Sunday, December 4, 2016

privacy

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gun show

Federal law enforcement is working with local law enforcement to monitor gun show attendees with controversial techniques.

In 2010 the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency devised a plan to record license-plate numbers of everyone at the gun shows in Southern California.

The license plates were recorded with special devices that can read and record all numbers of passing cars.

The agents then took the information collected at the gun show and looked for those cars crossing the southern border into Mexico.

Other than criminals, privacy advocates are furious at the new tactics.

Collecting information on all the people attending a gun show could be useful to law enforcement.

Stopping guns from crossing the border isn’t a bad thing, but government generally takes good programs and corrupts them.

Imagine a list of gun owners in the hands of the people that want to get rid of guns. If you start with a list of your enemies then you most likely have the advantage.

Looking at this from another angle, why are the police monitoring citizens in order to stop guns from going into Mexico? Shouldn’t they be worried about the guns coming into America?

So it comes down to this question…

Do you want your freedoms or do you want to feel a little bit safer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Legislative

With the attention of virtually all media and political pundits centered on the major political conventions, it is important we not lose sight of the fact that many lawmakers from both parties are continuing their relentless drive to increase the power of the federal government to snoop. Thankfully, a group of pro-freedom members of the House of Representatives are looking out for our interests. For example, just prior to the Congress adjourning for the summer recess earlier this month, an important but little-noticed vote occurred that stopped a move to give the Feds even more power to gather private information on individuals’ financial transactions.

The offending proposal was H.R. 5606, authored by Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger and Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters. Their bill would have amended Section 314 of the USA PATRIOT Act ostensibly to “facilitate better information sharing to assist in the fight against the funding of terrorist activities, and for other purposes.”

In fact, the bill’s real purpose had nothing at all to do with actual terrorism, but everything to do with Uncle Sam’s insatiable appetite for access to financial information of whatever sort on everyone.

By way of background, and as originally drafted, Section 314 of the USA PATRIOT Act was designed to help prevent money laundering and other financial backing of terror plots, by making it easier for federal law enforcement officials to investigate truly “suspicious” financial activity reported to them. Yet, like most USA PATRIOT Act powers that have been used overwhelming in non-terror related cases, the government saw a window of opportunity to expand these financial powers to encompass other “unlawful activity.”

It is axiomatic that, freed from what the government considers the unnecessary “red tape” normally required by the 4th Amendment before its agents can access private records, government snoops find their job of investigating alleged criminal activity far easier. Hence, the constant effort to expand the universe of “exceptions” to the Fourth Amendment’s requirements. Thankfully, a sufficient number of House members who understand the importance of maintaining the robust protections embodied in the Fourth Amendment, were able to derail the latest effort to weaken its protections.

As Rep. Justin Amash and his colleagues in the Republican Liberty Caucus rightfully pointed out in opposing the Pittenger-Waters bill, this sidestep of due process would “permit the government to demand information on any American from any financial institution merely upon reasonable suspicion.” One need only look at law enforcement’s problematic track record with civil asset forfeiture at all all levels of government, to see where such a shortcut would end for many innocent Americans wrongfully suspected of unlawful activity. Simply trying to make transactions easier on your local bank teller could suddenly have your life savings seized by the IRS, as North Carolina convenience store owner Lyndon McLellan discovered.

Due process provided under the Fourth Amendment is a crucial component of our criminal justice system; it establishes a clearly defined process the government must obey in pursuing and investigating crimes. This vital part of our Bill of Rights makes it intentionally difficult for the government to invade an individual’s privacy, by limiting law enforcement’s ability to engage in investigative fishing expeditions that target innocent individuals like McLellan.

Nearly 100 years ago, political essayist H.L. Mencken commented that “the American has grown so accustomed to the denial of his constitutional rights…by swarms of spies, letter-openers, informers and agents provocateurs that that he no longer makes any serious protest.” One would have hoped that in the years since 9/11, as we’ve watched the new authorities given to the government to prevent terrorism expanded to areas far beyond their intended scope, we would have learned not to so quickly jump to give the Feds more power. Instead, many Republicanand Democrat lawmakers seem determined to prove Mencken right, time and time again.

Fortunately, there still exist elected leaders like Amash and his colleagues in the House Liberty Caucus who remember their oath to uphold the Constitution. And, even small victories such as that last week in defeating H.R. 5606, deserve to be recognized for their importance, if not rarity.

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amnesty

An illegal alien, who just pleaded guilty to charges that he secretly filmed a woman in a Texas Walmart bathroom, might be set free.

Jose Santos Argueta, 32, was arrested on Valentine’s Day, after a woman noticed a cell phone on the floor under her stall in the woman’s bathroom. She quickly realized she could see herself on the screen being filmed and contacted security. Argueta had been hiding in the next stall.

When Argueta was detained and gave permission for police to search his phone, they found the video of his fellow Walmart patron.

Argueta has been in jail for 243 days since his arrested–and since he was only sentenced to 270 days with credit for time served, he’s set to be released soon.

But, according to Breitbart Texas, which first broke the story, Argueta he likely won’t be sent back to his native Mexico when he’s released–even though the federal government placed him in an immigration hold.

Because of Obama’s Priority Enforcement Program, it’s likely that Argueta wouldn’t be considered a dangerous enough criminal to get deported–meaning he’d be able to walk the streets of the United States, even with his peeping conviction.

“He certainly could be released,” Green County Sheriff Davis Jones said, in an interview with Breitbart Texas. “We have had several people who were convicted and turned over to federal authorities released. It is a very real concern.”

But Sheriff Jones claims the problem isn’t the border patrol–it’s Washington. “The problem,” Jones explained, “comes from the orders they receive from higher up.”

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bathrooms

The University of Toronto just proved why gender-segregated restrooms were always a thing.

After two separate incidents of so-called “voyeurism”–creepy peeping–in their gender-neutral bathrooms, the administration rolled back their new restroom policy, in the name of personal safety.

Two women, on September 15 and 19, reported seeing a cell phone reach over the doors to the shower stalls–in an attempt to film them as they showered. Police are still investigating and no one has been identified as a suspect at this time.

Melinda Scott, the dean of students, said that the university would be rolling back their “Washroom Inclusivity Project,” at least temporarily.

“The purpose of this temporary measure is to provide a safe space for the women who have been directly impacted by these events and other students who may feel more comfortable in a single-gender washroom in the wake of these incidents,” she explained.

That’s a very different tune than the University of Toronto has previously struck. Their “Washroom Inclusivity Project,” as described on their website, articulates the importance of having gender-neutral restrooms.

“Gender neutral washrooms are often central in discussions of transgender inclusivity in public spaces. The Washroom Inclusivity Project is no different in this, mapping the location of gender neutral toilets is the most visible manifestation of inclusivity that we can provide.”

The University of Toronto displays the tug-and-pull between being politically correct and risking safety. Gender-segregated restrooms came out of a very legitimate need to protect safety and privacy, not as a way to arbitrarily punish some members of society or create inequality.

By quickly changing policies to create so-called “inclusive spaces”–as is happening all across Canada and the United States–that need for safety is too often being snowed under by the rush to protect other people’s feelings.

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Once the purview of science fiction films like “Minority Report” where cop on the run Tom Cruise had to duck eye scans virtually everywhere to escape detection in retail stores, office buildings and mass transit systems, state-of-the-art science is closing in on Iris Scanner technology that can identify people from up to 40 feet away.

So say researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Biometrics Center have been testing and perfecting an iris recognition system effective up to 40 feet away. The field of study is known as “Unconstrained Long Range Iris Recognition” and the technology that makes it possible relies on eye characteristics as unique to an individual as fingerprints are now.

One application could be the use of Iris Recognition at traffic stops where police can pull you over and identify you if you make the mistake of looking at the police cruiser in your rear or side view mirrors. The technology captures an image from a live photographic or video feed and runs it through a database to find a potential match.

Moreover, you will not know you are being scanned because high-resolution cameras that capture images of the iris from a distance use light in the near-infrared wavelength band – beyond the visual range of the human eye.

But will people be willing to allow their eyes to be scanned by Big Brother?

They will if they want a driver’s license or passport… or want to travel by air, rail or boat… or open a checking account – and government could mandate a child’s iris scan at birth.

People already give up biometric information voluntarily including photos and fingerprints on documents and privacy experts believe governments could make everyday life impossible for people unwilling to comply. And if you have a run in with the law, iris scans can be added to the booking process along just as mug shots, fingerprints and DNA profiles are collected now.

There is no reason to worry just yet. Even the best systems are not ready for primetime and are years away from affordability, wide distribution or use by trained operators.

Scanners require a stationary subject with a straight on point of view. Current scanner accuracy is also easily impaired by glasses or contact lenses – and is useless with subjects wearing sunglasses.

Still, it is important to keep an eye on technology that further intrudes on privacy – sometimes without the informed consent of individuals – and strict controls need to be established and enforced on how images are taken, stored and purged.

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street-lights-have-eyes

Government just found a new way to spy on you: through new data-collecting “intelligent” streetlights.

Jacksonville, FL, recently announced it plans to install 50 new streetlights downtown under a new General Electric pilot program.

According to GE, the streetlights will be “interconnected with one another and will collect real-time data.”

“GE’s intelligent LEDs are a gateway to city-changing technology, with sensors, controls, wireless transmitters and microprocessors built within the LED system.”

Sound creepy? It gets worse.

Once the streetlights have collected all your data, GE’s “Predix software” will analyze the data in real-time, providing the city with an array of information.

According to GE, “Predix… collects and analyzes data from these components, delivering optimized tools that respond to city challenges.” But GE will ultimately own the data–collected from America’s neighborhood streets.

GE touts benefits–like giving drivers “real time information on locations of available parking spaces,” but glosses over more troubling details–like the streetlights’ surveillance capabilities.

Similar projects, like one tested in Las Vegas in 2013, include audio and video recording applications–including so-called “Homeland Security” features.

At the time, the streetlights manufacturer advertised its voice analysts would “assist DHS in protecting its citizens and natural resources.”

No word on who will protect citizens from shady government spying–but unfortunately, this program will continue to grow: San Diego, California, will soon become part of GE’s streetlight program too.

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nervous

Careful, airline passengers! If you happen to show up to your flight late, or are nervous about forgetting to turn off the lights before your trip, you may find yourself interrogated by one of the Transportation Security Administration’s 3,000 “Behavior Detection Officers” (BDOs). These lightly trained security sleuths are employing an actual “ scoring” system to identity terrorists trying to board a commercial airliner. Even “exaggerated yawning,” a “cold penetrating stare,” or strong “body odor” are among the tell-tale signs for which the eagle eyes – and noses – of these BDOs are watching.

In case you might be wondering who is paying for this nonsense – we are; the American taxpayers.

What TSA officially and coyly calls its Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program is one of the many so-called security innovations concocted by the TSA, which describes itself as an “intelligence driven counter-terrorism agency.” And, while this program is yet another example of how the TSA now more closely resembles a Saturday Night Live skit than a serious federal agency tasked with protecting America’s commercial air system from terrorism, the laughs abruptly end when considering the financial costs and the loss of liberty that comes with it.

How did America transition from the Land of the Free – a country in which freedom to travel was long-considered (even by the Supreme Court) to be a fundamental right – to one in which we permit government employees to subject us to invasive searches if we smell bad or yawn too much?

It is easy – and accurate – to trace the current situation back to the reaction to the 9-11 terrorist attacks; but it actually began decades earlier, when law enforcement agents began taking liberties with the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, as part of the “War on Drugs.” Even then, however, the courts eventually put a stop to such practices as “drug courier profiles” conducted at airports. Those now-disallowed “profiles” included many of the same indices as TSA employs now in its SPOT program.

The language of the Fourth Amendment has not changed; and the Supreme Court has not overturned its ban on drug-courier profiling. Yet, TSA is currently subjecting air travelers to precisely the same arbitrary, unscientific profiling that drug agents are no longer allowed to use. What has changed? We have. We are a far more timid and fearful nation than we were in the 1970s; and the intrusiveness of government control over our lives has expanded to levels and into areas of behavior few would have dreamed possible four decades ago.

TSA cannot even justify the SPOT program with evidence that it actually works. According to the federal government itself, the program does not work; at least in terms of identifying terrorists. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the program essentially worthless and in a 2013 study, suggested it be defunded. Like the good bureaucrats they are, top officials at TSA continue to defend it; and for reasons unclear, Congress has refused to specifically de-fund it. Thus, the silliness continues, and the cost mounts.

Could it get worse? Absolutely. In reaction to a pair of recent incidents involving violence at TSA checkpoints, the TSA union is renewing the call to create armed TSA officers, with the power to arrest. We removed such language in the initial legislation establishing TSA after 9-11, and it would be a far graver mistake to permit it now, after seeing what TSA has come up with after nearly 13 years in existence.

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Last weekend, America moved yet another step closer to fulfilling Orwell’s vision for the future

Photo courtesy of Michael Fleshman

“Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever,” George Orwell wrote in 1984, describing the “Newspeak” term for any crime that was evidence of disloyalty. “You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.” Though written more than six decades ago in 1949, Orwell’s dystopian fiction has been hauntingly prophetic in its accuracy describing the nature of totalitarian societies, particularly the frightening methods for exacting control over the population.

Orwell’s omnipresent “Thought Police,” who penetrated every facet of civilian life, were replicated for decades until the fall of the Berlin Wall by the feared East German “Stasi”; and until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, by the KGB. Russian citizens today, under Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB official, reportedly suffer similar “Big Brother-ism.”

Even in the United States, we see eerie similarities developing within and among the myriad federal agencies that are either directly or indirectly involved in gathering, processing, disseminating, and data-basing information on and about the citizenry. This is no longer a concern that should be directed only at those agencies historically tasked with such activities – the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA primarily. Virtually every federal agency has now become part of the problem.

The Transportation Safety Administration employs “behavior detection officers” to scan facial expressions in order to identify would-be terrorists. DNA is harvested at roadblocks on public highways. The US Postal Service conducts hundreds of thousands of “mail covers” each year, “come rain, shine or dead of night.”

But it is the arena of electronic communications data gathering that has provided the most abundant – and scary – harvest of personal information a la George Orwell.

Owing largely to the actions of Edward Snowden and reporter Glenn Greenwald, we know that any digital communication in which a person participates can be, and likely is, recorded, stored and analyzed by the NSA. The Department of Justice even uses fake cell phone towers on Cessna airplanes to surreptitiously collect cell phone data from American citizens.

Last weekend, however, America moved yet another step closer to fulfilling Orwell’s vision for the future under a totalitarian state as the New York Times revealed that a disturbing number of federal agencies are now using costly, and largely unsupervised, “undercover” investigations to conduct surveillance. These “Secret Police” pose as “business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and even doctors or ministers” in order to catch suspects, or whomever else may fall within the ever-expanding registry of federal criminal offenses (now approaching 5,000 in number).

For years privacy advocates have warned about the steady expansion of virtually unchecked powers both granted to, and assumed by, federal law enforcement and clandestine services agencies. The situation is made far worse by virtue of the fact that many of these activities now are undertaken “in the shadows,” with minimal or no real oversight by the President, agency heads or even congressional overseers. The agencies thus are left largely free to carry on as nearly autonomous entities, guided only by the vague, if not meaningless principle, that they are “protecting us” — whatever the financial or legal costs.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the notion of “Saving America” is now more of a rote mantra used to justify whatever actions government agencies or individual employees decide to undertake so long as such actions can be shoe-horned into the box labeled “homeland security.” The mammoth mechanism of the federal government has transmogrified from an entity designed to protect liberty, into an opaque and self-justifying Praetorian Guard made almost impenetrable to the citizenry through the double-edged sword of modern technology.

This now-galloping mission creep once was relegated primarily to the major federal law enforcement and spy agencies. No longer is this the case. Last weekend’s New York Times revelations illustrates clearly how this toxic mentality has infected virtually every facet of the federal government. Like financial institutions that believed themselves “too big to fail,” the federal government now considers itself “too important to restrain.” Each department, agency, or office has a mission it considers absolutely essential to protecting America from crime, corruption and terrorism — where even discussion about limits to their extra-legal exploits is taboo.

The tangible threats posed by this paradigm are fundamental and widespread. If someone with the I.R.S. can pose as an attorney to catch criminals, how are citizens supposed to trust in the integrity of the right to defend themselves against government charges? If a special agent with the FBI can pretend to be an AP reporter, is any media product free from suspicion? And, if an employee of the DEA can steal content and photos from citizens to use in sting operations, how are we to trust that even our friends’ and family’s online communications are not the product of government snoops?

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment,” Orwell wrote 65 years ago.“You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” Sadly, the ubiquity of home computers, smart phones, iPads, and other information-sharing devices – all susceptible to government GPS tracking – have make Orwell’s society, in which at least the dark of night provided some relief from government’s prying eyes and ears, a quaint relic of a bygone day.

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