Saturday, May 17, 2008

Internal threats?

By Carol Gee

"Internal threats," according to common usage in this age of Bush administration fear mongering, invokes the possibility of acts that might do harm to us or those we love. Today's post discusses news about two court rulings that should be heartening to civil libertarians because the decisions say to the government, in effect, "Just because you label something as a threat does not necessarily make it so." What both court decisions make clear is that in these cases the rights of those targeted in government actions trump the false threat claims of the government. But fearful people in government probably will not give up without more threats and accusations aimed at raising the anxiety level of the general public. We begin with the problem of homophobic fears and discrimination based on sexual preference.

Threats of passing a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage have arisen as a result of the California Supreme Court's ruling yesterday. Salon's Glenn Greenwald provides an excellent analysis, as well as the political implications of this narrowly drawn opinion of mostly Republican appointed justices, concluding, to quote:

It's self-evident that there's no way rationally to assess whether the Court acted correctly if one doesn't bother to find out anything about the California State Constitution and the precedent interpreting and applying it. Anyone who seeks to opine about the propriety of the court's ruling without doing that basic work is simply expressing an opinion about whether they like the outcome as a policy matter, i.e., is being guided by the defining attribute of so-called "judicial activism" (ignoring relevant law in favor of outcome preferences).

What is threatening about legalizing gay marriage? For the life of me, I have never been able to understand the fears. So I will quote Bluebloggin's insightful thoughts on the matter,

First a word from the out of touch: [regarding Republican views] As usual McCain is wrong, the Judges were asked to review a Constitutional violation, which is their job. As for John Cornyn he’ll probable be hitting the dusty trail after the November elections.

Now, for the evolved: California’s Supreme Court declared gay couples in the nation’s biggest state can marry - a monumental but perhaps short-lived victory for the gay rights movement Thursday that was greeted with tears, hugs, kisses and at least one instant proposal of matrimony.

Same-sex couples could tie the knot in as little as a month. But the window could close soon after - religious and social conservatives are pressing to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would undo the Supreme Court ruling and ban gay marriage.

FBI use of, or perhaps threats of, issuing National Security Letters (NSLs) has been the subject of a scathing FBI Inspector General's report of abuse of the power of FBI NSLs. It has been extremely difficult for those in receipt of such letters to get protection or redress through the courts. But is has happened, and some in the Senate want to find our more about the practice. Thus "Senators Ask FBI to Explain Flawed 'National Security Letter' to Internet Archive," headlines this very encouraging story by Ryan Singel at Wired - Threat Level. To quote:

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is asking FBI head Robert Mueller to explain why the feds sought records from the Internet Archive, a digital library, using a controversial administrative subpoena known as a National Security Letter, which is intended for a communications service providers.

The Internet Archive, a digital library of the web and media, beat the November 26 NSL with the help of attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. In April, the FBI agreed to withdraw the request for records on a Internet Archive user and lift the gag order that typically attaches to such requests.

The six senators sent Mueller a letter Thursday, asking him to explain what happened and to find out if the FBI reported the incident to an oversight board as a possible violation of federal law.

The Internet Archive's case is only the third known legal challenge to NSLs, despite the fact that the the FBI issues tens of thousands a year -- more than 100,000 such letters were issued in 2004 and 2005 combined.

Despite the good news covered up to this point in my post, we must remain vigilant against government charges of internal threats. When my friend "betmo" labels something "FYI," I have learned to pay attention. Her short post Wednesday highlighted a couple of different kinds of "internal threats" by the government against seemingly justified targets, all suspected wrong-doers in federal custody or "enemy" computers. The proposals involve 1) taking DNA samples from everyone incarcerated in the federal legal system, and 2) the Air Force being allowed to possess hacker tools that would give them potential access to every kind of computer in the world. The problem is that these government actions, if allowed to go forward, could diminish the core Bill of Rights civil liberties of all of us. Stay tuned for the next examples. We will inevitable find them as long as this fearful and fear mongering administration is in power.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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