Friday, August 22, 2008

Big Brother, Oh Brother!

Lots of news in the domestic spying world...

The US Justice Department has issued a proposal for new rules on domestic spying that would roll back privacy and oversight provisions put in place after Watergate. This “track ‘em all – just in case” system includes data fusion centers in which intelligence about citizens would be stored in databases shared among law enforcement agencies across jurisdiction lines.

According to this McClatchy release on the proposed regs, “Michael German, a former veteran FBI agent who is now policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said if Mukasey moves ahead with the new rules as he describes them, he'll be weakening restrictions originally put in place after the Watergate scandal to rein in the FBI's domestic Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO. At the time, the FBI spied on American political leaders and organizations deemed to be subversive throughout the late 1950s and into the 1960s.”

The concerns about data fusion centers are at the heart of the treatment of protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver where peaceful protesters can be lumped together with “terrorists.” In a recent column, Amy Goodman writes about the overbroad definitions of suspicious activity which can land non-violent protesters in federal databases.

Goodman’s column also expressed concern with the literal “caging of dissent” in which arrestees will be taken to a large, temporary detainment facility without bathrooms or running water. The ACLU of Colorado is involved in talks with city law enforcement about attorney access and conditions of detainees.

CapCityLiberty has been sharing information about searches of electronics at the border, but now with the advent of the passport-light card with the radio frequency chip, citizens crossing back and forth into Canada or Mexico will have their travels recorded in a database for up to 15 years.

These data fusion centers are worse than watch lists – and event the watch lists are snagging children now. Here's a recent action alert from the national ACLU:

Why is 7-year-old John Anderson from Minneapolis on the national Terrorist Watch List?

1. He pushed Tommy too hard on the playground.

2. His July 4th birthday means he distracts other Americans from celebrating their country.

3. John didn’t pick up the blocks during playtime.

The truth is that we don’t know how he got on the Terrorist Watch List. Or if he can get off it. It took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, off the list.

This ever-growing and ineffective Watch List demonstrates what's wrong with the U.S. government’s current approach to security: it’s unfair and a waste of resources. And when our government wastes time and money like this, we are all put in more danger -- not less.

Take our national security quiz to learn about other frightening national security “tools.”

The questions above might be light hearted, but the problems Americans face everyday due to overzealous security measures are real.

According to USA Today:
John Anderson of Minneapolis, [now 7] was first stopped at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in 2004, when his family took him for his first airplane ride to Disney World. "We checked in at the ticket counter, and the woman said in a stern voice, 'Who is John Anderson?' " says his mother, Christine Anderson. "I pointed to my stroller."

Her son is allowed to fly. But because his name is flagged, his family cannot print out a boarding pass for him online and he must check in at the ticket counter so an airline official can see that he's a child.

Take Action!
To find out more about how to fight the "bigger monster with weaker chains" of government surveillance, come to the statewide ACLU of Wisconsin 2008 Activist Conference (Saturday, September 27, Monona Terrace in Madison) where we will feature the ACLU's national expert on domestic spying, Barry Steinhardt. Registration is $30 for members, $10 for students and NEW members can get in the conference and get a new membership for $50. For more information, contact the Madison Area Office at (608) 469-5540.