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VA Property Owners Win Eminent Domain, Freedom of Speech Cases

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

VA Property Owners Win Eminent Domain, Freedom of Speech Cases

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

fight between a Virginia public university and a private radio station has ignited an impromptu debate on eminent domain abuse. And while eminent domain laws and their consequences are seldom discussed by the mainstream media, people start to pay attention when both private property and freedom of speech are threatened.

Recently, a Virginia court sided with property owners who had been threatened with eminent domain laws in Norfolk, VA.

Eminent Domain

A local radio station known as Central Radio Company was targeted by the city in what appears to be an effort to expand Old Dominion (ODU), a public university. But the radio station wasn’t the only business on the hit list. A privately-owned apartment building was also under threat.

It all started in 1998, when the Norfolk City Council approved the Hampton Boulevard Redevelopment Project, which gave ODU the legal means to expand eastward. Up until when the plan was approved, the area was a mix of commercial and industrial properties, but it also counted with a few privately owned student apartments. But since the land wasn’t being used for educational purposes only, ODU pushed local housing authorities to resort to eminent domain laws.

At the time, Virginia’s law allowed authorities to take properties away from its rightful owners for economic development purposes as long as most targeted properties had been deemed condemned due to decay. Since then, local housing authorities acquired more than 160 properties, which were all turned over to the university’s real estate foundation. The spot is now home to ODU’s Ted Constant Convocation Center, a research park, and a cluster of apartment buildings and businesses for students.

But as the university moved to push Central Radio Company and two other companies out of their land, they fought back.

In 2011, PKO Ventures, the owner of apartment buildings under threat, Central Radio, and Norva Plastics took the battle against the university to a Circuit Court, but the effort was unsuccessful.

In June, PKO appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. The company argued that recent changes to the state eminent domain law prohibited ODU from pushing property owners out of the area.

In 2007, the General Assembly adopted changes to the state law that limited the authority’s use of eminent domain. After the changes, local authorities were prohibited from taking land for economic development.

But the changes also affected how authorities were expected to target properties that had been condemned for blight, making the condemnation of entire areas illegal. Only specific properties were allowed to be taken, and only if they had been deemed condemned over decay. While the changes were adopted in July of 2007, the assembly added a provision that allowed agencies in the middle of projects to continue to acquire land. The provision had an expiration date: July 2010.

While the housing authority argued that resorting to eminent domain against PKO and others was legal because proceedings started prior to the deadline, landowners claimed their plots hadn’t been formally acquired until later.

As this legal fight continued, another one had just started to brew.

Central Radio had had a large sign placed on the side of its building promoting its opposition to eminent domain abuse. In light of the ongoing legal battle, the city eventually decided to go after Central Radio by claiming that the company was in violation of city advertising statuses.

A second lawsuit was filed by the radio company, arguing that the city’s claims hoped to undermine the company’s First Amendment rights. The 4th Circuit Appeals Court first sided with the city, but once Central Radio petitioned the case to the Supreme Court, the 4th Circuit Appeals Court was forced to take the case back.

Before booting the case back to the appeals court, the Supreme Court ordered it to take Reed v. Town of Gilbert into account. The Supreme Court had recently ruled in favor of the private party in the case, reaffirming that government entities have no right to impose content-based restrictions on speech.

The appeals court finally sided with Norfolk’s Central Radio.

With both of these decisions, the region’s property owners have finally won their long battle against eminent domain abuse in the region, while also fighting for freedom of speech.

 

Supreme Court Ignores Privacy Group’s Request to Disclose DHS’s Cellphone Shutdown Policy

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

Supreme Court Ignores Privacy Group’s Request to Disclose DHS’s Cellphone Shutdown Policy

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

Do you think the Department of Homeland Security keeps us safe? What about the Supreme Court? Do you believe it upholds the Constitution as it should?

Recently, a petition from the Electronic Privacy Information Center demanding the DHS to release its plan to close mobile phone services in the wake of disasters was set aside by the Supreme Court.

With the snub, the highest court of the land refused to look at the federal appeals court’s May ruling that upholds the secrecy surrounding DHS’s plan. If the ruling remains in place, DHS officers are not required to disclose details concerning Standard Operating Procedure 303, which outlines the guidelines that private and commercial wireless networks are required to follow during the service shutdown and restoration processes in the event of what the DHS describes as a “national crisis.”

Large Man Looking At Co-Worker With A Magnifying Glass

The appeals court used the Freedom of Information Act to keep the DHS from disclosing the plan in May, claiming that allowing details from SPP 303 to become public would put the safety of Americans at risk.

The factor that prompted the privacy group to act involved a full shutdown of cellphone service in the San Francisco Bay Area subway system during what EPIC calls a peaceful protest back in 2011. At the time, EPIC demanded DHS to divulge the contents of SOP 303, but the agency refused. Later, the case was taken to a district court in Washington, D.C., where the judge ruled in favor of the privacy group. Soon after, the federal appeals court overturned the district court’s ruling, claiming the SOP 303 is a “voluntary process” designed to protect Americans during “critical emergencies such as the threat of radio-activated improvised explosive devices.”

According to the heavily redacted version of the shutdown policy obtained by EPIC, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials have access to the powers granted by SOP 303. Despite the overreach and the policy’s restrictions on individuals’ communication devices without proper warning, document details are not accessible to Americans.

If a peaceful protest is enough of a reason to shut down the phone service of countless individuals who may have not even been part of the incident, privacy groups like EPIC want to make sure the DHS opens SOP 303′s contents for discussion.

By infringing the individual’s right to privacy without due process, the DHS is acting unconstitutionally, despite the Supreme Court’s decision to ignore EPIC’s petition.

If the American people are not made aware of the Supreme Court’s decision to ignore privacy concerns and government abuse, agencies like DHS will continue to abuse its powers.

Trashing the restrictions on government imposed by the US Constitution will not make us safe.

According to the Cato Institute, DHS is responsible for increasing bureaucracy while not improving the efficacy of Department of Homeland Security’s programs. In a perfect world, the DHS’s inefficiency alone would be enough to have it slashed.

As taxpayers foot the bill, agencies like the DHS work relentlessly to keep Americans from having access to policies that impact them directly. If privacy groups like EPIC are not able to push the Supreme Court to rule on this matter, what are other ways we should go about demanding our privacy is fully restored?

NSA Spied on Israel to Counter Criticism of Iran Deal, Communications with U.S. Lawmakers Intercepted

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

NSA Spied on Israel to Counter Criticism of Iran Deal, Communications with U.S. Lawmakers Intercepted

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

The National Security Agency is bracing for another heavy round of criticism. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the controversial intelligence agency spied on Israeli leaders while the United States was ironing out a nuclear agreement with Iran. But the spying apparatus also captured communications between Israeli and members of Congress.

NSA

President Barack Obama and the NSA have already come under fire for spying on leaders of countries that are allied with the United States, such as Brazil, Germany, and Mexico. The White House was reportedly unaware of the NSA’s activities, which came to light in the summer of 2013.

President Obama, in early 2014, pledged to stop snooping on the United States’ allies. “The leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to learn what they think about an issue,” he said, “I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance.” The only exceptions to the prohibition were countries that served a national security interest. Among them was Israel.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the NSA has continued to spy on Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a fierce critic of the nuclear agreement that the United States worked out with Iran. Netanyahu brought his concerns against the deal to Washington in March during a speech to a joint session of Congress.

The intelligence received by the NSA, according to the report, was used to “counter” Netanyahu’s criticism of the agreement with Iran. Inadvertently or not, the NSA “also swept up the contents of some of [Israel leaders’] private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”

The intercepts revealed that Israel was coordinating with U.S.-based groups to criticize the Iran deal. “The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. [Israeli Ambassador Ron] Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal,” the report explained.

It’s unclear which lawmakers’ communications were intercepted by the NSA. But the report could reignite the already fiery debate in the halls of Congress and on the campaign trail over the intelligence agency’s snooping, as well as renewed criticism of the Iran deal and the Obama administration’s already stressed relationship Israel and Netanyahu.

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

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

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

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.

uncle-sam-watching-you-feature

“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

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

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

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.

Spy

“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.”