Larry Flynt

Posts Tagged ‘privacy rights’

Data Rape

Monday, October 7th, 2013


by Robert Scheer

Give me bargain or give me liberty. Do Americans love shopping more than they value their individual freedom, or is buying stuff the only freedom we cherish?

Think about it. Why in the past decade have we squandered our legacy of privacy, the Constitutionally protected right to per sonal space, to be left alone with our thoughts and passions and totally empowered to define who we are as individuals as long as we don’t deny that right to others? That was the founding assumption of this great republic of ours, enshrined in the Bill of Rights and with rare exceptions honored until the coming of the age of the Internet and the wired revolution.

In terms of sacrificing privacy, the past decade has witnessed the most sweeping change in human history. Sacred notions of the sanctity of home and family, not to mention even the most intimate details of one’s personal life, are now an open book for anyone with online access. “We know where you live”—the dreaded warning once reserved for particularly efficient and vicious gangsters and agents of a totalitarian regime’s spy apparatus—can now be applied to anyone, nutcase or hustler, who means you harm, as well as to those who just want to sink you into deeper debt by selling you junk.

And most of us think this rape of the private self is just dandy when all of those online ads pitching a product instantly linked to some subject line in whatever we are reading pop up. Interested in gun control? Your computer screen suddenly winks back at you with some cutie message like “I have a snazzy assault weapon you might be interested in. And while you’re at it, why not join a group to protect your right to own a weapon designed to create mayhem?”

That’s the world we welcome into our lives every time we agree to the fine print of some new software convenience—and even when we don’t. There is no accountability for what the Internet search giants will do with our data—and certainly not for the government agencies ostensibly devoted to protecting your rights. This is truly a case where government is not the solution to the problem: It is the problem!

As was confirmed by the leaks concerning the supersecret National Security Agency’s massive surveillance and data-sorting activities, the government on both federal and state levels views the private info-collection outfits— led by Google and Yahoo!—as massive vacuum cleaners sucking up every bit of our personal lives.

This is information that those purportedly private companies are required to turn over to just about any government agency—from the CIA to your local police department—to be sorted, manipulated, cross-filed and made available to just about anyone with some kind of security clearance. That means just about anyone capable of breathing who can sport some sort of badge.

Booz Allen Hamilton, with more than $11 billion in federal contracts, had full access to your records that the government had obtained from Google and the others. Even more disturbing, the for-profit company—which has had a cozy relationship with the intelligence community since World War II—was authorized to bestow official government secrecy clearances on its own employees. That practice came to bite Booz Allen in the ass when one of them—a high-school drop – out named Edward Snowden—decided to leak a mother lode of classified documents detailing the NSA’s extensive phone and Internet eavesdropping.

The government and its private-sector agents get away with doing this because they claim that in the end it makes us safer. It’s the old Big Brother argument: Trust us to enter and monitor every aspect of your lives and totally destroy your freedom. And in return we will guarantee that you will be free of a terrorist attack.

It is a garbage argument because all of that snooping has an ulterior motive: In order to get increased funding to feed its enormous appetite, what is basically a national-security industrial complex has to continue telling us that we are in imminent danger of yet another attack.

The hyping of fear has become a way of life in our country, but we don’t object or even notice because we are too busy shopping.

The Real Surveillance Problem

Monday, September 30th, 2013

larry-flyntIt’s a damn shame we have to rely on dubious characters like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange to ignite a real debate about our Fourth Amendment right to privacy. The ones who should be raising the alarm are our elected representatives in Congress, not some ham-handed whistleblowers.

The problem is not that we have a high-tech spying apparatus. A wealthy powerful country needs an effective intelligence machine to keep its strategic edge and protect its citizens. The problem is that Congress has rammed through bad legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that leaves the door wide open for intelligence agencies and corporate interests to do whatever they want without accountability. Such laws, compounded with a total lack of Congressional oversight, have removed the checks and balances we need to keep security measures in line with our Constitutional rights. If you allow that much room for abuse, don’t be surprised if somebody exploits it.

I would also argue that the problem goes back much further: to America’s misguided foreign policy. We spend most of our time and money propping up puppet regimes that will sooner or later topple or turn against us rather than building viable states with true democratic rights and practices.

The vicious cycle is obvious: As long as we have a foreign policy problem, we will have a security problem. And as long as that’s the case, government control freaks will go on building their total surveillance state. A few so-called whistleblowers won’t change that. Either we make Congress do its job or we get used to Big Brother watching and listening to us every second of our lives.

Larry Flynt

Kiss Your Privacy Goodbye

Monday, July 1st, 2013


by Robert Scheer

Ever read the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? Probably not, or you—like most Americans—would not be so accepting of its demise as a pillar of the freedoms guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights. The Fourth is the one that guarantees “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. …”

As the wording of the amendment clearly states, it’s not just your home that is your castle. Dating back to the late 12th century, when English common law was first taking shape, this principle granted a person sovereignty over his space even if a tyrannical monarch was sitting on the throne. The Fourth Amendment goes further than that, extending your sovereignty over “houses, papers, and effects.” So even when you are traveling beyond the confines of your domicile, your fundamental right to a private space is protected.

That space can only be invaded by agents of the state under the Fourth Amendment’s narrowly prescribed parameters: “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

How much clearer could the framers of our Constitution have made it? They knew exactly the dangers they were describing: agents, acting on behalf of King George III, who would conduct general sweeps through the homes of rebellious colonists as a means of enforcing blind obedience and squelching any rumblings of revolution. Privacy of home and thought was not some perk of leisure to the founders but rather the bedrock on which free citizens could stand.

Better tell that to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has defended the increasingly widespread use of drones to spy on every second of our most personal activity. Easy for Bloomberg. As one of the country’s richest men, he can no doubt find heavily guarded sanctuaries to provide him with virtually impenetrable privacy. His advice to the rest of us on his weekly radio show was that privacy is doomed: “You can’t keep the tides from coming in. We’re gonna have more visibility and less privacy. I don’t see how you stop that.”

What a cop-out to liken calculated assaults by state and private snoopers on our most intimate affairs to the natural rise and fall of sea levels dictated by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun along with Earth’s rotation. Snooping is dictated by the eagerness of snoopers, official or private, and their unconstitutional antics can be banned as a matter of law. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

For example, back in 1999, Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, permitting insurance companies, investment houses and commercial banks to merge. At the time, privacy advocates pointed out that this would permit the consolidation of massive medical and financial databases. They called for a statutory requirement that an individual’s records could not be shared without their express consent. Under pressure from the banking lobbyists eager to exploit this new trove of personal information, Congress rejected that safeguard. What should be confidential is now public.

Unfortunately, in 2001 that assault on our privacy rights was followed by the so-called War on Terror in response to the 9/11 attacks. The pretext of fighting foreign enemies has led to a massive expansion of warrantless surveillance of our phone calls and emails without any of the safeguards enshrined in our Constitution.

Earlier this year the Supreme Court threw out a challenge to this surveillance on the grounds that since it is secret, we citizens have no basis for claiming we are being spied on even though the government concedes it is doing just that.

So much for the Fourth Amendment and your privacy rights.

Orwellian Decision

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013


by Robert Scheer

Why did we go so crazy after 9/11? The idea that somehow our freedoms could be easily sacrificed, including those that our Constitution declared most fundamental to the survival of our republic, became the norm.

This past February, more than a decade after attacks that would seem relatively minor in the histories of most war-torn nations, the so-called conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court—in cahoots with President Barack Obama—put the final nail in the coffin of one of the Constitution’s most sacred protections: the right to the privacy of one’s home and thoughts.

Enshrined in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, it was perhaps the most important right of all in the eyes of the founders of this nation. They had risked much as colonists in objecting to the warrantless intrusion into people’s homes conducted by the king of England. That is why they guaranteed “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Surely, the right to be secure in one’s person and papers would extend in the modern era to telephone conversations, as candidate Obama stated when he first ran for President and condemned the warrantless electronic surveillance of the Bush Administration. He specifically denounced Bush’s exploitation of the 9/11 attacks as “an excuse for unchecked Presidential power. A tragedy that united us was turned into a political wedge issue used to divide us.”

Obama specifically denounced Bush’s use of warrantless wiretapping as “a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.” He promised that “I will provide our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens.”

But Obama didn’t mean it. The unconstitutional wiretapping initiated under Bush that ensnares the communications of millions of Americans has been defended even more energetically by his successor. The Obama Administration filed the critical brief affirming the constitutionality of the eavesdropping by the National Security Agency that Amnesty International and the ACLU had challenged before the Supreme Court.

It was the reasoning of the Obama Justice Department that the court’s right-wing majority embraced in slamming the door shut on protecting the basic privacy rights of Americans. In a 5-4 decision, the court held that the plaintiffs had no judicial standing to bring their challenge to the administration’s policy because they couldn’t prove they had been victimized by its wiretap procedures.

Of course they couldn’t because the wiretapping procedures are so highly secret. But the Constitutional point, as former Constitutional law professor Obama well knows, is that the government has no more right to break into your phone conversations than it does to physically enter your home without a warrant. It is the warrant that serves notice to the victim that he or she may be being victimized.

Instead of honoring the sanctity of the right to privacy, Obama and the Supreme Court— as they’ve done with drone strikes and the rendition- torture program—substitute stealth for transparency to make official criminal behavior invisible. Prophetic writer George Orwell would have appreciated the Obama argument. Rejected by the court’s pro-civil liberties minority, it insisted that since the NSA’s surveillance operation is so highly secret, those who fear that the public is being victimized can’t prove it. By that reasoning, any nefarious action of the government—say assassinations of its critics— could be deemed exempt from judicial challenge as long as the facts of the killing are concealed behind the veil of official secrecy.

The Supreme Court majority ruling spells the end of government accountability and with it the end of the Bill of Rights protection of individual freedom. That is the template of the post-9/11 America into which this country has morphed.

Congress Tunes Its “Instrument of Villainy”

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

My most exciting memory of growing up in Boston during the Great Depression was learning how our independence was born. A pivotal event occurred in 1761 in a Boston courtroom. Lawyer James Otis Jr. spent nearly five hours arguing against extension of the “writs of assistance,” which British officials drew up themselves—like today’s FBI does—so they could burst into unspecified colonists’ businesses and homes in search of smuggled goods and other items.

As I chronicled in my book Living the Bill of Rights, Otis told the magistrates: “The freedom of one’s house is an essential liberty, and any law which violates that privacy is an instrument of slavery and villainy.”

Otis lost the case, but in the courtroom was a lawyer named John Adams (later our second President), who wrote in his notebook that very night: “Every man of an immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance. Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born.”

Otis subsequently proclaimed in a pamphlet that those writs violated the British constitution and Magna Carta. Hence, as I have told American schoolchildren over the years, they inspired the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution. This part of the Bill of Rights guards against unreasonable searches and seizures and decrees that any warrant be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.

Adams later wrote, “Otis was a flame of fire [that night].” But since 9/11 the Bush- Cheney Administration and Barack Obama’s even more harshly have dimmed that flame.

And now our lawmakers practically eviscerated the Fourth Amendment on December 28, 2012. As Robert Pear reported in the New York Times, “Congress gave final approval… to a bill extending the government’s power to intercept electronic communications of spy and terrorism suspects after the Senate voted down proposals from several Democrats and Republicans to increase protections of civil liberties and privacy.” The vote was 73 to 23.

The dissenters worried that electronic surveillance, though directed at suspected non-citizens abroad in contact with Americans, “inevitably swept up communications of Americans as well.”

More pointedly, despite President Obama’s strong support of the bill and its passage in the House of Representatives, Senate Democrat Richard J. Durbin of Illinois reminded those few of us who were paying attention that this extension of the government’s surveillance authority for five more years “does not have adequate checks and balances to protect the Constitutional rights of innocent American citizens.”

How many of us are still regarded by our intelligence agencies as “innocent American citizens”?

Dig this from Pear’s report: Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado) said he and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) “were concerned that ‘a loophole’ in the 2008 law [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] ‘could allow the government to effectively conduct warrantless searches for Americans’ communications.’”

Of course, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. told Congress, “There is no loophole in the law.” So how come, fellow Americans, Pear reported that “by a vote of 52 to 43, the Senate…rejected a proposal by Mr. Wyden to require the national intelligence director to tell Congress if the government had collected any domestic e-mail or telephone conversations under the surveillance law”?

In the midst of Republican and Democratic administrations’ reluctance to tell We the People what the hell is going on as the government invades our privacy ever more contemptuously, Senator Wyden told his colleagues that this impervious secrecy from on high “reminded him of the ‘general warrants that so upset the colonists’ more than 200 years ago.” Me too.

Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) noted, “The Fourth Amendment was written in a different time and a different age, but its necessity and its truth are timeless.” He added: “Over the past few decades, our right to privacy has been eroded. We have become lazy and haphazard in our vigilance.”

We’ll long be paying for our laziness in ways we will not even know while those we keep electing continue to pry into our lives.

Nat Hentoff is a historian of the Constitution, a jazz critic and a columnist for the Village Voice and Free Inquiry. His incisive books include The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America and Living the Bill of Rights.

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