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April 20, 2003

The Land Of The Free?

A Nation Being Hijacked

Having been in Ireland for a while, I don't know how the proposed legislation known as "Patriot 2" is being reported back in the States. I long ago dismissed the mass media as a worthwhile source on anything that matters, in any case, finding judicious use of the Web a far better guide to what's going on. But several people that I checked with thought the general awareness was low enough that I should mention it.

Following September 11, Congress rushed through the -- ill-named, in my opinion -- USA Patriot Act, which vastly broadened the powers of the federal government. Since then, the Justice Department has created a 120-page draft Domestic Security Enhancement Act which, if enacted, would expand these sweeping powers even further. Its existence was revealed to the public only through a leak. Even Congress appears to have played little or no part in producing it. The following lowlights are summarized from the article "Patriot 2: The Sequel; Why It's Even Scarier than the First Patriot Act" by Anita Ramasastry, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and the Associate Director of the Shidler Center for Law, Commerce & Technology. She describes the proposed legislation as "a wholesale assault on privacy, free speech, and freedom of information."

  • Total Information Awareness program for creating databased profiles of all Americans. Without court authorization, federal agents would have access on demand to your credit and financial information, travel and buying habits, phone and Internet use, even lists of what you check out from the library.
  • A DNA database of anyone the authorities categorize as "suspected terrorist." This could cover being associated with or having given money to a "terrorist" group -- even if you didn't know that the group was designated terrorist, or it was a legitimate front for an operation you've never heard of. DNA would also be mandated from anyone who is, or has been, on probation for any crime, no matter how minor. State governments would be required to collect DNA samples from state probationers and provide them to the federal government.
  • Increased surveillance of U.S. citizens, without having to establish traditional probable cause under the Fourth Amendment. Facilitated by eliminating the distinction between domestic and international terrorism, making domestic crimes subject to the same rules that apply to foreign intelligence gathering. The definition of domestic terrorism is so loose that anything from getting into a bar fight to reckless driving could theoretically count. And if that won't work, persons who cannot be deemed "domestic terrorists" because they have broken no law can be deemed "foreign powers" under Patriot 2 - even if they are American citizens or permanent residents.
  • No redress or right to sue. Law enforcement would be immune from liability, even when engaged in unauthorized searches and illegal spying. Patriot 2 also eliminates civil liability for businesses and employees that report "suspected terrorists" to the federal government, no matter how malicious or unfounded the tip may be. Your friendly neighborhood bank can already be prosecuted for failing to report something "suspicious" that a bureaucrat decides should have been. The new legislation would enlist government employees to spy on citizens and encourage such individuals as delivery or service people to snoop into your life with impunity.
  • You could also end up in jail for encrypting your e-mail. It becomes a separate criminal offense to use encryption in the committing of a federal crime. The catch here is that "domestic terrorism" -- which can be based on a state law violation -- is a federal crime. If your encrypted e-mail about a planned protest is deemed "incriminating evidence" of your intention to resist arrest at the protest, you could be looking at five to ten years. The federal crime relating to the "incriminating communication" need not be an act of terrorism.
  • While government has the right to know virtually everything about you, you have little right to know anything about the government. Procedures would be shrouded in secrecy, with the federal government empowered to place gag orders on both federal and state grand juries, and to take over the proceedings. Detainees can be held incommunicado indefinitely without charge and need not be publicly identified. Revealing any information about a detainee would be criminal, even by the detainee's parent, spouse, or child.
  • And yes, you could disappear off the street or in the middle of the night, just like unfortunates in those totalitarian countries we've read about. For simply being suspected of terrorist activity--for example by attending a legal protest for which one of the host organizations has been listed as terrorist--you may be deported and declared to be no longer an American citizen, forfeiting all rights accordingly.
Full text available at The Center For Public Integrity, Patriot 2.

For a selection of further comments and related articles, see the Emerging Police State Data Page at www.rense.com.

As if all this weren't bad enough, the claims being made for extracting reliable and meaningful results from enormous volumes of randomly gathered data are highly questionable to begin with. Yes, sophisticated methods of statistical analysis are available that mathematicians and computer geeks can delight in. But fixation on statistics can do more to obscure understanding than to help it, such as when extracting the "right" results from essentially random noise amounts to confirming the tester's beliefs and biases in the absence of any control or way of falsifying them. Discussed more fully in "TIA -- the new ESP research" at www.satn.org

The other big problem is analogous to that of looking for a rare disease in a large population (one reason why the "AIDS test" is inherently unreliable despite the deceptively high numbers touted for its sensitivity -- the percentage registering positive when what the test purports to measure is there; and specificity -- the percentage registering negative when what it purports to measure is not there). Suppose that the "terrorist diagnosing test" were reliable enough (unlikely, by my estimation, in view of the above) to indicate:

(a) "terrorist" 90% of the time, when examining a terrorist, and
(b) "innocent civilian" 90% of the time, when examining an innocent civilian

Terrorists are rare: let's be generous and say, 2000 out of 200 million adults in the USA.

(a) Applying the test to terrorists will detect 90% of them, i.e. 1800
(b) However, for the remaining 199,998,000 innocent civilians, 90% reliability means that 10% of them, or 19,999,800, will be labeled "terrorist".

A huge amount of effort and resources is expended not only to produce no worthwhile result, but is actually counterproductive in terms of the demoralization and resentment that it is bound to produce within the population. This could be even more true if out of the innocent people treated as "terrorist," say 1 in 1,000 is sufficiently traumatized by the experience to exhibit antisocial behavior that now meets the definition. Hence, after catching the 1800 original terrorists, 199,998 new ones will have been created by the screening process itself!

 
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