Category Archives: civil liberties

Head of Joint Chiefs: Homosexuality is Immoral

“I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts,” Gen Pace told the Chicago Tribune. “As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behaviour] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behaviour,” he said.

Marine General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he backed the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuality. The policy bans homosexual acts between members of the military.

A gay rights group called the comments “a slap in the face to gay men and women serving with honour and bravery”.

Joe Solomonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, said: “What is immoral is to weaken our national security because of personal prejudices.”

[BBC News]

NYT: The Failed Attorney General

During the hearing on his nomination as attorney general, Alberto Gonzales said he understood the difference between the job he held — President Bush’s in-house lawyer — and the job he wanted, which was to represent all Americans as their chief law enforcement officer and a key defender of the Constitution.

Two years later, it is obvious Mr. Gonzales does not have a clue about the difference. He has never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush’s imperial presidency. If anyone, outside Mr. Bush’s rapidly shrinking circle of enablers, still had doubts about that, the events of last week should have erased them.

[NYTimes]

Gonzales, Mueller admit FBI broke law

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s top two law enforcement officials acknowledged Friday the FBI broke the law to secretly pry out personal information about Americans. They apologized and vowed to prevent further illegal intrusions.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left open the possibility of pursuing criminal charges against FBI agents or lawyers who improperly used the USA Patriot Act in pursuit of suspected terrorists and spies.

The FBI’s transgressions were spelled out in a damning 126-page audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. He found that agents sometimes demanded personal data on people without official authorization, and in other cases improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.

[APnewsire]

D.C. Handgun Ban Struck Down by Federal Appeals Court

March 9 — A U.S. appeals court struck down a three-decade-old District of Columbia law that bans residents from keeping a handgun in their homes, saying the Constitution’s Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington also threw out a district law requiring registered firearms to be kept disassembled or under trigger lock.

It’s the first time a federal appeals court has struck down a gun-control measure on Second Amendment grounds. Nelson Lund, a constitutional law professor at George Mason University in neighboring Virginia, said an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is “very likely.”

“This is clearly an extremely significant ruling,” Lund said, “The District of Columbia had some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the country.’

The Second Amendment says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Lawyers for the District of Columbia, which banned residents from owning handguns in 1976 for public safety reasons, argued that the amendment guarantees the right to bear arms only for members of a militia.

[Bloomberg]

Illegal drugs can be harmless, report says

Illegal drugs can be “harmless” and should no longer be “demonised”, a wide-ranging two-year study concluded today.

The report said Britain’s drug laws were “not fit for purpose” and should be torn up in favour of a system which recognised that drinking and smoking could cause more harm.

The RSA Commission on Illegal Drugs ,set up in January 2005, also called for the main focus of drugs education to be shifted from secondary to primary schools and recommended the introduction of so-called “shooting galleries” – rooms where users can inject drugs.

The report, compiled by a panel of academics, politicians, drugs workers, journalists and a senior police officer, also called for the Home Office to be stripped of its lead role in drugs policy.

It recommended the Misuse of Drugs Act be scrapped in favour of a wider-ranging Misuse of Substances Act, and the current ABC classification system be abandoned in favour of an “index of harms”.

Current laws, the panel claimed, were been “driven by moral panic” with large amounts of money wasted on “futile” efforts to stop supply rather than going after the criminal networks behind the drugs on British streets.

[TheGuardian]

South Korea devises ‘robot ethics charter’

South Korea’s obsession with technology has led it to consider what may be the first government-backed ethical code for robots.

Already well advanced in considering potential uses for robots, from the battlefield to the kitchen, the Korean ministry of commerce, industry and energy today said it hoped to publish guidelines for human-robot relations by the end of the year.

In a move sure to delight science fiction fans, the “Robot Ethics Charter” is likely to be modelled on the instructions devised by the American writer Isaac Asimov in his series, I, Robot.

This was a sort of Hippocratic oath for androids: they were not allowed to harm humans, or allow them to come to harm through inaction; they had to obey orders; and they had to protect themselves if that did not compromise the first two instructions.

[The Telegraph]

FAQ: How Real ID will affect you

What’s all the fuss with the Real ID Act about?
President Bush is expected to sign an $82 billion military spending bill soon that will, in part, create electronically readable, federally approved ID cards for Americans. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the package–which includes the Real ID Act–on Thursday.

What does that mean for me?
Starting three years from now, if you live or work in the United States, you’ll need a federally approved ID card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments, or take advantage of nearly any government service. Practically speaking, your driver’s license likely will have to be reissued to meet federal standards.

Follow the link to read more

[CNET.com]

I am not a state secret

ON NEW YEAR’S EVE in 2003, I was seized at the border of Serbia and Macedonia by Macedonian police who mistakenly believed that I was traveling on a false German passport. I was detained incommunicado for more than three weeks. Then I was handed over to the American Central Intelligence Agency and was stripped, severely beaten, shackled, dressed in a diaper, injected with drugs, chained to the floor of a plane and flown to Afghanistan, where I was imprisoned in a foul dungeon for more than four months.

Long after the American government realized that I was an entirely innocent man, I was blindfolded, put back on a plane, flown to Europe and left on a hilltop in Albania — without any explanation or apology for the nightmare that I had endured.

My story is well known. It has been described in literally hundreds of newspaper articles and television news programs — many of them relying on sources within the U.S. government. It has been the subject of numerous investigations and reports by intergovernmental bodies, including the European Parliament. Most recently, prosecutors in my own country of Germany are pursuing indictments against 13 CIA agents and contractors for their role in my kidnapping, abuse and detention. Although I never could have imagined it, and certainly never wished it, I have become the public face of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program.

Why, then, does the American government insist that my ordeal is a state secret?

[LATimes]

Inmates Will Replace Migrants in Colorado Fields

DENVER, March 3 — As migrant laborers flee Colorado because of tough new immigration restrictions, worried farmers are looking to prisoners to fill their places in the fields.

In a pilot program run by the state Corrections Department, supervised teams of low-risk inmates beginning this month will be available to harvest the swaths of sweet corn, peppers and melons that sweep the southeastern portion of the state.

Under the program, which has drawn criticism from groups concerned about immigrants’ rights and from others seeking changes in the criminal justice system, farmers will pay a fee to the state, and the inmates, who volunteer for the work, will be paid about 60 cents a day, corrections officials said.

[NYTimes]

Top Secret: We’re Wiretapping You

It could be a scene from Kafka or Brazil. Imagine a government agency, in a bureaucratic foul-up, accidentally gives you a copy of a document marked “top secret.” And it contains a log of some of your private phone calls.

You read it and ponder it and wonder what it all means. Then, two months later, the FBI shows up at your door, demands the document back and orders you to forget you ever saw it.

By all accounts, that’s what happened to Washington D.C. attorney Wendell Belew in August 2004. And it happened at a time when no one outside a small group of high-ranking officials and workaday spooks knew the National Security Agency was listening in on Americans’ phone calls without warrants. Belew didn’t know what to make of the episode. But now, thanks to that government gaffe, he and a colleague have the distinction of being the only Americans who can prove they were specifically eavesdropped upon by the NSA’s surveillance program.

[WIRED]

Does what happens in the Facebook stay in the Facebook?

facebook1.jpg

watch “Does what happens in the Facebook stay in the Facebook”

While the nearly $13 million that came from Accel to fund The Facebook certainly looks suspicious and unfortunately disturbing after reviewing all of this information, the only problem on the surface seems to be the appearance of some incestuous relationships between the Pentagon, the CIA, and these venture capital firms. But this goes further than just the initial appearances. DARPA shot to national fame in 2002 when John Markoff of the New York Times announced the existence of the “Information Awareness Office” (IAO). [8] According to Wikipedia, “the IAO has the stated mission to gather as much information as possible about everyone, in a centralized location, for easy perusal by the United States government, including (though not limited to) Internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver’s licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available data.” [9] Protests came from civil libertarians on both the right and the left who saw the IAO as a new Orwellian arm of the United States government. After Congress investigated DARPA’s project, funding was cut off and IAO was essentially dead in the water…

Some of the aspects of the privacy policy are downright creepy and confusing. This particular gem is especially disturbing: “Thefacebook also collects information about you from other sources, such as newspapers and instant messaging services. This information is gathered regardless of your use of the Web Site.” And there’s no telling when the privacy policy may change. As of when this was written (July 1, 2005), the policy was effective as of June 28, 2005.

Read more at Common Ground Common Sense

Justice Department takes aim at image-sharing sites

The Bush administration has accelerated its Internet surveillance push by proposing that Web sites must keep records of who uploads photographs or videos in case police determine the content is illegal and choose to investigate, CNET News.com has learned.

That proposal surfaced Wednesday in a private meeting during which U.S. Department of Justice officials, including Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand, tried to convince industry representatives such as AOL and Comcast that data retention would be valuable in investigating terrorism, child pornography and other crimes. The discussions were described to News.com by several people who attended the meeting.

A second purpose of the meeting in Washington, D.C., according to the sources, was to ask Internet service providers how much it would cost to record details on their subscribers for two years. At the very least, the companies would be required to keep logs for police of which customer is assigned a specific Internet address…

Often invoking terrorism and child pornography as justifications, the administration has argued that Internet providers must install backdoors for surveillance and has called for routers to be redesigned for easier eavesdropping. President Bush’s electronic surveillance program, which was recently modified, has drawn an avalanche of lawsuits.

[CNET News]

Digital ‘Fair Use’ Bill Introduced In Congress

Today, Reps. Rich Boucher (D-Va.) and John Dolittle (R-Calif.) introduced what they call the “Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship” (or FAIR USE) Act they say will make it easier for digital media consumers to use the content they buy.

The lawmakers seek to amend the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which content-makers, such as movie studios and record labels, fought to pass to protect their wares from getting stolen and pirated.

But that law goes too far, the lawmakers say.

“The Digital Millennium Copyright Act dramatically tilted the copyright balance toward complete copyright protection at the expense of the public’s right to fair use,” Boucher said in a statement. “Without a change in the law, individuals will be less willing to purchase digital media if their use of the media within the home is severely circumscribed and the manufacturers of equipment and software that enables circumvention for legitimate purposes will be reluctant to introduce the products into the market.”

[WashingtonPost]

Bills filed in Austin to shoot first, retreat later in self-defense

AUSTIN — Castle Doctrine sounds like a medieval warning to invaders: Cross this moat and suffer the consequences.

A pair of Republican state lawmakers now want to use it to revise Texas’ modern-day self-defense laws.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio and Rep. Joe Driver of Garland have sponsored bills to have Texas join more than a dozen states with the so-called “Castle Doctrine,” a sort of shoot-first, retreat-later approach to defending hearth, home, truck and business.

[RawStory]

Related: Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Bill