Larry Flynt

Posts Tagged ‘Privacy’

Privacy R.I.P.

Monday, October 14th, 2013


by Nat Hentoff

While the media and even Congress were outraged about the Obama Administration’s eavesdropping on the personal phone calls of Associated Press reporters and editors, I’m also outraged about We the People’s apathy. Most of us have become so conditioned to the government and corporations databasing our personal communications, I expect there will be little commotion about what could be in store for our privacy as revealed by

In “Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform,” senior staff writer David Kravets foretells the ultimate demise of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of “unreasonable” government searches: “The immigration reform measure [being debated in the Senate] would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S. in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiqui tous national identification system.”

Kravets adds: “Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation is language mandating the creation of the innocuously named ‘photo tool,’ a massive federal data base administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.”

Keep in mind all the “proofs of self” that are continually being added to the USA PATRIOT Act. Nearly every new doctor I go to now requires I bring a photo ID. Never had to when I was a kid.

Says ACLU Congressional lobbyist Chris Calabrese: “It could be the start of keeping a record of all things.”

Why not? Our Founders had no premonition of biometric and other forms of increasingly sophisticated technology. Once in power, all governments are insatiable in demanding more and more information about their subjects— from the New Deal to the FBI and CIA.

Kravets, who’s hip enough to use the chilling term “inevitable mission creep” in his article, notes: “For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last. The Social Security card, for example, was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance.”

And a lot of other things. To be paid for writing this column, I have to provide HUSTLER my Social Security number.

David Bier, an analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says the “photo tool” is “like a national ID system without the card.” And any of us anytime can be “a person of interest” without our knowing we’ve been targeted until we feel the hit.

How much do you want to bet that this “photo tool” will be ignored in the 2014 and 2016 elections? And who knows what will be in our grandchildren’s databases? Or that of anyone who has publicly commented on reading this column. So how many Americans—now and in coming generations—will identify themselves as members of a self-governing republic?

This is why I keep commenting on the growing number of public-school classrooms in which students are learning how to be the kind of Americans for whom the Bill of Rights was intended.

In her book No Citizen Left Behind, Meira Levinson of the Harvard Graduate School of Education writes: “We were able, in our classes, to use something students actually cared about to explore federalism, the rule of law, separation of powers, individual versus collective responsibility…and critical analysis of public rhetoric.”

Meanwhile, in my book Living the Bill of Rights, I quoted scholar John A. Howard’s essay “On Freedom”: “We have in the U.S. produced several generations of cultural orphans who have little knowledge and even less appreciation of their heritage of freedom, or the struggles and sacrifices which produced it. … We have inadvertently engaged in a kind of unilateral intellectual disarmament which could well prove more devastating to the cause of liberty than would be the destruction of our defense arsenals.”

That’s how Barack Obama was reelected and why his opponent Mitt Romney said that if he’d been in Congress, he would have voted for the USA PATRIOT Act. Jefferson and Madison warned that only an informed citizenry would make the revolution work. What’s going on in the schools where you are? Education is the key.

They Can Follow You Everywhere

Monday, September 9th, 2013


by Nat Hentoff

I’ve previously mentioned my gratitude to Google for its swift and verifiable answers to my research questions. But the Silicon Valley leviathan is increasingly a menace to what’s left of our privacy.

Now being developed is Google Glass, a controversial glasses-like device that “allows users to access the Internet, take photos and film short snippets,” reported David Streitfeld in a New York Times story. “Glass is promoted by Google as ‘seamless and empowering.’ It will have the ability to capture any chance encounter…and broadcast it to millions in seconds.”

Feel a little clammy?

So does HUSTLER contributor Robert Scheer. In a post titled “Google’s Spy masters Are Now Worried About Your Secrets” he wrote: “Every time there is a so-called terrorist attack on American soil, pressure to ramp up the reach of our increasingly omnipresent surveillance state spikes, sweeping ever-larger numbers of people and more intimate information concerning their lives into national databases.”

Where’s the indignation among the citizenry? Fear of terrorists has conditioned us to ditch the Fourth Amendment.

Scheer continued: “These technological invasions of our privacy serve to undermine the bold assertion of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that the protection of personal, private space is essential to the freedom of the individual.”

Did you wave goodbye?

Quoted by Scheer are lofty Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who coauthored the Wall Street Journal article “The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution.” Ever heard of biometric information? In their words, it “can be used to identify individuals through their unique physical and biological attributes…. With cloud computing, it takes just seconds to compare millions of faces…. By indexing our biometric signatures, some governments will try to track our every move and word, both physically and digitally.”

Meanwhile, corporations like Google can collect data on what we buy and increase profits by selling it to third parties.

Schmidt defended Google’s data-sharing in 2009 when, as its CEO, he told CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, “If you have something you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

I don’t expect Google Glass to be mentioned much, if at all, in upcoming national, state and local elections. Maybe Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat who remains loyal to the bedraggled Constitution, or Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky will remind us that the American Revolution began simmering in part because the colonists were enraged by British customs agents raiding their offices and homes without warrants, just as the FBI does now habitually.

Along with privacy, this ceaselessly voracious technology is taking from us our most effective weapon against an ever more enveloping police state: free speech. Tucked into David Streitfeld’s peek at Google Glass was a keen observation by Bradley Shear, an expert on social media at George Washington University: “Google Glass will test the right to privacy versus the First Amendment.”

Google Glass and potentially more effective destroyers of individual privacy continue to surpass our wildest imaginations. How many of us could have even conceived of a high-speed, übercomprehensive search engine, much less Google Glass, 20 years ago? And how many protesting journalists, Constitution-defending politicians and outraged citizens will be able to withstand the scrutiny of their private lives by the likes of Google and Barack Obama and the tech-savvy villains following in their footsteps?

I insist that this country’s best chance to again become a self-governing Constitutional republic is if more and more teachers are willing to stand up to tyranny and the invasion of privacy. They will enable new generations of voters to fully understand what it is to be a free American in charge of their government.

The true America has survived the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and later the Civil War, including Lincoln’s violation of his northern opponents’ civil liberties; the first Red Scare and J. Edgar Hoover; the mass imprisonment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War; anti-Communist zealot Joe McCarthy’s 1950s witch-hunt; and it is surviving terrorism.

But will America survive what Google Glass portends it will become?

Has the White House Violated Our Humanity?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

by Nat Hentoff
from HUSTLER Magazine November 2010


Many years ago I went to a conference on privacy at Harvard University. The keynote speaker, a high-level assistant to then- FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was unusually frank for an FBI official. He bellowed, “Privacy? It’s gone.” Even Hoover himself had no idea of how deep and continuing that loss would become. Last year the Electronic Privacy Foundation—the premier defender of our digital civil liberties—accused the U.S. government of engaging “in a massive program of illegal dragnet surveillance of domestic communications and communications records of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001.”

Our home and business phones and e-mails are, of course, porous. But federal eyes and ears have moved on to cell phones, texting, Twitter and their ever-more-sophisticated progeny, while also increasing experimentation with methods of mind control through behavioral modification techniques and beyond. (For details, see “Obama Interrogation Official Linked to U.S. Mind Control Research” at, May 25, 2010.)

James Bamford, the most informed investigator of our cavernous Big Brother—the National Security Agency, known for its limitless databases—reveals in his 2008 book The Shadow Factory : “NSA is also developing another tool that Orwell’s Thought Police might have found useful—an artificial intelligence system designed to know what people are thinking.”

I’ve written about our vanishing privacy in this column and in my books, but never with such penetratingly profound awareness as the Wall Street Journal ’s Peggy Noonan in her article “Our Lives Laid Bare”: “When we lose our privacy, we lose some of our humanity; we lose the things that are particular to us, that make us separate and distinctive as souls, as actually children of God.”

Actually, I’m an atheist, but I do have a secular soul with what once were secret compartments that may now be in “persons of interest” files at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Also, as an unremitting critic of Bush and Cheney and now Obama—the continuer of their anti- Constitutional legacy—I’m not unmindful that were there another 9/11 or worse, I might have a compulsory change of address. So far I’ve not been able to get my actual current FBI files; but the one I saw years ago had me at a North Africa meeting of purportedly dangerous radicals.

I have never been to Africa, North or South. I did meet Che Guevara once, at New York’s Cuban Mission to the United Nations, and I had the irreverent nerve to ask him if Cuba would ever have free elections. He laughed sardonically, obviously not regarding me as a dependable revolutionary.

But there are millions of Americans without a tinge of radicalism or libertarianism (my core belief) in their past who are disquieted at being part of a society under ceaseless surveillance. They hear about current cases like that of Bruce Shore, who caught Kentucky Republican Senator Jim Bunning on C-SPAN complaining about having missed a basketball game to vote on unemployment benefits and then delaying the vote. Shore, a 51-year-old unemployed resident of Philadelphia, sent critical e-mails about Bunning to members of the senator’s staff, including “No checks equal no food for me. DO YOU GET IT?”

This citizen, supposedly protected by the First Amendment, was soon visited by United States marshals, who presented him with a grand jury indictment for violating the Communications Decency Act. His alleged crime? Shore, as this law spells out, “did use a telecommunications device, that is, a computer, whether or not communication ensued, without disclosing his identity, to annoy, abuse, threaten and harass any person who received the communication.”

Whether or not Shore is eventually found guilty, he is now in a stream of government databases, where he will probably remain for the rest of his life—unless we get a President whose bible, whatever his religion, or none, is the Constitution. If Shore is convicted, he faces up to two years in the slammer and a $250,000 fine.

As for many of the rest of us who could be ensnared in this federal dragnet, Peggy Noonan writes that “Americans, as a people, are not really suited to the age of surveillance, the age of no privacy. There is no hiding place now, not here.”

Can we ever get our privacy back? Not unless we fight for it. A movement has begun. According to the Wall Street Journal, such abusers of our privacy as Microsoft, Google, Intel and AT&T “are pushing for more stringent regulations on government ability to access electronic communications.”

They are seeking a basic reform and updating of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which “extended restrictions on government wiretaps to data transmissions as well as phone calls” and “regulated privacy in stored data.” But these so-called restrictions have gone with the Presidential winds and whims. Therefore, this coalition—whose ultimate aim is to restore personal privacy—calls itself Digital Due Process.

Congressman John Conyers Jr. (DMichigan), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says he will lead these attempts to rescue privacy. I know that Conyers is deeply into our American music of individual liberty— jazz—but he needs help. Although it may take some courage after what happened to Bruce Shore, notify your representatives in the House and Senate that you demand your privacy back. Peggy Noonan reminds us: “There are cameras all over. No terrorist can escape them, but none of the rest of us can either.”

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 ; Living the Bill of Rights ; and the forthcoming Is This America?

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