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Speech Censorship Is Bad, Even If It Targets Terrorists

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

Speech Censorship Is Bad, Even If It Targets Terrorists

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

Censorship never works. Especially when it comes to speech that is considered offensive or criminal. Why? Because when individuals are given a platform where they may express themselves openly, they become more visible, giving others who disagree with their methods or philosophy an opportunity to spot them and stay out of their way.

TwitterBut when fear is at play, people tend to lose grasp of their emotions and what could have turned into a reasonable debate turns into a witch hunt.

As politicians and others urge companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter to crack down on users who identify as Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) fighters and sympathizers, encouraging these users to be banned from their platforms, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) admits that banning ISIS users from online platforms pushes them “to a place where they’re less able to proselytize broadly but more able to communicate in a secure way.” Meaning that, when users are blocked from Twitter, it makes it difficult for law enforcement to track them down.

Who would have thought?

According to Tech Dirt, intelligence officials are usually able to get good intelligence from paying attention to social media accounts from ISIS fighters. But in spite of what many consider to be a risk associated with how easily ISIS fighters are able to recruit by keeping active accounts on social media, Tech Dirt points out that nearly every single study on radicalization shows that online recruitment is not as effective as many would think.

Silencing users might help to keep social media websites “clean” from speech we find offensive, but instead of making us safe, it just pushes individuals who follow dreadful philosophies into the shadows, making it harder for us to spot them and keep an eye on what they are up to next.

When translated into enforcement, the banishment of users from online platforms only makes it hard for officials to track terrorists down.

As US officials continue to press private tech companies to open backdoors so that law enforcement is able to closely spy on American citizens, public pressure to ban offensive speech adds fuel to the fire, oftentimes giving officials reasons to lobby for the expansion of government’s spying powers.

Instead of allowing our feelings to speak louder than reason, we must always remember that what may seem as the best solution superficially might not produce the desired outcome. No matter how many times we implement the same policy.

Homeland ‘Security’? Gov’t Wants to Collect Travellers’ Social Media Info

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

Homeland ‘Security’? Gov’t Wants to Collect Travellers’ Social Media Info

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

In Omnipotent Government, Ludwig von Mises writes that tending toward “a transgression of the limit” of the application of violence is a natural impulse among professionals who use violence in their line of work, even if the particular application of violence is seen as legitimate.

These transgressions are seen everywhere, from instances of police brutality to the ever-growing presence of law enforcement agents on our borders and airports.

SmartphoneNow, this transgression is entering another realm, making way for law enforcement to have an even more formally accepted online presence.

According to a new Department of Homeland Security proposal, officials are considering asking visitors entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program to disclose information pertaining to their social media presence.

If the DHS has its way, visitors would have to fill out a form with links to their Twitter, Facebook, and other online applications. According to the DHS, the collection of this information would “enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

But the wording in this new proposal is broad enough to allow officials to dig at will, increasing the risk of abuse of power—a surveillance issue that has already been associated with 4th Amendment violations in the past. To privacy advocacy organizations like Restore The 4th, this new transgression is everything but legitimate.

In a press release, the organization explained that the DHS new proposal is toxic.

In a letter addressed to the US Customs and Border Protection, the group along with “over two dozen human rights and civil liberties organizations” outlined the program’s “disproportionate risks, excessive costs, and other serious shortcomings.”

According to the letter, the DHS will be further invading individual privacy, putting freedom of expression at risk if this proposal is implemented. Furthermore, the federal government would have to worsen the national debt due to the high cost of implementation. The maintenance of this program would also cost taxpayers greatly, Restore The 4th added, and these costs “appear to be unaccounted for in the DHS Paperwork Reduction Act statement.”

The advocacy group also claims that the DHS would ignite the expansion of the surveillance state by opening a new window into the traveler’s private life. If implemented, this new rule could impact particular groups of travelers, allowing law enforcement to refer to their racial and religious bias in order to do their job.

Restore The 4th explains:

“This ‘disparate impact will affect not only travelers from visa-waiver program countries, but also the Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans whose colleagues, family members, business associates, and others in their social networks are exposed to immediate scrutiny or ongoing surveillance, or are improperly denied a visa waiver because of their online presence.’”

The letter urges CBP to dismiss the DHS proposal altogether. ​

It’s About Liberty, Not Technology

in Communicating Liberty, First Amendment, Liberator Online, Libertarianism, One Minute Liberty Tip, Philosophy by Sharon Harris Comments are off

It’s About Liberty, Not Technology

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

Last month actor Mark Hamill, an advocate of gun control, posted this tweet to his nearly one million followers:

“Don’t get me wrong, as a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment [sic]—I believe in every American’s right to own a musket.”

right-to-bear-musketsIn doing so, Hamill was repeating an anti-gun argument that’s frequently heard and is surprisingly widespread.

This argument says that the Second Amendment was written over two centuries ago, before today’s modern firearms had been invented. Therefore, the Second Amendment only protects a right to keep and bear muskets and other primitive firearms common at the time.

You might think that this is a satirical remark, more snarky than a real argument.

Yet many opponents of the right to keep and bear arms actually intend this as a serious argument. Even those who use it half-jokingly often believe it makes a legitimate point.

For example, journalist Piers Morgan tweeted this in 2012:

“The 2nd amendment was devised with muskets in mind, not high-powered handguns & assault rifles. Fact.”

I could cite many more. Versions of this argument are circulating on the Internet.

How might libertarians effectively respond to this? One obvious way is to apply the same logic to other amendments.

The First Amendment, which defends freedom of speech and freedom of the press, was written before the Internet, television, radio, DVDs, cell phones and other forms of personal and mass communication.

Yet most Americans, especially liberals and progressives who favor gun control, certainly recognize that the First Amendment protects such modern communication as well.

No First Amendment activist would argue that a newspaper must be printed on 18th century technology to have First Amendment protection. What could be sillier?

Similarly, most reasonable people see that the Fourth Amendment protection of privacy clearly applies to modern technology such as cellphones, laptops, and so on.

In some circumstances, it may also be useful to point out that this issue has already been settled — and quite forcefully — by the Supreme Court.

In fact, in the landmark 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the Court declared this argument was “bordering on the frivolous.”

Wrote the Court:

“Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications… and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search… the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”

The Supreme Court drove the point home just last month in Caetano v. Massachusetts, which concerned a woman who carried a stun gun for self defense:

“While stun guns were not in existence at the end of the 18th century, the same is true for the weapons most commonly used today for self-defense, namely, revolvers and semiautomatic pistols. Revolvers were virtually unknown until well into the 19th century, and semiautomatic pistols were not invented until near the end of that century. Electronic stun guns are no more exempt from the Second Amendment’s protections, simply because they were unknown to the First Congress, than electronic communications are exempt from the First Amendment, or electronic imaging devices are exempt from the Fourth Amendment.”

These are powerful, even devastating, arguments from logic, history and authority that pretty much lay waste to the argument that the Second Amendment is limited to protecting our right to black powder muskets. But… there’s one more important point to make.

We should always remember our purpose as communicators. In most communications and conversations, we should seek to win others to our side, not just to win arguments.

So, rather than just responding with the powerful arguments above, take a moment first to listen to those making these arguments and try to uncover their genuine concerns. Are they worried about our society becoming more violent? Are they fearful of more children being victims of mass shootings? Are they advocates of nonviolence who have adopted an anti-gun position?

These are all legitimate, admirable, understandable concerns. Let your listeners know that you share their concerns (if you do) and then point out that there are libertarian answers — solutions — to all of them. By identifying and addressing the underlying concerns, you can try to win them to our side, or at least to a better and more sympathetic understanding of our views. That’s a lot better than merely winning an argument, but making a permanent enemy.

If the conversation allows it, you could go even further and point out that, to many libertarians, the right to keep and bear arms is rooted in the fundamental libertarian idea that people should be free to do anything they wish as long as they don’t harm others. A conversation that reaches this level can be very rewarding.

There are specific communication methods you can use to respond in such effective ways, and I have compiled many of the best of them in my book How to Be a Super Communicator for Liberty: Successfully Sharing Libertarian Ideas.

Please check it out.

They Said It… With Nick Gillespie, Jonah Goldberg, and More

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the They Said It section in Volume 20, No. 4 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

BIG CHANGES AHEAD:
Nick Gillespie“Whether you believe the ‘libertarian moment has finally arrived‘ or not, there’s no question that 2014 was a watershed for the decentralization of all sorts of cultural, economic, and political power. Thanks to technology that empowers individuals (think Twitter, Uber, cellphone cameras) and the continuing breakdown of all sorts of gatekeeper institutions (social, political, religious), more and more people in the United States and around the globe are ready, willing, and able to try and call their own shots.” — Reason.com editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie, “5 Earth-Shaking Trends To Follow in 2015 — and Beyond!,” TIME, Jan. 1, 2015.

OBAMA, MILITARY BIG SPENDER: “Defense budgets under [President] Bush… averaged $601 billion per year, while [President Obama] has presided over annual budgets averaging $687 billion between 2009 and 2014. Indeed, President Obama, who was elected during an economic crisis, will leave office having approved more military spending than any presidential administration in the nuclear era. Not too bad for a president who is often accused of trying to gut the military.” — Christopher A. Preble, Cato Institute, “Budget Snapshot: Average Annual Defense Spending by Administration,” Jan. 21, 2015.

Jonah GoldbergLIBERAL “REBELS”: “My single biggest complaint about the majority of college campuses is the widespread myth that being liberal is rebellious somehow. I always like to ask students something like: ‘So, let me get this straight. Your professors are liberal. The administration here is liberal. Your high school teachers were liberal. The mainstream media is liberal. The music industry is liberal. Hollywood is liberal. The art community is liberal. The fashion and publishing industries are liberal. And yet you people think you’re sticking it to the Man by agreeing with them?’ Being liberal is just about the least rebellious thing you can do on an elite college campus.” — conservative journalist Jonah Goldberg, interviewed by Ryan Shinkel in The College Fix, Jan. 28, 2015.

They Said It… With Doug Bandow, Judge Andrew Napolitano And More

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the They Said It section in Volume 20, No. 1 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

THE DRUG WAR GULAG: “The U.S. rate of incarceration, with nearly one of every 100 adults in prison or jail, is five to 10 times higher than the rates in Western Europe and other democracies… America puts people in prison for crimes that other nations don’t, mostly minor drug offenses, and keeps them in prison much longer. Yet these long sentences have had at best a marginal impact on crime reduction.” — former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and Nicholas Turner, “The Steep Cost of America’s High Incarceration Rate,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 25, 2014.

DEATH BY FDA: “The paternalist FDA long has delayed the approval of life-saving drugs, thereby killing thousands of people, far more than the number likely saved by preventing the sale of dangerous medicines.” — Doug Bandow, Cato Institute, “Close the Government to Close Bad Government Programs,” Cato Blog, December 31, 2014.

POLICE WATCHING YOU ONLINE:
Scottish Police on Twitter“Please be aware that we will continue to monitor comments on social media & any offensive comments will be investigated.” — tweet by the Scottish police, Dec. 30. Such monitoring is on the rise in the UK, according to the UK Independent; about 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online, and some have been arrested and imprisoned.

Judge Andrew Napolitano

NAPOLITANO ON TORTURE: “All torture is criminal under all circumstances — under treaties to which the U.S. is a party, under the Constitution that governs the government wherever it goes, and under federal law. Torture degrades the victim and the perpetrator. It undermines the moral authority of a country whose government condones it. It destroys the rule of law. It exposes our own folks to the awful retaliatory beheadings we have all seen. It is slow, inefficient, morbid, and ineffective. It is a recruiting tool for those who have come to cause us harm. All human beings possess basic inalienable rights derived from the natural law and protected by the Constitution the CIA has sworn to uphold. Torture violates all of those rights.” — Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, “The CIA and Its Torturers,” syndicated column, Dec. 11, 2014.

100 YEARS OF THE WAR ON DRUGS:
Mark Thornton“The War on Drugs … kills thousands of people, destroys untold number of lives, and wastes hundreds of billions of dollars every year. … What has the War on Drugs accomplished? It has not reduced access to illegal drugs. It has not reduced illegal drug use or abuse. It has not reduced the rate of addiction. If anything, the rates of use, abuse, and addiction have increased over the past century. Prison population statistics clearly indicate that it has been used to suppress minorities.

“It has also greatly increased the powers of law enforcement and the legal system and reduced the legal rights and protections of citizens under the tradition of the rule of law. It has greatly increased the militarization of the police and the use of the military in police work. It has also led to a significant increase in U.S. political and military intervention in foreign nations, particularly in the drug supply nations of Central and South America. … it is the number one cause of crime, corruption, and violence in the United States, as well as many of the countries of Central and South America.” — economist Mark Thornton, “The War on Drugs Was Born 100 Years Ago,” Mises Daily, December 17, 2014.

Cuba Part of Trend: Liberty Sweeping the World

in Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 19, No. 25 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

What exciting news to hear that — after fifty years — the U.S. is restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and easing restrictions on trade!

It’s yet another example of how the ideas of liberty are sweeping the world.

It reminds me of one of the greatest moments in the history of liberty: the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Cubans will now have the opportunity to enjoy far more liberty. Economist Douglas A. Irwin points out the crucial connection between trade and liberty in a Wall Street Journal piece entitled “Trade Will Lead to Freedom”:

“The trade ban has been in effect for more than 50 years. It has been a complete failure to I'll See You in Cubapromote any positive change in the country. Instead, it has strengthened the Castros’ grip on the country by giving them a ready-made excuse for their disastrous economic policies.

“Restoring trade ties and expanding commerce would revolutionize the Cuban economy and transform Cuban society. It would spur the growth of a business class, creating competing pockets of power and new, wealthy groups that would challenge the ruling Communist Party. It would give Cuban citizens access to more information, and information about the outside world destabilizes any repressive regime.

“What would happen if every Cuban citizen had access to a smartphone, could organize protests via Twitter, and spread the word about government outrages? …

“Trade will unleash winds of change that will upset the status quo … there is nothing more unsettling to repressive regimes than allowing the exchange of goods and people, ideas and information, to flow freely between countries. Commerce is a conduit for this exchange and can upend the balance of power in closed societies.”

Ron Paul has long been an opponent of the embargo, and in a new op-ed he welcomes the change.

Paul also makes a great point that many people have overlooked:

“What is particularly encouraging about this move is that the 50 year freeze in U.S./Cuba relations was thawed by a simple telephone call between President Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro. I have opposed the isolationist policies of sanctions and embargoes and have encouraged U.S. presidents to simply use diplomacy — even a simple telephone call — to clear up differences. There is a lesson in this for similarly tense U.S. relations with Iran, Russia, Syria, and others.”

Indeed. Once again, Ron Paul has been proven a prophet. And once again, he’s helped us see that rapid and major change for liberty is possible, even through something so simple as a phone call.

The move to normalize relations with Cuba is just the latest example of the growing acceptance of libertarian ideas. In recent issues of the Liberator Online we’ve covered many of them: the growing protests against militarized police, the majority support for re-legalizing marijuana, victories for marriage equality, the new majority support for gun rights, the remarkable growth in both numbers and influence of the libertarian movement, the media’s growing awareness of libertarianism… and perhaps most encouraging of all, the growth of libertarianism among young people — our hope for tomorrow.

Yes, there are many challenges ahead. But our ideas are winning victory after victory. It’s a great time for liberty! I hope you share my excitement.

Celebrating 30,000!

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, One Minute Liberty Tip by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Hooray! The Advocates Facebook page just reached a new milestone: we’ve crossed the 30,000 mark for “Likes” on our page.
Facebook
If you were one of these fans, THANK YOU!

If you haven’t yet liked our page, please check it out. I think you’ll really… “like” it. (Sorry — couldn’t resist!)

Looking closer at these numbers shows why this is such good news for liberty. Some of our original content has reached over half a million people on Facebook with a single post.

Weekly, we reach an average of over 300,000 people with entertaining and thought-provoking commentary, memes and other posts.

So our Facebook outreach is getting the word of liberty out there to lots of people eager for these ideas.

Please note: all this is due to our Facebook supporters who “Comment” on, “Like,” and “Share” our posts. I invite you to join them.

Take a moment right now to connect with us on Facebook — and also on Twitter, and Instagram, if you use those forums — to enjoy and share the great libertarian content you will find there, and to keep up with the latest Advocates news and activities.

Many thanks to Brett Bittner, former Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, who is in charge of our social media. Great job, Brett!

Read the next article from this issue here.

Go back to the full issue here.

Are You on the Fed’s Terrorist Watchlist?

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

You can be pulled into the NSA’s database, put on a terrorist watchlist, and receive discriminatory treatment from local, state, and national law enforcement agents — without warning or notice, and for something as innocent as a Facebook or Twitter post.

So reports journalist Arjun Sethi in a shocking story in The Guardian, August 30, entitled, appropriately enough, “The US government can brand you a terrorist based on a Facebook post.”

“Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information. …

“It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors…

“The Terrorist Screening Database watchlist tracks ‘known’ and ‘suspected’ terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the U.S. government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information — including a Facebook or Twitter post — to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.”

Indeed, according to the investigative journalism website The Intercept, the Terrorist Screening Database has about 680,000 people on it — and more than 40 percent are described by the government itself as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” That’s a whopping 280,000 people.

Continues the Guardian: “These eye-popping numbers are largely the result of the US government’s use of a loose standard — so-called ‘reasonable suspicion’ — in determining who, exactly, can be watchlisted.

“Reasonable suspicion is such a low standard because it requires neither ‘concrete evidence’ nor ‘irrefutable evidence.’ Instead, an official is permitted to consider ‘reasonable inferences’ and ‘to draw from the facts in light of his/her experience.’”

Further, the loose rules allow watchlisting without even the minimum standard of  reasonable suspicion. Non-citizens can be watchlisted just for being associated with a watchlisted person, even if the relationship is totally innocent. If a source or tipster describes a non-citizen as an “extremist,” a “militant,” or some similar term, and the FBI can make some vague connection, this could be enough to watchlist a person. The watchlist designation is secret, so no one is able to challenge these allegations.

But being on the watchlist can bring terrible consequences, notes the Guardian:

“Life on the master watchlist can trigger enhanced screening at borders and airports; being on the No Fly List, which is a subset of the larger terrorist watchlist, can prevent airline travel altogether. The watchlist can separate family members for months or years, isolate individuals from friends and associates, and ruin employment prospects.

“Being branded a terrorism suspect also has far-reaching privacy implications. The watchlist is widely accessible, and government officials routinely collect the biometric data of watchlisted individuals, including their fingerprints and DNA strands. Law enforcement has likewise been directed to gather any and all available evidence when encountering watchlisted individuals, including receipts, business cards, health information and bank statements. …

“A watchlist based on poor standards and secret processes raises major constitutional concerns, including the right to travel freely and not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.”

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, agrees: “We’re getting into Minority Report territory when being friends with the wrong person can mean the government puts you in a database and adds DMV photos, iris scans, and face recognition technology to track you secretly and without your knowledge. The fact that this information can be shared with agencies from the CIA to the NYPD, which are not known for protecting civil liberties, brings us closer to an invasive and rights-violating government surveillance society at home and abroad.”

The Guardian concludes with a question you’re probably already asking yourself:

“Indeed, you can’t help but wonder: are you already on the watchlist?”

Read the next article from this issue here.

Go back to the full issue here.