Accused of Stealing Tomatoes Sues Off-Duty Cop Over Unlawful Arrest, Brutality

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

A man from Atlanta, Georgia is suing an off-duty police officer over an incident that left him with broken bones and a severed artery.

CarnegayThe October 2014 incident, which was caught on camera, shows the off-duty cop beating Tyrone Carnegay. The officer was working as a security guard for Walmart at the time. According to the lawsuit, Carnegay was accused of stealing a tomato by the store’s manager, which prompted the officer’s aggressive reaction. After the encounter, Carnegay was rushed to the hospital with a broken leg and severed artery where he was handcuffed to the bed. After receiving treatment, the victim was sent to jail, where he stayed for three days. Charges were eventually dropped and no evidence of theft was found.

Due to his injuries, Carnegay now walks with a limp because of the titanium rod in his leg.

In an interview to WSB-TV, Carnegay claimed that the officer gave him a command to “get on the ground” while beating him with his baton. According to the footage of the incident, the officer hit Carnegay’s leg at least seven times. The officer reportedly never asked him for a receipt before the attack, but once Carnegay was subdued and placed in handcuffs, the officer allegedly reached into his pockets where he found a receipt showing Carnegay had paid for the tomato.

According to Craig Jones, the victim’s attorney, this incident could have been avoided if the officer had asked Carnegay a simple question. Instead of asking the customer for a receipt, “the officer went into Robocop mode and beat the crap out of him,” Jones told news organizations.

The lawsuit names the store’s manager, the officer, and Walmart, but the Atlanta Police has not been involved.

This is not the only wrongful arrest story to have hit the news recently.

According to the Baltimore Sun, six men who were arrested during last year’s Baltimore protests against police brutality have recently filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department. The suit alleges the six men were wrongfully arrested in what the plaintiffs claim to be an unconstitutional violation of their protected speech rights.

While the circumstances under which these men were arrested are different from Carnegay’s, both cases showcase an issue prompted by the country’s ongoing overcriminalization efforts.

As the nation struggles to abandon its addiction to passing too many laws, law enforcement agents are trained to act as if civilians are the enemies in an undeclared war against the individual.

Unless we address this issue by helping others understand the importance of limiting government bodies, not individual liberties, the issue of police brutality will never be fully tackled.

In a column for Bloomberg, Yale Law School Professor Stephen Carter wrote that, on “the opening day of law school,” he always counsels his “first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce.”

Are they listening?

California Legislators Move to Ban Warrantless Drone Surveillance

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

California Legislators Move to Ban Warrantless Drone Surveillance

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Drones are all the rage again, for very good reasons.

dronesAccording to the Tenth Amendment Center, California legislators have taken an important pro-privacy stance by considering a bill that restricts warrantless drone surveillance in the Golden State. Assembly Bill 1820 would prohibit state and local law enforcement from using drones to spy on suspects without a warrant. The bill also helps to thwart federal surveillance, serving as what many like to call a nullification tool against the federal government’s intractable and unconstitutional thirst for control.

Introduced by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, a Democrat from California’s 20th district, AB 1820 unanimously passed a second Assembly committee last week. If signed into law, the piece of legislation would prohibit law enforcement from making use of drone surveillance over private property without a warrant while also establishing that, in some cases, the property owner must give officers express permission before the drone is launched. Weaponized drones could also be banned from the Golden State if AB 1820 were to pass.

While privacy advocates have reason to celebrate and hope for the best in this case, Tenth Amendment Center’s advocates are particularly excited about the bill’s impact on the federal surveillance state.

According to the organization’s blog, AB 1820 thwarts the federal government’s surveillance plans by keeping California from being tempted by the federal government’s perverse incentives.

Currently, funding for drones comes from the federal government. Once the handouts are transferred to state officials and drones are used in local investigations, information gathered by local officials is fed into fusion centers used in a federal program known as the Information Sharing Environment, which was created in 2004 as part of the country’s fruitless War on Terror. The information scored by ISE is then shared with other agencies. The fact some of this information is extracted in an unconstitutional and illegal fashion is never taken into consideration.

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, the federal government “encourages and funds a network of drones at the state and local level across the U.S.,” making the passage of this bill a step toward breaking the federal government’s influx of Californians’ personal data.

With the restrictions proposed by AB 1820, data available to the feds is limited, forcing them to attempt to get the data they need on their own. Without the resources from the states, the federal government is hit with a burdensome blow, effectively hurting the surveillance state and helping to protect your right to privacy.

While the bill is a step in the right direction, Tenth Amendment Center reports that it does allow for certain exceptions involving warrant requirements in emergency situations in which the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle could prevent immediate danger of death or injury to individuals. The bill also establishes that drones can be deployed over private properties in the event of natural disasters.

The Assembly Committee on Public Safety passed AB 1820 without a single nay while California’s Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection passed the proposal 6-5. Now, the bill is expected to move to the Appropriations committee, where lawmakers will review the legislation.

The Financial Burden Tied to Nonviolent Crimes is Destroying Poor Communities

in Capital Punishment, Criminal Justice, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Victimless Crime by Alice Salles Comments are off

The Financial Burden Tied to Nonviolent Crimes is Destroying Poor Communities

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

A terribly tragic incident involving a man from Texas is receiving little attention from the media.

According to Yahoo! News, Patrick Joseph Brown, a 46-year-old man accused of stealing a guitar, was booked on a misdemeanor theft charge on April 3. Forty-eight hours after failing to post bail, Brown was found beaten to a pulp in the cell he shared with several other men, including three men who had been charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily harm. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

PrisonWhile authorities in Harris County aren’t aware of what prompted the violent act, Brown was placed in a cell with violent suspects due to his failure to come up with $3,000. Brown’s teenage son is devastated.

To proponents of a comprehensive criminal justice reform, the financial burden tied to minor or drug-related crimes has become a reason of concern.

The drug war, for instance, has had a real impact on the poor across the United States. But the financial burden tied to other non-violent crimes has also been affecting low-income communities across the board.

Harriet Cleveland, a 49-year-old mother of three in Alabama, was arrested after not being able to pay a series of traffic tickets. She had accumulated a number of citations because she had been driving without a license for some time. She also had no insurance.

While Cleveland says she knew what she was doing “was wrong,” she had no choice. She had just found a job after some time, a part-time gig that paid her $7.25 per hour, and her son had to be taken to school. She felt that the tickets could wait. Unfortunately, the police didn’t agree.

After she was arrested, the judge sentenced her to two years of probation with Judicial Correction Services, a private probation company. Cleveland had to pay JCS $200 a month, the judge ordered. While Cleveland was able to make her payments throughout the first year, gathering whatever she could find to put the money together, she eventually fell behind on payments. After losing her part-time job, Cleveland had to turn in all of her income-tax rebate to JCS instead of fixing the holes in her bedroom walls. By summer of 2012, “the total court costs and fines had soared from hundreds of dollars incurred by the initial tickets to $4,713, including more than a thousand dollars in private-probation fees.”

In the past three decades, the size of America’s incarcerated population quadrupled. The overcriminalization of America has been, along with the drug war, partially to blame for this phenomena.

With federal agencies and state governments attaching jail time to otherwise non-criminal behavior, even private companies that rely on the criminal justice system like Judicial Correction Services saw an opportunity to fill in the gaps by offering the state the services public law enforcement agencies are supposed to offer but are unable to. Instead of looking at the laws for an answer to this problem—identifying what kind of laws should be scraped, and what kind of behavior should be spared jail time—many justice activists believe that the solution is to put an end to what they call “policing for profit.”

But whether non-violent arrestees are trapped in a cycle of debt and incarceration because of mounting court debt or because of other probation company fees, we must look deeper into this matter by identifying ways of only arresting those who have committed crimes worthy of jail time.

Jail is not the best place for a mother of three who’s struggling to make ends meet but nor is it a safe place for a non-violent arrestee taken into custody for allegedly stealing a guitar. If criminal justice reformers are serious about their goals, tackling the overcriminalization problem in the United States is the only solution.

California Senate Passes Powdered Alcohol Ban, Proving Everything is Terrible

in Consumer Protection, Drugs, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

California Senate Passes Powdered Alcohol Ban, Proving Everything is Terrible

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Government’s busybodies are always trying to find new issues so they may be blown out of proportion in the hopes the population will agree. And as it so often happens, these issues are frequently turned into threats that must be contained. By all means necessary.

AlcoholIn California, a state often mocked due to its anti-entrepreneurial regulations, legislators have just passed a new ban that will certainly make residents of the Golden State 100 percent safe.

Just kidding.

According to local news sources, the California Senate has just passed a new bill that officially bans powdered alcohol. The piece of legislation was defended by legislators who were concerned that teens could be using the powdered alcohol in “dangerous ways.”

SB 819 was approved in a unanimous vote this past Monday and it’s now on its way to the state Assembly. The product under threat here, which is often referred to as Palcohol, has been banned in several other states. If the CA state assembly approves the measure, it will make the Golden State the 28th state to have ignored the fact government should not get involved with an individual’s personal choices.

Introduced by Senate Minority Leader Emeritus Bob Huff, a Republican from San Dimas, the bill states that Palcohol sales would be forbidden across the state. The product, which is a freeze dried alcohol that comes in a small pouch, was approved for sale by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau in the United States in March of 2015. Ever since then, states have been debating whether the sale of these products should be barred. According to Palcohol creator Mark Phillips, the fact federal and state governments are attempting to deny “millions of responsible adults and hundreds of businesses a chance to use this legal, safe and revolutionary new product” is concerning. But California Senate legislators won’t have any of it.

According to Sen. Huff, powdered alcohol must be banned because it may be snorted or added to drinks that already come with alcohol, making them potential dangers to teenagers.

But the sale of alcohol to minors is already banned in California.

According to state law, the sale of alcohol to minors is illegal. But the sale itself is not the only issue. Holding parties and offering alcohol to minors is also illegal. Allowing an underage person to drink from a glass or pitcher belonging to an adult is also against state law.

If the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 across the state was already prohibited, was it really necessary to ban powdered altogether, keeping responsible adults away from the product over concerns that individuals may abuse it?

To libertarian scholars like Cato Institute’s Michael D. Tanner, “legislators at all levels of government try to make everything their business.” But instead of helping, legislators often create more problems.

Why not try freedom instead and allow people to make their own decisions for themselves?

America’s Founding Fathers complained that King George III had “erected a Multitude of New Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their Substance.” By releasing the country from Great Britain’s grip, they hoped to create a culture of skepticism toward governments claiming to have a say on everything Americans did.

Have they lost this battle?

What are the Hidden Costs of Sending Children to Government Schools?

in Children's Rights, Conversations With My Boys, Liberator Online, Marriage and Family, Personal Liberty by The Libertarian Homeschooler Comments are off

What are the Hidden Costs of Sending Children to Government Schools?

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Editor’s Note: Although this isn’t strictly a conversation, it’s something to think about when weighing the educational options for one’s children. 

School If I took a blow to the head and decided to go to a 9-5 j.o.b. and tried to provide something close to what the boys get at home now I’d have to pay for the following:

–Private school
–Hidden costs associated with school (projects, parties, fund raisers, etc.)
–Someone to run them to activities
–Additional medical due to increased sickness in self and children
–Sick child care
–Testing for BA
–OT for auditory processing/sequencing (I wouldn’t have time)
–Tutoring for reading (I wouldn’t have time)
–Sports for both boys
–Sports equipment
–Professional wardrobe for me
–Uniforms for boys
–Dry cleaning
–Additional meals out
–Housekeeper
–Help in the shop–boys do this now
–Help with yard maintenance –boys do this now

That’s just off the top of my head. The private schooling, the nanny/child care, OT, tutoring, and sports alone would eat anything I brought in. And that’s just the money.

I suspect if they were in school there would be a fair amount of despair in the life of my oldest who is independent and sets his own path. Despair in the life of an adolescent who lives big is usually expensive. Emotionally expensive and monetarily expensive. I’ve seen it end in therapy for anger. I’ve seen it end in a trip to the hospital for a child who was acting out. There’s worse. Best not to go there.

I can’t imagine what would happen to BA in the hands of even the most caring teachers. He’s, frankly, our child to raise. There is no outsourcing him and keeping him whole. That’s all there is to say about that.

Raising and educating our sons takes up a lot of room in my head. Room that would be taken up by work if I were going to a 9-5. I wouldn’t be able to devote as much time to observing them and figuring out what was really happening developmentally, intellectually, emotionally, physically. I couldn’t set up independent studies, mentoring, apprenticing. There simply wouldn’t be as much time for me to be the expert on our sons. That’s work that can’t be sent out.

That’s my work to do. Besides their dad, there’s no one in the world who has as much skin in the game as I have.

Sometimes the parent who stays with the children wonders what it would be like if they worked a 9-5 j.o.b.. If you do that, make sure you put everything on the scales. Being away from your children will have hidden costs and unintended consequences, good and bad.

The War on ‘Unwanted Behavior’ Hits the Sidewalks

in Liberator Online, Libertarianism, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Philosophy by Alice Salles Comments are off

The War on ‘Unwanted Behavior’ Hits the Sidewalks

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Distracted driving has been this age’s boogeyman for quite sometime. Once the public campaign against the behavior gained traction, it ended up prompting state lawmakers across the country to pass distracted law bills and ordinances throughout most of the United States. But as studies prove that restrictive laws tied to phone use behind the wheel are actually making roads less safe, many carry on with the belief that things will only get better when we start passing even more laws.

Phone In New Jersey, Democratic State Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt has been under the spotlight for trying to penalize pedestrians who walk while looking at their phones. The ban on texting while walking would reportedly cost pedestrians $50 per citation. Offenders could also be required to attend classes on highway safety.

Since the proposal was allegedly mocked by several publications in the state, Watchdog.org reports, Assemblywoman Lampitt was forced to pull the bill from consideration. The backlash was so powerful that it’s nearly impossible to find anything official on the bill in the state legislature’s website. But according to Watchdog, if the bill had seen the light of day, repeating offenders could end up in jail.

In a statement reproduced by NJ.com, Assemblywoman Lampitt is quoted as saying that “like distracted drivers,” distracted walkers are endangering the lives of other drivers. But what is catching the attention of many skeptics, is how proponents of such ban believe that, because distracted walking presents a danger to those using their phones while walking, the enactment of a ban is justified. Is that good enough?

To Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at Cato Institute, US lawmakers have embraced the tyranny of good intentions, creating generations of Americans who are dependent on the government for their every need. To Bandow, “emotion and intention seem to have become principal determinants of government policy,” and the results are tragic.

When politicians claim to be acting for the public good, Bandow wrote, they often ignore the consequences. But “consequences are critical.” Ignoring how certain laws written to criminalize particular behaviors have unwanted consequences won’t make the potentially negative ramifications go away.

Instead of creating a situation in which lawmakers have to address the negative consequences of bad policies down the road, politicians should focus on taking a closer look at how their current proposals may affect people in the long run before pushing new bills.

Thankfully, laws targeting pedestrians with smartphones don’t seem popular in New Jersey. But such restrictions could become popular elsewhere over time, and the trend to push other states to join the prohibitionist mass will only increase.

Being proactive about our safety doesn’t equal lobbying the government for further restrictions. Instead, responsible drivers and pedestrians must lead by example, showing others that they have chosen to put safety first. Passing laws against phone use will only force people to find new way of doing what they are already doing so law enforcers won’t catch them.

Are we really willing to pretend we care by simply leaving it all up to the government and walking away, or are we willing to prove that only personal responsibility—and vigilance—will keep us safe by standing against this type of policy?

Why Florida’s Asset Forfeiture Reforms Don’t Go Far Enough

in Economic Liberty, Issues, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Why Florida’s Asset Forfeiture Reforms Don’t Go Far Enough

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

If you only got your news from major publications such as the Huffington Post, you wouldn’t have learned that Senate Bill 1044, which was signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott this past Friday, does nothing to help Floridians protect their property from unlawful seizures from law enforcement agencies.

According to Tenth Amendment’s Mike Maharrey, the bill was a step in the right direction. But while the new law attempts to do the right thing, it doesn’t go far enough. It also fails to close the federal loophole that renders state reforms meaningless.

Florida According to SB 1044’s text, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that property being targeted for seizure is linked to a crime before forfeiture is justified.

The bill also states that suspects must be formally prosecuted and convicted of a crime before asset forfeiture can be implemented. But due to the committee hearing process, Maharrey explains, the bill was somewhat diluted before the final text was sent to the governor’s desk.

Instead of applying the conviction requirements evenly, amendments added to the bill ended up trimming said requirements. Now, all that the law requires is an arrest before most assets are seized. To Maharrey, the fact the bill got a great deal of support from politicians from both sides of the aisles is proof that “reforms didn’t go as far as needed.”

But what the bill does get right can be easily neutralized by federal law.

The fact SB 1044 only restricts state agencies, Maharrey argues, gives local law enforcement officials and prosecutors a choice. Instead of taking on asset forfeiture by using their own resources, Florida can simply hand the case over to the federal government, rendering reforms passed into law toothless when it comes to protecting Floridians’ property from government abuse.

The Department of Justice has seized more than $4.5 billion from property owners across the country, which now sits in the agency’s civil asset forfeiture fund. According to the Institute for Justice, that represents a 4,700 percent increase over the last generation. When added to the Treasury Department’s civil asset forfeiture fund, the numbers are even more staggering. According to Cato Institute, the government took more than $5 billion from Americans in 2014 alone, making this the first time in history that the government has seized more money than burglars stole from private citizens.

According to Tenth Amendment’s Maharrey, the federal government is fighting hard to keep civil asset forfeiture laws in place because “the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness.” Unless the federal government’s Equitable Sharing Program, which the Department of Justice has just launched once again, is slashed for good, state and local police will always have incentives to take part in the practice of seizing private property.

Until then, efforts like Florida’s must be celebrated, but not considered our only way out. State reforms will only be effective if they keep local agencies from having access to the stolen gifts presented by the federal government’s poorly written laws.

This LA Gang Member Knows Why the Drug War Doesn’t Work

in Drugs, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

 This LA Gang Member Knows Why the Drug War Doesn’t Work

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Ozy, an online magazine that takes pride in presenting original content crafted by contributors with unique perspectives, has recently published an article allegedly written by “Loko,” a Bloods gang member from Los Angeles, California. In the piece, Loko talks about his life in the City of Angels, how changes to marijuana laws are reshaping local communities, and how other drug restrictions are ruining an entire generation of African Americans.

It’s hard to read his rendition of the current situation without thinking about how countless lives could have been saved if current and past government administrations hadn’t embraced the war on drugs.

Marijuana He opens his comments by claiming that living in the city is a daily struggle. The main problem nowadays, Loko tells Ozy’s Seth Ferranti, is “crystal.”

Methamphetamine, Loko explains, is what all of the “homeboys are using. … Blood, Crip, it doesn’t matter.” Meth is such a problem in LA that everyone “is going crazy.” But what makes it an issue isn’t that locals have easy access to the substance. The problem is that meth is illegal. That makes competition a matter of force, not product quality and demand, pitting gangs against gangs over who’s ready to offer the best, most potent crystal meth there is.

To Loko, the meth phenomena is “the second coming of crack.” And while it’s making many gangsters rich, it’s also hurting entire families.

To the Bloods gang member, life has mellowed out considerably after new marijuana policies were signed into law in in the Golden State.

At first, Loko was selling crystal meth he claims to have gotten from “the Mexicans,” but as life happened and his family grew, he decided to go legit. “Weed offers a better opportunity,” he told Ozy. Instead of “hustling” in the streets to push what he calls “super meth, like that Breaking Bad stuff,” he decided to get legalized, obtain a card and documents, and open his own legal dispensary.

“Meth is destroying the Black community,” he told the publication. In the early 2000s, locals didn’t go for meth. Now, it’s the most popular drug around.

According to Vice News, Mexican cartels are responsible for making crystal meth the real deal in Los Angeles.

In 2008, one pound of crystal meth was worth $8,000 to $10,000. The fact other types of substances were more accessible in California’s black market then also helped to keep the price of meth up. But now that weed is legal and that cartels are focusing on other substances, meth is widely available—and cheap. As Mexican cartels started mass producing the drug, the cost of methamphetamine went down. One pound of meth now costs about $3,500, Vice News reports. Seizures of meth at the border between the United States and Mexico have surged 33 percent around San Diego, hitting a record high in 2014. And if Loko is right, there’s no stopping to the trend. Unless the laws change.

According to Jeffrey Miron, the director of economic studies at the Cato Institute, taking on drug cartels and their leaders and getting them out of circulation “will likely have no impact on the drug trade.”

Violence doesn’t cease to exist when the Drug Enforcement Administration catches a kingpin, and yet, most governments in the world embrace prohibitionist policies, making the trade of wanted goods a criminal act. The hype around illegal substances often helps to boost the popularity of destructive substance abuse. Once California loosened its policy toward marijuana production and distribution, many people like Loko made better lives for themselves, distancing their families from the streets’ violent environment.

If policymakers are serious about saving lives and helping people kick drug addiction to the curb, they must begin taking the liberalization of all drug laws seriously, not only those that affect marijuana.

Lawmaker Targets Burner Phones Over Terrorism, Ignores Unintended Consequences Tied to New Restrictions

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, Middle East, National Defense, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

Lawmaker Targets Burner Phones Over Terrorism, Ignores Unintended Consequences Tied to New Restrictions

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

As politicians in Washington DC continue to wage what the late author Gore Vidal called an “idiotic” and “eternal” war on terror, more lawmakers refer to anti-liberty measures to crack down on potential terrorists at home.

Phone A bill known as Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016 seeks to require consumers looking into buying prepaid burner phones to register and provide identification. Requirements would make it impossible for consumers to purchase the so-called burner phones without providing personal information upon purchase. According to Tech Dirt, the bill’s timing may have something to do with reports claiming that burner phones used by Islamist extremists helped them to evade law enforcement.

Democratic congresswoman Jackie Speier, the same lawmaker who introduced the proposal in Congress, called the prepaid phone “loophole” an “egregious gap in our legal framework.” According to the lawmaker and others who support the bill, allowing consumers to purchase anonymous phones helps terrorists and criminals.

This is not the first time Washington DC has targeted regular consumers in their fight against an abstract enemy. Recently, legislators targeted encrypted phones after reports claimed terrorists had used encryption to evade law enforcement. The encryption reports were later debunked.

According to Tech Dirt, the current proposal doesn’t provide a great deal of information on how legislators want to tackle the burner phone issue. But while the bill’s text remains a secret, the proposal has already been referred to three House committees.

If Speier’s proposal is passed by both the House and the Senate and it ends up making it to the president’s desk, customers would have to always provide their personal details to retailers whenever they purchase a burner phone. But what Tech Dirt writers claim is that, even if the law were to pass, it would do little to keep terrorists or criminals from providing their personal information. Instead, Tech Dirt argues, criminals would continue doing what they have already done in the past by using straw purchases or buying directly from resellers.

Much like the debate about background checks for gun purchases, the idea of forcing retailers to request extra information from prepaid phone consumers is likely to backfire, pushing criminals further into the dark. Another potential consequence of passing this law would be that the poor will be the first to suffer.

Too often, low income consumers choose to purchase burner phones because of credit issues or simply because they do not have the identification requirements needed to open an account with a phone service provider. A burner phone law change would end up inflicting further difficulties on those who are already suffering greatly. Furthermore, boosting restrictions could also push the price of these affordable phones up, which will also end up hurting the poor.

If lawmakers are serious about spotting criminals and targeting them—not common and innocent Americans who may not feel comfortable releasing their personal information in exchange for a cheap cell phone—this bill should be tossed. Quickly.

What Makes Sense?

in Conversations With My Boys, Education, Liberator Online, Personal Liberty by The Libertarian Homeschooler Comments are off

What Makes Sense?

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Editors Note: If not for homeschooling, BA would most likely not get the individualized attention that he needs in a regular, public school.

BA (9) is on a quest for full-on literacy: reading, writing, spelling, grammar, vocabulary. He won’t get there like YS (14) did. He’s been trying that way around for almost five years now.

WritingHe’s constantly working on sequencing, motor planning, working memory, motor coordination, timing, pacing, and all the procedural learning strengthening activities he can juggle. All day long. Crossing the mid-line, agility ladder, strengthening his core and upper body, piano for finger strength, writing over top of my writing to get the motions into his muscles, metronome work with large muscles and singing and reading. Drilling letter pairs, faster, faster, faster.

We’re seeing changes in a lot of areas. But not in writing. We’re using a lovely font that worked beautifully for our older son and me. BA has been at it for two relentless months.

No change. None.

He still writes bottom to top, his curves and connections are still highly problematic. He has to use too much of his attention creating the letters to focus on anything else. He can’t take notes this way. He can’t write a paper this way. He can’t write a letter this way.

Me: Do you think the writing is working?
BA: No. It’s not any easier.
Me: (Showing him an impromptu drafting-style lettering.) What about this?
BA: (Immediate relief in his voice.) That looks much easier. That’s how I would write. Look, see? (Writes me his alphabet.) That’s how I want to make letters. The other way doesn’t make sense.
Me: We’re not going to do the other way again. We’re going to use letters that look like this. Upper case will be big and lower case will be small.
And that. Is that.

Innocent Grandma In Hospital After Botched Police Raid

in Liberator Online, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Innocent Grandma In Hospital After Botched Police Raid

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

In what may as well be the hundredth time this type of incident happens, a grandmother from Chicago, Illinois went through the scariest moments of her life when a police officer broke down her door unexpectedly while searching for someone else.

The 82-year-old ended up in the hospital after the scare.

GrandmaAccording to Washington Post’s Radley Balko, the great-grandmother from Chicago claims police raided her home while searching for a man she wasn’t acquainted with. In an interview for ABC News, the 82-year-old Elizabeth Harrison said the police “were there with the guns drawn: ‘Put your hands up! Put your hands up! Put your hands up!’” They asked for a “young man that they were looking for. And they would not take no for an answer that I didn’t know him.”

As officers explained Harrison and her family they could file a claim to have the poor old lady’s door fixed, the man officers had been looking for walked right up to them, telling the inefficient policemen that he lived at 126, not 136, Harrison’s address.

Despite finally catching the suspect, officers didn’t even take him into custody, claiming there wasn’t enough evidence for an arrest.

After the incident, the elderly woman was rushed to the hospital where a doctor is now monitoring her heart due to the frightening encounter.

In his article, Balko claims that this is not the first time this type of accident happens.

In 2014, a botched New Hampshire drug raid resulted in the shooting of another grandmother. No charges were brought against the federal agent and the victim survived. In 2010, another grandmother was surprised by federal agents in another botched drug raid. She survived the encounter, but her dog wasn’t as lucky.

During a 2014 police raid in Virginia, a 75-year-old grandmother was restrained, even as she told officers she had nothing to do with their investigation. Officers initially broke down her door and accused her of selling drugs. Despite the fact investigators never found anything on her, the grandmother said officers never apologized for what they did.

While these examples all involve botched raids that did not result in fatalities, the story of a 57-year-old grandmother from Harlem doesn’t have the same happy ending. In 2003, the New York Times reported that a botched raid in Harlem resulted in the death of Alberta Spruill. She had done nothing wrong and the city later paid her family $1.6 million for the mistaken raid.

From the New York Times piece:

“The settlement was notable not so much for the amount as for the speed with which it was reached. It came a mere five and a half months after Ms. Spruill, a longtime city employee, died of a heart attack induced by the use of the grenade in a no-knock raid on her apartment, which the police had been told was used by a drug dealer. At the time, the drug dealer was already in custody.”

The family of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was also paid millions after their grandmother was killed in a botched November 2006 drug raid but the family of an 84-year-old grandma from Texas whose life was also taken during a police raid, weren’t as lucky.

US Gov’t Targets Public Employees With ‘Whistleblower-Like’ Characteristics

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

US Gov’t Targets Public Employees With ‘Whistleblower-Like’ Characteristics

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The United States government may be looking for the “next Chelsea Manning,” a report from The Guardian argues.

ManningAccording to documents obtained by the UK newspaper, disgruntled employees, egomaniacs, and the office “door mat” are all potential whistleblowers under the ever watchful eyes of the US government.

In what many call a witch-hunt, the US government is allegedly placing all public employees under surveillance in order to spot individuals with characteristics that match Chelsea Manning’s profile. According to the government’s own standards, individuals with motives of greed, too much ego, or who experience financial difficulties may become whistleblowers. Employees who are “disgruntled,” or who appear to have “an ideology,” or a “divided loyalty” are also potential risks to the government.

According to Manning’s article, even employees with “any family/personal issues” should be closely watched for potential problems.

As Manning pointed out, anybody holding a security clearance may, at some point, be labeled as a potential threat if officials are trained to single out individuals by looking for the characteristics listed above.

The 31-page document reviewed by The Guardian was originally obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request placed by Chelsea Manning, the former United States Army soldier-turned whistleblower who became famous for leaking information on the US government’s actions in Iraq.

A video leaked by Manning and released by WikiLeaks in 2010 shows two American helicopters firing on a group of ten men, including two Reuters employees who had ben photographing an American Humvee under attack. The footage also shows helicopters firing at a van that had stopped to help the victims of the previous attack. Children inside the van were injured while their father was killed.

Months after Manning was arrested over violations of the Espionage Act, the National Insider Threat Task Force was created, and officials involved with the agency were given the task of deterring threats to national security by anyone “who misuses or betrays, wittingly or unwittingly, his or her authorized access to any US Government resource.” According to Manning, this gives the task force broad powers, resulting in “total surveillance.”

The 2011 “Insider Threat” program that followed Manning’s arrest, or what many call “modern-day McCarthyism,” also teaches officers to spy employees presenting what they believe to be deviations of sexual orientation and gender identity, characteristics that match the government’s profile of Manning.

As the country watches in horror what is now unfolding in Brussels after the deadly terrorist attack that killed over 30 innocent civilians, this report gets buried by the news cycle. With both Republican and Democrat candidates competing to show the county who’s the toughest on foreign policy, liberty advocates like former congressman Ron Paul argue that the American voter will be much more likely to urge government to do more after the Brussels attack, putting both of our safety and liberty in jeopardy.

Under a hawkish administration whose plans include expanding our presence in the Middle East, programs like the “Insider Threat” will be the norm. But can increased surveillance bring us safety?

History shows that the answer is no.

Utah Resolution Claims Pornography is a ‘Health Crisis’ — Lawmakers Want to Handle it Like Tobacco

in First Amendment, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

Utah Resolution Claims Pornography is a ‘Health Crisis’ — Lawmakers Want to Handle it Like Tobacco

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Small government and libertarian advocates often like to poke fun at the nanny state. Now, it just got easier. According to Fox News, the Utah House of Representatives has just passed a resolution that declares pornography a “public health crisis.” The resolution is causing quite the uproar, especially among people who are concerned about the potential ramifications.

CigarettesAccording to S.C.R. 9, “pornography is a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and social harms.” Representatives who authored the resolution state in the document that there’s a “need for education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level,” which must address the “pornography epidemic that is harming the citizens of Utah and the nation.”

While the resolution is nonbinding and is incapable of effectively banning the production or consumption of pornographic material, the fact lawmakers came together to bring this to light seems somewhat unsavory. Especially when you consider the limited role the legislature should have in the private lives of citizens.

“Society must see this evil like the epidemic it is,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a supporter of the resolution and member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “We do need to see this [pornography] like avian flu, cholera, diphtheria or polio, … It needs to be eradicated.”

To Sen. Todd Weiler, a sponsor of the resolution, pornography is “a serious issue.” To the legislator, we must not “pretend that this has no impact on our values and on our society and culture.”

His goal with this resolution is “to start a national movement to do the same thing with pornography—not to ban it, but to protect our children from it.” Seeing Internet providers change their policies in order to adopt an opt-in solution to the pornography issue—much like Great Britain providers already do due to government pressure—is one of the ideas Sen. Weisler would like to see implemented in America. So shouldn’t this pressure come from consumers instead?

While claiming pornography is a public health crisis may seem odd to many of our readers, this isn’t the first time prominent groups make such claims.

In November of 2015, the US Bishops’ Conference condemned the damage of pornograpy during the group’s Fall General Assembly, calling it a public health crisis. While leaders of the Catholic church appear to agree with Sen. Weiler in character, their actions were never interpreted as an effort that could lead to a legal ban or restriction.

According to an article on Utah Political Capitol, what Utah lawmakers may be trying to do in the long run is to restrict pronography through the development of policies that would make pornographic material less accessible to consumers. In other words, handle pornography the same way we handle other “vices.”

“We recognized as a nation a couple of decades ago that tobacco was addictive and it was harmful,” Sen. Weiler told the House Health and Human Services Committee last week. “We didn’t ban tobacco. What we did instead was we changed our approach in order to try to protect children from tobacco,” an effort that Weiler wants to repeat by urging lawmakers to deal with “pornography … more like tobacco and alcohol.”

According to Heartland Institute, “sin taxes” and other efforts to discourage individuals from consuming products deemed “harmful” are discriminatory, and often represent a disproportionate burden to lower- and middle-income people. If Utah decides to take that path, effectively applying “sin taxes” to pornography, history shows us that consumers will end up relying more on the black market for their needs.

Is that an effective way to keep our children away from products deemed “unhealthy?”

Snowden: Bulk Data Collection is Ineffective, Promotes Insecurity and Oppression

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Snowden: Bulk Data Collection is Ineffective, Promotes Insecurity and Oppression

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As the country watches the battle between the FBI and Apple unfold, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden uses his notoriety to bring attention to the surveillance problem publicly.

During an interview with the Spanish TV channel Sexta, Snowden gave his two cents on the subject, extending his commentary to the realm of bulk data collection and why it never works.

SnowdenDuring the interview, Snowden claimed that what Washington D.C. believes to be the most effective way to deter terrorists doesn’t pass the smell test.

“In the wake of the revelations of mass surveillance,” Snowden explained, “[US] President [Barack Obama] appointed two independent commissions to review the efficiency of these [surveillance] programs, what they really did and what effect they had in combating terrorism.” What they found, Snowden continued, was that none of the surveillance programs carried out by Washington “stopped a single terrorist attack and never made a concrete difference in a terrorist investigation.”

When looking into how the CIA and NSA have violated the US Constitution for ten years by snooping on Americans’ private communications without ever producing warrants, Snowden continued, “we must ask ourselves: Was it ever worth it?”

With news showing surveillance programs are used for purposes other than fighting terrorism, it’s difficult to ignore the whistleblower’s claims. Especially since the current administration seems unwilling to put an end to its ineffective programs.

Nowadays, bulk data collection is “more aggressive and invasive” than ever before, Snowden told Sexta. “Law enforcement and intelligence structures do not any longer bother to pick up a suspect and hack his cell phone, they cut into all lines and communications” instead. To the whistleblower, this is a clear violation of innocent people’s rights, since federal agents attack the “heart of the society” instead of following tangible evidence.

The debate revolving around privacy and bulk data collection often misses the importance of privacy in a free society. Something that Snowden likes to revisit often. During the interview, he explained this angle of the debate by reminding the reporter that “it is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say, … There are rights that provide value to you even if you’re not actively engaged in them in that moment.”

Currently, Americans are struggling to identify exactly what is and isn’t the best way to go about the surveillance subject. As the public is bombarded with divisive, autocratic rhetoric tied to the presidential campaign, many become oblivious, ignoring their surveillance-related concerns.

Understanding that existing tools like the Internet will always be abused by criminals, and that the federal government is incapable of keeping tabs on what citizens are doing at all times is all part of the problem. Famed economist F. A. Hayek talked extensively about the knowledge problem, explaining that the importance of knowledge of individual circumstances is often minimized by state officials, and the results are often bad to freedom since central planners like to claim they know just what they need to do to solve whatever problem is at hand.

Much like economic problems, which often become much worse as government intervention gets a boost, more surveillance has the same effect, forcing criminals to take part in even more obscure communication methods in order to remain untraceable. The unintended consequences are seldom discussed, but it’s the American individual who pays the price.

If Snowden and many other privacy advocates are right, the federal government’s efforts against terrorism could benefit greatly from a privacy-centered policy. After all, sacrificing freedom in the name of a false sense of security makes us both less safe and less free.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice…

in From Me To You, Healthcare, Liberator Online, Personal Liberty by Brett Bittner Comments are off

Wouldn’t It Be Nice…

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Last Friday, I had surgery for the first time.

Don’t worry… It’s nothing major, and I’m back at work already. Kinda.

The pain from the incisions and the stitches, both internal and external, is the worst part. To help me manage it, I was prescribed a narcotic painkiller.

In addition to pain management, I was warned about the nausea that often follows anesthesia. The opiates did nothing for me in that regard, and I spent virtually the whole trip home with my head out the window to combat the nausea I experienced.

Unfortunately, I live in Indiana, where legislators are slow to accept that cannabidiol, a compound found in marijuana, can be used to alleviate pain in place of opiate narcotics, as I was prescribed.

Cannabidiol can also alleviate nausea. With the prospect of vomiting being among the worst things that could happen after abdominal surgery, it would have been great not to worry about it.

The side effects of the opiate I was prescribed include lightheadedness, dizziness, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, drowsiness, constipation, headache, mood changes, blurred vision, ringing in your ears, dry mouth, and difficulty urinating. My biggest struggles are with concentration and train of thought.

When I take them, I don’t have the ability to follow the plot of a sitcom. Seriously, I wanted to binge-watch the 4th season of House of Cards during my downtime, but I wasn’t able to concentrate on the 6 episodes of Fuller House (and mindless sitcoms backed up on my DVR) that I watched instead. I’ve also found that I am likely to be trying to have a conversation, only to trail off mid-sentence and be unable to complete the thought or return to it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if my doctor and I could find the BEST way to manage my post-op pain and nausea without the concentration issues that may have made this post unintelligible?

More Members of the Law Enforcement Community Join the Fight Against Tough Marijuana Laws

in Criminal Justice, Drugs, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Alice Salles Comments are off

More Members of the Law Enforcement Community Join the Fight Against Tough Marijuana Laws

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Ever since the state of Colorado decided to set an example to the nation by practically nullifying the federal ban on the commerce of marijuana, legislators in many other states also acted on the marijuana ban locally. But as more and more lawmakers embrace a more humane approach to marijuana laws, and several states show signs that the times are changing, it’s even more interesting to see that members of the law enforcement community are also giving in to the “trend.”

PoliceWith the help of organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), two groups working alongside free marketers, marijuana researchers, freedom advocates, and Tenth Amendment champions, a greater number of states now have policies that lessen the consequences of the nationwide drug war, granting marijuana users and sellers the guarantee that their transactions won’t be targeted by law enforcement under certain circumstances.

According to PennLive.com, Harrisburg Police Chief Thomas Carter has shown signs that he supports some pro-marijuana advocates in Pennsylvania by urging local policymakers to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession. While Carter believes young people should avoid marijuana, he also believes that individuals caught using marijuana should not go to jail. Instead, Carter wants to treat the offense as a traffic ticket.

“We can turn our heads and deny we have a marijuana problem among our youth or we can proactively take action,” Carter told reporters. Instead of putting these kids in jail and ruining their lives, “I want to give kids a chance, an opportunity to make something better of their lives.”

The comment may have shocked many who were expecting to hear a tough on crime approach to what Carter calls a “marijuana problem,” only to be pleasantly surprised.

Last Tuesday, Carter appeared with other Harrisburg officials at a news conference to discuss the city’s efforts to lower the number of marijuana possession charges. This meeting follows the introduction of a proposal sponsored by Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse, who hopes to reduce the level of crime for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana to a summary offense. As it stands, possession is handled as a misdemeanor locally.

But to critics of Papenfuse’s proposal, the new policy would force poor residents to pay steep fines. Currently, residents in the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburg pay a $25 fine for a first marijuana possession offense. But in Harrisburg, residents caught with pot would have to pay $100 for their first offense if the proposal becomes an ordinance.

Regardless of whether the proposal becomes an ordinance, the fact the law enforcement community in various areas across the country are joining anti-drug war advocates is important, and shouldn’t be ignored.

No, the FBI Does Not Want to Simply Break Into a Terrorist’s Phone

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

No, the FBI Does Not Want to Simply Break Into a Terrorist’s Phone

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The case involving the FBI and Apple continues to draw immense media attention. But what many outlets have chosen to mostly ignore is the fact that one of the most important claims made by the FBI is actually fraudulent.

At least that’s what the American Civil Liberties Union is claiming.

Phone In the FBI’s court order handed to Apple, the federal agency claims that it requires Apple’s assistance to unlock the iPhone 5c that belonged to the San Bernardino shooter. Syed Rizwan Farook is tied to the December terrorist attack against government workers in San Bernardino, California that left 14 people dead, and the FBI has his phone in their possession for investigative purposes.

One of the most pressing demands made by the FBI involved Apple disabling the iPhone’s “auto-erase” security feature, an action that would render Apple’s security features vulnerable to future attacks.

The auto-erase system works by protecting user data from hackers, not destroying it. By wiping the key to the phone data after ten failed passcode attempts, the system keeps would-be snoopers from having immediate access to the phone’s information. And the FBI claimed it was afraid of losing the information contained in the San Bernardino shooter’s phone in case Apple chose not to comply.

According to ACLU’s Daniel Kahn Gillmor, however, the FBI’s concern isn’t warranted. Instead of referring to Apple for assistance, Gillmor explains, the FBI should simply back up part of the phone before attempting to guess the passcode. Instead of taking that step, however, the FBI decided to press Apple, urging the tech giant to “bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled.”

In his post for ACLU’s website, Gillmor claims the FBI already knows how to bypass the security system. He also claims that a close look at how the FBI claims the auto-erase feature works may offer important clues as to what the agency actually wants with this request.

Before Apple’s Tim Cook issued a formal statement explaining why he refused to comply with the FBI’s requests and just a few days before the court order was issued, the government issued a strongly worded motion to compel. In this motion, the FBI explains what the auto-erase feature does.

The document reads:

“The FBI has been unable to make attempts to determine the passcode to access the SUBJECT DEVICE because Apple has written, or ‘coded,’ its operating systems with a user-enabled ‘auto-erase function’ that would, if enabled, result in the permanent destruction of the required encryption key material after 10 failed attempts at the [sic] entering the correct passcode (meaning that, after 10 failed attempts, the information on the device becomes permanently inaccessible)…”

By using the “permanently inaccessible” term, Gillmor explains, the FBI may be attempting to add urgency to its request, causing Apple to panic before the order. But there’s a problem with how the government explains how the feature works, which means that the FBI may not be disclosing its intentions.

Instead of making the data “permanently inaccessible,” Gillmor explains, the system built into the iPhone to protect the user’s data works by protecting the data from immediate access when a hacker or snooper attempts to guess the passcode ten times. Instead of destroying the data, the system actually destroys one of the keys that protects the data, making that particular data unreadable. What is erased is the “file system key,” which is stored in what Apple calls “Effaceable Storage,” a part of the phone’s flash memory. But the destruction is not exactly a serious issue. According to Apple’s iOS Security Guide, the key is designed to be “erased on demand (by the user, with the ‘Erase all content and settings’ option, or by a user or administrator issuing a remote wipe command…” So what the feature concerning the FBI really protects is a key, not the actual data.

According to Gillmor, the FBI is scared of losing access to the system key, not the data, and yet its officials wrote a request that made a very different claim.

“All the FBI needs to do to avoid any irreversible auto erase,” Gillmor explains, “is simply to copy that flash memory (which includes the Effaceable Storage) before it tries 10 passcode attempts.”

Then, officials will have the ability to re-try guessing the passcode as many times as it is necessary for them to break the code. Once they have access, they can restore the data from its backup copy.

Gillmor closes his article by claiming that what the FBI wants to do is to “weaken the ecosystem we all depend on for maintenance of our all-too-vulnerable devices.” So if the federal agents are so concerned about our security, how come they are so invested in rendering the systems that protect us useless?

Idaho Legislators Defy the FDA, Houses Passes Right to Try Legislation

in Drugs, Issues, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Idaho Legislators Defy the FDA, Houses Passes Right to Try Legislation

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The US Food and Drug Administration and its very foundation have been on the receiving end of heavy criticism for quite some time, and yet the agency’s power appears to never be brought into question in a significant way.

IdahoFrustration, however, is often the best incentive. With that in mind, a group of Idaho lawmakers decided to join several other states by defying the FDA’s powers by proposing a piece of legislation that would practically nullify some of the agency’s rules prohibiting terminally ill patients from having access to experimental treatments. The bill would allow Idaho residents to have access to these experimental treatments, regardless of what the FDA has to say on the matter.

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, the House of Delegates Health and Welfare Committee introduced House Bill 481 on February 12. On February 29, the bill passed the House by an overwhelming margin.

Access to experimental drugs and treatments is restricted under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. While the law keeps the general public from having access to experimental drugs and treatments, a provision known as 21 U.S.C. 360bbb gives patients with serious or life-threatening diseases access to experimental drugs that have been approved by the FDA. Drugs that haven’t been approved by the agency, however, remain out of reach.

If HB 481 passes, the FDA’s rules would not apply to Idaho residents seeking access to experimental drugs. Instead, state laws would protect manufacturers and physicians involved in aiding the terminally ill. By protecting all parties involved from liabilities for their participation, the state may effectively nullify the FDA’s rules locally.

The bill states that eligible patients may “request, and a manufacturer may make available to an eligible patient under the supervision of the patient’s treating physician, the manufacturer’s investigational drug … which shall be clearly labeled as investigational; provided however, that this chapter does not require that a manufacturer make available an investigational drug to … an eligible patient.” With this piece of legislation in place, health care providers that agree to participate, whether by administering the treatment or by giving the patient the resources necessary to carry on with the experimental treatment, will be protected from possible legal actions. By protecting providers and physicians from sanctions, license troubles, or lawsuits, the state of Idaho joins other 24 states that have passed the “Right to Try” legislation in their states.

To the Tenth Amendment Center, this rapid evolution indicates that Americans of all walks of life are coming together to put an end to rules that put individuals in danger and that undermine their liberties.

HB 481 should move to the Idaho Senate for further consideration before the piece of legislation heads to the desk of Governor Butch Otter.

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