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Our Rights Are Under Attack

Recent steps by the FBI and other law enforcement organizations have severely undermined the right to privacy.
 
 
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As the Fed tries to shore up the levees against the derivative deluge -- and as politicians seek to redistribute wealth upward -- other equally important things are happening in the world, which is why I have a problem with bumper-sticker phrases like "it's the economy, stupid." It reduces politics to economics, as if political behavior can be explained by economic self-interest. If "it's the economy, stupid," then "What's The Matter With Kansas?"

But we're not in Kansas anymore. And we're not in Oz either, where you can click your heels three-times and everything will be 401-OK. This is the land of "secretocracy," where the "living document" of the Constitution is on life-support.

Here in Secretville, the buzz is all about fusion and financial markets ain't the only thing melting down. The Justice Department recently finalized new -- and more lenient -- investigative tactics FBI agents can now use. The new rules fuse together the FBI's General Crimes Guidelines, National Security Investigative Guidelines and Foreign Intelligence Guidelines.

In a joint statement before the Select Committee on Intelligence on Sept. 23, the assistant AG and the FBI's general counsel testified that the FBI was no longer primarily concerned with investigating crimes after they are committed. It has become "an intelligence-driven agency capable of anticipating and preventing" crime.

When you're in prevention mode, you have to do assessments. And that's what has civil liberty watchdogs nervous -- how the Justice Department defines "assessment."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center warns: the FBI's new powers "pose serious threats to the right of individuals to speak and assemble freely without the spectre of government monitoring. The policies also threaten Fourth Amendment rights, as (agents have been permitted to) engage in prospective searches without possessing any evidence of suspicious behavior."

The new rules also present a practical problem. "At a time when it is clear that the FBI has been awash in data and unable to process leads effectively," the new guidelines enable "the agency to obtain even more information that is less likely to result in solid leads."

Not only do the new guidelines allow the FBI to conduct surveillance without a court order, it also allows them to "collect information relating to demonstration activities," without a single iota of evidence that a national security threat exists.

Recall the mid-1970s, when it came to public light, the FBI was working to actively undermine peace groups and leaders like Dr. King (which included an officially-sanctioned effort to persuade King to kill himself), guidelines were put in place to prevent such abuses of authority. The new guidelines unravel those safeguards and fuse it back together again in the name of fighting terrorism, as if terrorism posed an existential threat to America.

Beyond the new FBI guidelines, another area of "secretocracy" has experienced fusion.

Over 40 "fusion centers" have sprouted up across the country, according to the ACLU's report, What's Wrong With Fusion Centers .

Fusion centers are these post-9/11 institutions where local, state and federal law enforcement officials meet with business leaders to share -- not just criminal intelligence -- but also private sector data, with the hopes of mining that information to determine possible patterns of possible future crime. Kinda like that movie "Minority Report" where officers of the Department of Pre-Crime arrest people before any law is broken, except without the gift of "pre-cognition."

"There's nothing wrong with the government seeking to do a better job of properly sharing legitimately acquired information about law enforcement investigations ... But in a democracy, the collection and sharing of intelligence information," especially info about American citizens, "need to be carried out with the utmost care ... because security agencies are moving toward using such portraits to profile how 'suspicious' we look," the ACLU notes.

"New institutions like fusion centers must be planned in a public, open manner, and their implications for privacy and other key values carefully thought out and debated. And like any powerful institution in a democracy, they must be constructed in a carefully bounded and limited manner with sufficient checks and balances to prevent abuse. Unfortunately, the new fusion centers have not conformed to these vital requirements."

We've seen the fusion of political power in a "unitary executive," the fusion of the Fed and financial markets and now we've got Fusion Centers. How many fusions equal full-fledged fascism?

As I was saying, we're not in Kansas anymore.

Sean Gonsalves is a syndicated columnist and news editor with the Cape Cod Times.

 
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