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Posts Tagged ‘American Civil Liberties Union’

A Nation of “Suspects”

Posted by Admin on September 30, 2011

http://www.truth-out.org/nation-suspects/1314810046

Thursday 29 September 2011
by: Nancy Murray and Kade Crockford, Truthout and ACLU Massachusetts | Special Feature

(Photo: Mick Orlosky; Edited: JR / t r u t h o u t)

Ten Years Later: Surveillance in the “Homeland” is a collaborative project with Truthout and ACLU Massachusetts.

In the wake of COINTELPRO and the Watergate scandal, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas sent a letter to a group of young lawyers at the Washington State Bar Association. “As nightfall does not come all at once,” he wrote, “neither does oppression. In both instances there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”[1]

The recent dramatic expansion of intelligence collection at the federal, state and local level raises profound civil liberties concerns regarding freedoms and protections we have long taken for granted. If people generally appear unaware of “change in the air,” a large part of the reason is the unparalleled resort to secrecy used by the government to keep its actions from public scrutiny. According to the new American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report, “Drastic Measures Required,” under President Obama (who had vowed to create “an unprecedented level of openness in Government” when he first took office), there were no fewer than 76,795,945 decisions made to classify information in 2010 – eight times the number made in 2001.

There are layers of secrecy that cannot even be penetrated by most members of Congress. In the recent debate over the re-authorization of three sections of the USA Patriot Act with sunset provisions, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who is a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee, declared in the Senate in May 2011 that there was a secret interpretation of Patriot Act powers that he could not even tell them about without disclosing classified information. [2] “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,” said Wyden. The determination of the Obama administration to imitate its predecessor and maintain a wall of secrecy around anything that could be connected (however tenuously) with “national security” is evident in the zeal with which it has pursued whistleblowers and its use of the state secrets privilege in judicial proceedings, including in the recent court challenge to the FBI use of the informant Craig Monteilh to spy on mosques in Orange County, California.

During a decade of relentless fearmongering about the terrorist threat, most Americans appear to have accommodated themselves to the visible signs of change without questioning their broad implications.  If searches on the subway, body scans at the airport and a Special Operations military drill targeting a Boston neighborhood are presented as necessary to keep the nation safe, they are for them.

But what would they make of the largely invisible architecture of surveillance that treats everyone as a potential suspect? Anyone who has a bank account and makes a financial transaction, or uses a phone or a computer to send emails or browse web sites, or visits a library, books a rental car, or purchases a airline ticket is within the surveillance net. The profiles that have been compiled on individuals by commercial data brokers might well have found their way into government databases, errors and all. A database error at El Paso Intelligence Center was responsible for John and Martha King being detained at gunpoint when they flew a single-engine plane into Santa Barbara airport. The plane had been wrongly reported as stolen. Or government errors might be imported into commercial databases. Take the case ofTom Kubbany of Humboldt County, California.  He was denied a mortgage after a credit report flagged him as being on the Treasury Department’s terrorism watch list. As far-fetched as it seems, he appears to have been so designated because his middle name, Hassan, matched an alias used by one of the sons of Saddam Hussein.

In addition to the harms perpetrated by database mistakes, databases containing sensitive information have been improperly accessed for a range of purposes. Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent who had been nominated by the White House to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), admitted in a letter to key senators that he had committed a “grave error in judgment” when he accessed criminal records to get information about his estranged wife’s new boyfriend and passed it on to the police. In Massachusetts, police across the state were discovered to have repeatedly tapped into the state’s criminal records system to gather information on celebrities and high-profile citizens, such as actor Matt Damon, singer James Taylor and football star Tom Brady. Politicians make an irresistible target, including presidential candidates whose private passport files were peeked into in 2008 by private contractors working for the federal government.

Some people may feel that the risk of data being wrong or misused is still a price worth paying in these fearful times, and that, anyway, they have nothing to hide since they haven’t done anything wrong. It is unlikely that eight-year-old Mikey Hickshas done anything to earn government suspicion, but he has endured extra screening at airports since he was a toddler.Babies have been kept from boarding planes. The late senatorEdward Kennedy, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) and people with the names Robert Johnson and Gary Smith have struggled to get off terrorism watch lists. Former US assistant attorney generalJim Robinson – once the Justice Department’s chief criminal prosecutor – has been delayed and interrogated at airports despite holding top secret security clearance. Former Marines with honorable discharges are also among those who are on the “no-fly” list and are not permitted to board planes.

We don’t know much about the process used to add people to watch lists, or about what constitutes a “credible tip.” We do know that the use of data mining to assemble a chain of associations and digital linkages could have serious consequences for anyone flagged by an algorithm primed to detect suspicious behavior.

In November 2006, the Federal Register disclosed the existence of the Automated Targeting System, which relies on a 5.3 billion-record government database to assign a numerical “terrorism risk rating” to each traveler who leaves and enters the US by air, train or land – the higher the score, the higher the risk. The risk assessment data mining is carried out by analysts at the National Targeting Center run by Customs and Border Protection, and the risk profiles of individuals will be retained for 15 years (reduced from 40). An individual cannot see or challenge his or her rating, but that data can be shared with state, local and foreign governments and used in hiring and contracting decisions. One traveler who did manage to see the records collected on him through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request discovered in his file a note from a Border Patrol officer about the book he was carrying with him at the airport, “Drugs and Your Rights.”

What is next for the right to freedom of movement? TSA head John Pistole, a former FBI agent, wants to expand from 25 to 37 the number of its Visible Intermodal Prevention Response (VIPR) task forces. These teams of TSA agents, federal air marshals, behavior detection and canine officers conducted some 8,000 searches of ports, ferries, subways, railway and bus stations, bridges, and private cars and trucks over the past year, including the warrantless search of all the passengers who were getting off an Amtrak train in Savannah, Georgia.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is meanwhile testing Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), which purportedly would expose criminal intentions by using sensors to measure flicking eyes and rapid blinks and scan for elevated blood pressure. Detecting “malintent” to fight terrorism is the theme of many of the programs in which the DHS is pouring millions of dollars, from the Insider Threat Detection Project, which derives and validates “observable indicators of potential insider threats before the insider commits a hostile act,” to the Violent Intent Modeling and Simulation project, which assists analysts in “determining whether radical groups are likely to engage in political violence.”

It is not just the First Amendment rights to freedom of expression, assembly and religion and Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures that are endangered by the emerging surveillance state. When algorithms detect “pre-crime” in a world in which we are all potential suspects, we have sacrificed such core values as the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy.[3]

The more the United States is transformed into a nation of citizen spies, the greater the risk to personal privacy – the “right to be let alone,” in former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ words. This risk was well recognized in 2002, when a public outcry greeted then-attorney general John Ashcroft’s Operation Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS), which was intended to recruit workers with access to private homes to be the government’s “eyes and ears” to gather information to be deposited in law- enforcement databases. The intensity of the opposition led Congress to explicitly cancel the program later that year, but, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Total Information Awareness program, it has lived on in subsequent operations involving various kinds of “terrorism liaison officers.” For instance, firefighters in major cities have been trained by the DHS “to be alert for a person who is hostile, uncooperative or expressing hate or discontent with the United States” or to be on the lookout for people who have “little or no furniture other than a bed or mattress.” It is not just the nation’s police forces that have been trained to compile Suspicious Activity Reports (now the subject of FOIA litigation). School bus drivers are being enlisted in the fight against terrorism, and20,000 mall security guards are being recruited to spot terrorists among shoppers, while the DHS’ “If you see something, say something” campaign is being expanded from transport systems to Walmart stores, the Mall of America, hotels and the sports industry.

Along with human eyes, the nation’s inhabitants are increasingly likely to be watched by high-tech surveillance camera networks erected through lavish DHS grants. Lower Manhattan has 3,000 in place as part of its “Ring of Steel” – which includes radiation detectors and automatic license plate readers to track cars.

Modern cameras are not just extremely powerful. They have the potential to be fitted with facial recognition software, eye scans, X-ray vision, radio frequency identification tags and 3-D tracking devices. The digital information they record can be immediately fed to fusion center and law enforcement databases to enhance a target’s personal profile. And they are ripe for abuse: in April 2009, two FBI workers in an FBI satellite control room used surveillance cameras to spy on teenage girls as they were trying on prom gowns in a West Virginia mall.

As evidence grows of the harmful impact of surveillance technologies on personal lives and our notion of ourselves as a people, will communities organize to roll back the surveillance state? Or are “we the people” destined to become “unwitting victims of the darkness”? In our final post, we will turn to the potential for resistance.
1. September 10, 1976.

2. There is speculation that the Obama administration is using Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act for a “classified-collection program” under which it collects phone location data. See Time Magazine, June 24, 2011.

3. We have entered the territory of the 2002 film “Minority Report,” which features a specialized “Department of Pre-Crime'” where psychic “precogs” discern which “criminals” to pursue before they commit crimes.

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Over 500 Indian workers sue US firm for human trafficking

Posted by Admin on February 22, 2011

http://in.news.yahoo.com/over-500-indian-workers-sue-us-firm-for-human-trafficking.html

PTI – Tue, Feb 22, 2011 6:35 PM IST

Houston: Lawyers for a group of Indian guest workers, trafficked to the US from India to work in ship yards after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, have sued an American company, Signal International, along with its co-conspirators and other entities for human trafficking and racketeering.

If class status is granted, the lawsuit could be the largest human trafficking case in US history, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said in a statement.

Workers were allegedly lured here with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent US residents, the statement said.

The ACLU joined a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of over 500 guest workers from India charging that the workers were trafficked into the US through the federal government’s H-2B guest worker programme with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent US residents and subjected to squalid living conditions, fraudulent payment practises, and threats of serious harm upon their arrival.

The complaint alleges that recruiting agents hired by the marine industry company Signal International held the guest workers’ passports and visas, coerced them into paying extraordinary fees for recruitment, immigration processing and travel, and threatened the workers with serious legal and physical harm if they did not work under the Signal-restricted guest worker visa.

The complaint also alleges that once in the US, the men were required to live in Signal’s guarded, over crowded labour camps, subjected to psychological abuse and defrauded out of adequate payment for their work.

The ACLU charges that the federal government has fallen short of its responsibility to protect the rights of guest workers in this country.

According to the lawsuit, the treatment of the workers violates the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO).

In addition to the federal court litigation, in partnership with the ACLU, the workers have testified before the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and senior staff at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Signal, a marine and fabrication company with shipyards in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, is a subcontractor for several major multinational companies.

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American Hypocrisy: Destruction of the Constitution, Collapse of the Rule of Law

Posted by Admin on November 17, 2010

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency of the...
Covert Interventionist

Agency

by Paul Craig Roberts

Global Research, November 15, 2010

Ten years of rule by the Bush and Obama regimes have seen the collapse of the rule of law in the United States. Is the American media covering this ominous and extraordinary story?  No the American media is preoccupied with the rule of law in Burma (Myanmar).

The military regime that rules Burma just released from house arrest the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The American media used the occasion of her release to get on Burma’s case for the absence of the rule of law. I’m all for the brave lady, but if truth be known, “freedom and democracy” America needs her far worse than does Burma.

I’m not an expert on Burma, but the way I see it the objection to a military government is that the government is not accountable to law.  Instead, such a regime behaves as it sees fit and issues edicts that advance its agenda.  Burma’s government can be criticized for not having a rule of law, but it cannot be criticized for ignoring its own laws. We might not like what the Burmese government does, but, precisely speaking, it is not behaving illegally.

In contrast, the United States government claims to be a government of laws, not of men, but when the executive branch violates the laws that constrain it, those responsible are not held accountable for their criminal actions.  As accountability is the essence of the rule of law, the absence of accountability means the absence of the rule of law.

The list of criminal actions by presidents Bush and Obama, Vice President Cheney, the CIA, the NSA, the US military, and other branches of the government is long and growing.  For example, both president Bush and vice president Cheney violated US and international laws against torture. Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union responded to Bush’s recent admission that he authorized torture with calls for a criminal investigation of Bush’s crime.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the ACLU reminded the US Department of Justice (sic) that “a nation committed to the rule of law cannot simply ignore evidence that its most senior leaders authorized torture.”

Rob Freer of Amnesty International said that Bush’s admission “to authorizing acts which constitute torture under international law” and which constitute “a crime under international law,” puts the US government “under obligation to investigate and to bring those responsible to justice.”

The ACLU and Amnesty International do not want to admit it, but the US government shed its commitment to the rule of law a decade ago when the US launched its naked aggression–war crimes under the Nuremberg standard–against Afghanistan and Iraq on the basis of lies and deception.

The US government’s contempt for the rule of law took another step when President Bush violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and had the National Security Agency bypass the FISA court and spy on Americans without warrants. The New York Times is on its high horse about the rule of law in Burma, but when a patriot revealed to the Times that Bush was violating US law, the Times’ editors sat on the leak for one year until after Bush was safely re-elected.

Holder, of course, will not attempt to hold Bush accountable for the crime of torture. Indeed, Assistant US Attorney John Durham has just cleared the CIA of accountability for its crime of destroying the videotape evidence of the US government’s illegal torture of detainees, a felony under US law.

Last February Cheney said on ABC’s This Week that “I was a big supporter of waterboarding.” US law has always regarded waterboarding as torture. The US government executed WW II Japanese for waterboarding American POWs.  But Cheney has escaped accountability, which means that there is no rule of law.

Vice president Cheney’s office also presided over the outing of a covert CIA agent, a felony. Yet, nothing happened to Cheney, and the underling who took the fall had his sentence commuted by president Bush.

President Obama has made himself complicit in the crimes of his predecessor by refusing to enforce the rule of law. In his criminality, Obama has actually surpassed Bush. Bush is the president of extra-judicial torture, extra-judicial detention, extra-judicial spying and invasions of privacy, but Obama has one-upped Bush.  Obama is the president of extra-judicial murder.

Not only is Obama violating the sovereignty of an American ally, Pakistan, by sending in drones and special forces teams to murder Pakistani civilians, but in addition Obama has a list of American citizens whom he intends to murder without arrest, presentation of evidence, trial and conviction.

The most massive change brought by Obama is his assertion of the right of the executive branch to murder whomever it wishes without any interference from US and international law. The world has not seen such a criminal government as Obama’s since Joseph Stalin’s and Hitler’s.

On November 8, the US Department of Justice (sic) told federal district court judge John Bates that president Obama’s decision to murder American citizens is one of “the very core powers of the president.” Moreover, declared the Justice (sic) Department, the murder of American citizens is a “political question” that is not subject to judicial review.

In other words, federal courts exist for one purpose only–to give a faux approval to executive branch actions.

If truth be known, there is more justice in Burma under the military regime than in the USA. The military regime put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in her own home.
The military regime did not throw her into a dungeon and rape and torture her under cover of false allegations and indefinite detention without charges. Moreover, the military “tyrants” released her either as a sign of good will or under pressure from international human rights groups, or some combination of the two.

If only comparable good will existed in the US government or pressure from international human rights groups had equal force in America as in Burma.

But, alas, in America macho tough guys approve the virtual strip search of their wives and daughters by full body scanners and the grouping by TSA thugs of three-year old children screaming in terror.

Unlike in Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi fights for human rights, the sheeple in Amerika submit to the total invasion of their privacy and to the total destruction of their civil liberties for no other reason than they are brain dead and believe without any evidence that they are at the mercy of “terrorists” in far distant lands who have no armies, navies, or air forces and are armed only with AK-47s and improvised explosive devices.

The ignorant population of the “Great American Superpower,” buried in fear propagated by a Ministry of Truth, has acquiesced in the total destruction of the US Constitution and their civil liberties.

Sheeple such as these have no respect anywhere on the face of the earth.

Paul Craig Roberts is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Paul Craig Roberts

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