Freedom of the press is *your* freedom.

Nazi storm troopers — notoriously brutal to citizens and enemies alike — march in Nuremburg

On Friday the New York Times ran a story entitled, Media Executives Arrested in Phoenix which really disturbed me as an American citizen, troubled me as a blogger and a technologist and that few in the blogosphere seem to be outraged.

Thought I would post this diatribe while I’m still free to do so.

Seems these executives were arrested for unlawful disclosure of grand jury information. From the NYT article:

Michael Lacey, the executive editor, and Jim Larkin, chief executive, were arrested at their homes after they wrote a story that revealed that the Village Voice Media company, its executives, its reporters and even the names of the readers of its website had been subpoenaed by a special prosecutor. The special prosecutor had been appointed to look into allegations that the newspaper had violated the law in publishing the home address of Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s home address on its website more than three years ago.
 
Turns out that on Friday, the Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced that all charges against New Times, its owners, editors and writers have been dropped — and that special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik has been dismissed. How convenient.

Look…I’m as patriotic as most but am growing more alarmed by the day by attempted moves like this from law enforcement. Having everything be so secretive means that nothing can be questioned. Questioning is healthy and — like everyone else does since it’s such an easy analogy — is precisely what was squelched in Germany in the 1930’s as the Nazi party came to power.

My great, great grandparents came from Germany in the mid-1850’s and my Dad and I discovered numerous relatives while on a two week Dad & Son adventure during the summer of 1997. While a lay student of German history before the trip, my ancestral connections to that country only deepened my study of what it must’ve been like to live there as the Nazi’s seized power and slooowly turned the screws on the German people. Since people didn’t put a stop to the Nazi party’s rise early enough, it was a fairly trivial matter to scare the beejeesus out of the populace to the point that only the stupid or those with a death wish would dare to speak up.

While I’m not yet certain if fascism could appear in the good ole US of A — and thanks to the National Rifle Association our populace is well stocked with guns unlike Germany — Congressional acquiescence on wiretapping; the mass data mining of the American citizenry; and, most disturbingly, how it seems that any questioning of our government in a so-called “time of war” is somehow unpatriotic and that an opposing party queries of a pullout from Iraq has been characterized as “cut-n-run” means that we’re all ready pretty far down the slippery slope toward it as we’ve cheerfully handed over many of our fundamental freedoms with a wink and a smile. 

You’ve already given up quite a bit of your freedom, but do you even know how much?   

The Patriot Act and the Bush Administration’s use (or as many believe, abuse) of National Security Letter’s is unprecedented in history and we’ve all allowed this expansion of the executive branch power to take place since most of the American citizenry have been acting like frightened children. Children who haven’t yet grown to a level of critical thinking skills and thus be able to see through this obvious manipulation. The fear of terrorism and that boogey man, Al Qaeda, has justified pushing the envelope on anything that smacks of criminality.

While I clearly understand the enormity of the law enforcement and intelligence gathering problem in a world that is now connected through a global network — and that hiding (e.g., encrypting communications) is laughingly simple by both the good guys and the bad — it still cannot justify neutering the
Constitution, the Bill of Rights and obviating much of what our lauded Greatest Generation fought for and what our current military is ostensibly fighting for today in Iraq.

I also understand that we’re most likely past peak oil production in the world and with countries like China accelerating their consumption — and propping up the US economy with their investments that let’s hope they don’t instead put into Euro’s — forward looking strategists undoubtedly saw our only solution being permanent military bases in Iraq to protect our friends, the Saudi monarchs (who are apparently exempt from the spreading of freedom and democracy), and have a strategic and defensible position in the Middle East.

But….

I’m also aware of the power and capability inherent in data mining and other software that already exists. I’m not talking about something only the National Security Agency or even the phantom Echelon group might have, but instead it’s what most I.T. executives and experienced technology folks already buy and use or know is available to them for a fee.

Facial recognition; pattern matching; financial transactions; internet bread crumb trails you leave everywhere; can all be combined to uncover terrorists…and you might be one if the circumstantial evidence shows you are.

Those arrested media executives in Phoenix may or may not have improperly disclosed grand jury information (I doubt they did based on early reports) but this is one tiny example of the methods being used against anyone with a method of communication — and I fear bloggers won’t be far behind in being muzzled or threatened by those attempting to do so.

So if you consider all the currently available I.T. software we know of and that which we don’t — and then combine that knowledge with such Bush Administration practices like the abuse of National Security Letter’s (NSL) — we end up with powerful technologies and virtually no-checks-n-balances!

Before you shake your head, laugh and think I’m just a paranoid guy with a tinfoil hat, are you aware that the receipt of an NSL — which requires no probable cause or judicial oversight and also contains a gag order — prevents the recipient of the letter from disclosing that the letter was ever issued?

From the Wikipedia article on the Patriot Act (my emphasis):  One of the most controversial aspects of the Patriot Act is in title V, and relates to National Security Letters (NSLs). An NSL is a form of administrative subpoena used by the FBI, and reportedly by other U.S. government agencies including the CIA and the Department of Defense (DoD). It is a demand letter issued to a particular entity or organization to turn over various records and data pertaining to individuals. They require no probable cause or judicial oversight and also contain a gag order, preventing the recipient of the letter from disclosing that the letter was ever issued.

Your ISP, bank, telephone company, employer, health plan and other holder of your personal data could receive an NSL and hand over all your data. You would never know and whistleblowers could be imprisoned (as enemy combatants?) if they disclose that it exists.

So from enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay (who also are in limbo without knowing anything and no haebus corpus to rely on) to “outsourced torture” so we can get away with anything since it’s done offshore, to what we’re giving up here with respect to our own freedoms, it’s time to do something.

Yes, write your Representative or Senator. Join the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Stop by and read Chilling Effects. Check out Media Matters.

Or just shake your head up and down and watch Fox, listen to Bush and ignore everything else.

 

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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