S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Freedom can have mixed blessings

"Freedom is not free" is a perfectly good old saw. And it applies to the costs and benefits of American freedoms, so much discussed on the blogosphere. Today's post is about my ambivalence about balancing protections against individual liberties.

Our freedom is at stake here --
The Vote: This year will be the most important presidential election in my lifetime (70 years). The Federal Election Commission, such as it is, has become hamstrung because of the Bush Administration. Because the current administration and Congress were both free to mess this up, the "commission" now consists of only two people. The "blessing" part of this is that The Senate has been meeting in brief "proforma" sessions through out the holidays, as it did just a minute ago to block unwanted Bush appointments. The FEC will be officially meeting in January after all. The last paragraph of the following quote is the operative information. Add to this lack of oversight the "dicey" electronic ballot situation and we have "an accident waiting to happen," as my grandpa used to say. Only it is not an accident; it probably was by the design of the Republican operatives. To quote the Jan. 8 FEC news release:

FEC to Meet on January 24

Washington – The Federal Election Commission (FEC/ the Commission) will hold its first open meeting of 2008 on Thursday January 24, at which time the Commission will discuss Advisory Opinions and agency administrative matters.

The procedural rules of the Commission have been modified to permit meetings when the Commission has fewer than four Members, in order to discuss any matter normally considered in open session while taking action only on certain administrative matters including, for example, public information and outreach.

. . . The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an independent regulatory agency that administers and enforces federal campaign finance laws. The FEC has jurisdiction over the financing of campaigns for the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, the Presidency and the Vice Presidency. Established in 1975, the FEC is composed of six Commissioners who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Their freedom is at stake here -- The right to traveling citizens' privacy. This is among the most mixed of the blessings I am posting about today. Let me state first off that I do not like pornography. And I have no sympathy for perpetrators of crimes against children, period! But the constitutional civil liberties principles involved in the following story are undeniable, in my opinion. The following is a quote from a story on privacy sent to me from my blog friend, "betmo," of life's journey. It is a story about routinely done customs computer hard drive searches for pornography ay U.S. borders. The New York Times headline reads, "If Your Hard Drive Could Testify ..." It is by ADAM LIPTAK and published: January 7, 2008. To quote:

It is true that the government should have great leeway in searching physical objects at the border. But the law requires a little more — a “reasonable suspicion” — when the search is especially invasive, as when the human body is involved.

Searching a computer, said Jennifer M. Chac√≥n, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, “is fairly intrusive.” Like searches of the body, she said, such “an invasive search should require reasonable suspicion.”

An interesting supporting brief filed in the Arnold case by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said there have to be some limits on the government’s ability to acquire information.

“Under the government’s reasoning,” the brief said, “border authorities could systematically collect all of the information contained on every laptop computer, BlackBerry and other electronic device carried across our national borders by every traveler, American or foreign.” That is, the brief said, “simply electronic surveillance after the fact.”

Their freedom is at stake there -- the right to humane treatment. Do not relax because this story comes from "over there across the ocean" in the United Kingdom. It takes but the blink of an eye for the idea to jump across the sea and on to our shores. It is just the kind of thing adored by authorities who what to control under the guise of protecting their citizens. This story happens, again to be about perpetrators whose intended victims are children. I have been a child advocate all of my public life. I want kids protected, cherished, loved and nurtured as much as possible. But this story from the Independent talks about crossing a fundamental line against freedom. It makes me shiver to visualize this practice here in America. Here is another of my perfectly good old saws: "Just because we can does not mean we should." The headline reads, Prisoners 'to be chipped like dogs. To quote:

Hi-tech 'satellite' tagging planned in order to create more space in jails. Civil rights groups and probation officers furious at 'degrading' scheme. By Brian Brady, Whitehall Editor. Published: 13 January 2008.

Ministers are planning to implant "machine-readable" microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails.

Amid concerns about the security of existing tagging systems and prison overcrowding, the Ministry of Justice is investigating the use of satellite and radio-wave technology to monitor criminals.

But, instead of being contained in bracelets worn around the ankle, the tiny chips would be surgically inserted under the skin of offenders in the community, to help enforce home curfews. The radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, as long as two grains of rice, are able to carry scanable personal information about individuals, including their identities, address and offending record.

The tags, labelled "spychips" by privacy campaigners, are already used around the world to keep track of dogs, cats, cattle and airport luggage, but there is no record of the technology being used to monitor offenders in the community. The chips are also being considered as a method of helping to keep order within prisons.

Freedom can have mixed blessings. But, as constitutional scholar, Mickey Edwards says, it is up to us the people to decide, through our representatives, when it can be lawfully curtailed.

View my current slide show about the Bush years, "Millennium," at the bottom of this column.

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(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

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