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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

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

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.

How do You Defeat Hydra?

in Conversations With My Boys, Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, Middle East, War by The Libertarian Homeschooler Comments are off

How do You Defeat Hydra?

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

Me: YS, do you know what a Hydra is?
BA (10): It’s a monster. Every time you chop off one of its heads, two grow in its place.
Me: How do you know this?
Hydra 2BA: Minecraft. In the Twilight Forest there’s a Hydra.
Me: Do you know why I’m asking about the Hydra?
YS (15): Terrorism? It’s like we’re fighting Hydra. The more we fight, the more heads it makes.
Me: So how do you defeat an enemy like that?
YS: First you need to stop cutting off the heads.
Me: But that doesn’t make it go away. How do you destroy a thing you can’t destroy with an attack?
YS: Stop fueling it.
Me: What is this Hydra’s fuel?
YS: We’ve been giving this Hydra literal weapons, literal training, literal financing.
Me: Why did we do this?
YS: We thought we could control it so we grew it. Then it spun out of control. Now it’s attacking us.
Me: Who are the teeth of the Hydra?
YS: Terrorists who carry out the attacks.
Me: And what can you tell me about them?
YS: They’re mad. They’ve had something done to them.
Me: They are called Injustice Collectors and they are easily radicalized. You’re describing something called radicalization. Sometimes what happens is citizens of a country will become radicalized and carry out acts of terror in their own country. People are afraid of immigrants and refugees when actually it’s just as likely to be radicalized citizens who carry out terrorism in their own countries. If someone is running away from terrorism in their own country are they going to become radicalized in their new home?
YS: No. They want nothing to do with it. Refugees from ISIS are the anti-ISIS. They have experienced it.
Me: What kind of effect will an influx of refugees fleeing ISIS violence have on a population?
YS: Those people are not likely to be recruited. They’re going to tell people who could potentially be radicalized that they shouldn’t. They’ve lived it.
Me: What else feeds the Hydra?
YS: Hatred.
Me: When you are hateful to a person they are more willing to be the teeth. How do we make them unwilling to be the teeth?
YS: Those people around us that ISIS is targeting for recruitment, we need to show them kindness.
Me: That’s what starves Hydra.
YS: The state has murdered their people in our name, just like ISIS has murdered people in the name of all Muslims. We have to be kind and think logically. We have to not want to be afraid of these terrorists. Emotional responses don’t get people anywhere.
Me: We kind of enjoy being afraid, don’t we?
YS: Right. Like gun control. Emotional, irrational responses. There’s a mass shooting and people get scared and the start yelling for gun control. It’s like that. It doesn’t work. Gun control doesn’t stop violent people. It just makes it easier for violent people to be violent. It’s an emotional response. We need to think but emotional responses are a lot of fun for the majority of people.

Compassion with Caution

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Chloe Anagnos Comments are off

Compassion with Caution

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

Over the last month, citizens of the world have watched the growing Syrian refugee crisis unfold on television. Thousands of men, women and children are risking their lives to flee the violence from the Syrian civil war. Many are making the treacherous journey on foot through Turkey, while others attempt to sail across the Mediterranean on makeshift rafts.

compassionAccording to Mercy Corps, more than 11 million Syrians have been displaced since 2011. The majority of these people have fled to Syria’s neighboring countries over the years – Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. As violence continues in the Middle East, more than 350,000 migrants have sought asylum in Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom – and it’s not ending there.

Germany expects 800,000 more migrants this year. British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged on Monday to take in up to 20,000 refugees from camps in Syria over the next five years.

Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, only 1,500 refugees fled Syria for the United States, though President Barack Obama has committed to accepting 10,000 more over the next coming year.

Obama’s plan has sparked a debate in Washington. Refugee advocates say the United States is not doing enough to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, while some congressional Republicans worry that an increase could allow terrorists to enter the United States.

“The rhetoric has been really awful,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. “The difficulty of doing it is met by this Islamophobia and conflation of Syrians and Iraqis with terrorists.”

Strong opposition met previous efforts to increase the flow of Syrian refugees.

Fourteen U.S. Senate Democrats wrote a letter urging the Obama administration to allow at least 65,000 Syrian refugees to settle in the United States this past May. The following month, Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX) objected to the administration’s plans to allow nearly 2,000 by the end of 2015.

“While we have a proud history of welcoming refugees, the Syrian conflict is a unique case requiring heightened vigilance and scrutiny,” McCaul, whose Homeland Security Committee has held hearings on the issue, wrote in a letter to Obama.

Although both sides of the debate in Washington present valid arguments, why can’t the United States offer these refugees compassion while exercising caution? After all, the U.S. has a history of meddling in Middle Eastern affairs that complicate the situation faced today. That history goes back almost 100 years.

Now, in an attempt to escape the horrors of war, hundreds of refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean. Small children are washing up on the shores of Turkey and Greece. Refugees face tear gas and water bombs in other parts of Europe where their governments are closing borders.

The U.S. should be a shining example of compassion to the migrants who have lost everything. Republicans raise an excellent point: young, single men of military age should be looked at with caution so that our compassion isn’t taken advantage of by ISIS or other terrorists. The U.S. can do better than just taking 10,000 refugees.

By offering compassion, the United States can be an example to other parts of the world that the Syrian refugee crisis isn’t an issue of proximity, but an issue of humanitarianism.

New York Times: Should We Abolish the CIA?

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Activist Ammunition section in Volume 20, No. 1 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

It’s exciting news when a bold libertarian idea moves into the mainstream. We’ve seen this again and again in recent years.

Now the New York Times — the very definition of mainstream, Establishment opinion — has asked a critical and timely question in the “Room for Debate” section of its Opinion Pages:

Abolish the CIA?“Do We Need the C.I.A.? Would the security needs of the United States be better served if the agency were dismantled?”

Writes the Times:

“Since Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan introduced bills in 1991 and 1995 to abolish the Central Intelligence Agency and transfer its powers to the State Department, many have continued to share his concerns about the agency’s competence and performance. The Senate intelligence committee’s report on the use of torture is the latest example of the agency’s controversies. …

“Would the security needs of the United States be better served if the C.I.A. were dismantled?”

That such a question is being asked and debated is great news, says Jacob Hornberger, president of the libertarian Future of Freedom Foundation:

“That is a remarkable development. When was the last time you read that question being asked by anyone in the mainstream press? Wouldn’t we ordinarily see the question posed in the following manner: ‘Is It Time to Reform the CIA?’ …

“Libertarians have long called for the abolition, not the reform, of the CIA… The fact that the Times even asks the question is a testament to the importance of hewing to libertarian principles rather settling for reform proposals. Over time, ideas on liberty percolate and find their way into the minds of others. And suddenly there are prominent people in mainstream American life asking, ‘Why not abolish the CIA?’”

Hornberger gives his own answer to the New York Times’ question.

“The existence of an agency like the CIA is totally contrary to the principles of a free society. … It’s not just the post-9/11 torture scandal. The CIA has been engaged in evil, immoral, dark-side activities since its inception, all guided by the mindset of ‘patriots’ who were protecting ‘national security’ from the communists and, later, from the drug dealers, the ‘terrorists,’ and anyone else who could be used to scare Americans into keeping quiet about the CIA’s steady acquisition of secret, omnipotent power.

“The CIA knowingly employed Nazis, including ones who had participated in the Holocaust, all the while keeping it secret from the American people.

“The CIA destroyed democratic regimes all the over the world and installed brutal and tyrannical dictatorships in their stead.

“The CIA initiated horrendous medical experiments on unsuspecting Americans in its MKULTRA program and then destroyed its records so that the American people would not discover the full details of what they had done. …

“The CIA initiated a formal program of assassination and, in fact, participated in the assassination or execution of people around the world…

“The CIA has engaged in assassination and torture since at least the 1950s… At the risk of belaboring the obvious, it continues to assassinate people in different parts of the world…

“From its inception, the CIA has meddled in the affairs of other countries and continues to do so. It is without a doubt the world’s biggest troublemaker, and it is the American people who are bearing the brunt of all the trouble.

“Where in the Constitution does it authorize an agency like the CIA? The fact is that the very existence of the CIA has converted the original concept of limited government into unlimited government. For as long as one part of the government has unlimited powers, that automatically means that the federal government has unlimited powers. …

“So, New York Times, the answer to your question is: Yes, most definitely, the time for abolishing the CIA is long past due. It’s a key to restoring a free, prosperous, and secure society to our land. Thanks for asking the question because it will almost certainly cause others to ponder it.”

FDA Bureaucrats Kill 150,000 Americans

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 19 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Never mind Ebola, terrorists and school shootings. Abolish the FDA

What Americans should fear is… the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).

The FDA’s failure to approve life-saving drugs in a timely fashion is killing thousands, even tens of thousands, of Americans every year, critics charge.

Take just one example. An estimated 150,000 Americans have died or will die from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — a disease in which tissue deep in the lungs becomes thick and stiff, or scarred, making breathing difficult — because of the FDA’s four-year delay in the approval of the drug pirfenidone — a drug already approved and marketed in Europe (since 2011), Japan (2008), Canada (2012) and China.

That estimate comes from Dr. Henry I. Miller, a medical researcher, founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, and 15-year member of the FDA.

That’s more Americans than were killed in any American war except the Civil War and World War II.

And pirfenidone is just one example among many others. The FDA’s slow approval of beta-blocking drugs in the 1970s may have led to the unnecessary deaths of up to 100,000 people, according to Sam Kazman, J.D., of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

For many years the FDA prohibited aspirin makers from advertising the widely-accepted argument that aspirin could significantly reduce the risk of heart attack for some patients. According to economist Paul H. Rubin, “The FDA surely killed tens, and quite possibly hundreds, of thousands of Americans by this restriction alone.”

Indeed, says Reason magazine’s science correspondent Ronald Bailey, “the FDA’s increased obsession with safety may be killing more people than it saves. …After all, if it takes the FDA ten years to approve a drug that saves 20,000 lives per year that means that 200,000 people died in the meantime.”

The FDA’s approval process can take up to… 18 years. For people desperately fighting fatal illnesses, such long waits are death sentences.

Making things worse, the FDA’s review process is so expensive that,according to Yevgeniy Feyman of the Manhattan Institute: “The typical drug approval costs between $1.2 and $1.3 billion.”

According to Reason magazine’s Bailey, many drugs that could save lives are never introduced because of this cost.

In 2000, economist Daniel B. Klein of the Independent Institute wrote: “Because the FDA process is so expensive, so protracted, and so uncertain, thousands of untold drugs are never discovered or developed. It is impossible to estimate the suffering and death caused, but surely it greatly exceeds 50,000 premature deaths annually.”

Why is the FDA so agonizingly (literally) slow and expensive? Prior to 1962, the average time for FDA approval was just seven months. However, in 1962 Congress passed the Kefauver Harris Amendment, which added a new requirement of proof of effectiveness, in addition to the old standard of proof of safety, for approval of new drugs. Effectiveness is a far more difficult, and expensive, standard to meet.

Perhaps worst of all, the FDA typically doesn’t give even gravely ill patients the opportunity to choose promising treatments it has not approved. As journalist Kate Jenkins asks: “If you had a fatal disease and were told you only had one year to live, wouldn’t you prefer to be allowed to make your own choice?”

This article by Ronald Bailey gives a further look at this mess, and offers libertarian alternatives.

The Independent Institute offers an overview of the situtation and proposals for replacing the FDA.

And for a great movie that dramatizes this life-and-death struggle, see The Dallas Buyers Club starring Matthew McConaughey.

The Biggest Danger: Terrorists or Government?

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, Middle East, War by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 15 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Robert Higgs

Libertarian and economist Robert Higgs writes at his Facebook page about the relative danger to you from Islamic terrorists and U.S. governments:

“Unless you go to the Middle East, the probability of your being harmed by Islamic fanatics is so close to zero that for all practical purposes it may be taken to be zero.

“If you remain in the USA, however, the probability of your being harmed by governments at every level is 1.0, an absolute certainty. These governments will certainly appropriate your wealth in a variety of direct and indirect ways for their own purposes, many of which you will regard as abhorrent. They will certainly crush your freedoms in a multitude of ways; they will treat you as if you were a child or a mental incompetent; and they will disregard your own preferences for how you wish to live your life in peace.

“By their actions they will create effects and repercussions that guarantee the future will be less prosperous, less safe, and less socially content than it otherwise would have been. In short, these governments are your enemies: they intend to harm you, they have the capacity to harm you, and they do in fact harm you.

“Yet probably hundreds of millions of Americans fear faraway Islamic fanatics and fret about the fantasy of a looming global Caliphate. Therefore they support a variety of U.S. military measures in the Middle East and elsewhere purportedly aimed at the suppression of this looming menace, and they support a variety of overbearing and tyrannical government actions within the USA justified on the grounds that they protect Americans from terrorists.

“In short, they credit the bogeyman of their fevered imaginations (stoked by government officials, fear-mongering politicians, politico-clowns on talk radio) and more or less disregard the ceaseless pillage of their wealth and the rape of their freedoms by their real enemies, who are all too real and all too near at hand.”

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