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News ::
Big Brother is, like, scary (english)
08 Apr 2003
The long arm of the law is getting longer through taxpayer money, dismissing basic rights under the guise of Homeland Security (article from the Boston IMC Newspaper, 'Boston Free Press')
The minute we start getting used to this militaristic national culture of 'orange alerts' and 'national ID cards,' there seems to be some new fear to confront, like 'dirty bombs' or 'cyber-terrorism.' But have no fear -- the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its older cousins are efficiently preparing to protect the Homeland from all these threats and more.

Just how the government will do this is becoming apparent as the smoke clears from the flurry of legislation passed since September 11, 2001. With new laws like the USA PATRIOT Act, and unprecedented powers for top cops like Attorney General Ashcroft and DHS Secretary Ridge, the long arm of the law is getting longer by the day. And billions in taxpayer dollars is the engine for this growth.

But there is a burgeoning network of citizens protesting loudly that these new powers gouge large chunks out of the Bill of Rights, and other traditional protections against abuse of power. The Freedom of Information Act for instance, has been seriously downgraded recently in the interests of 'national security,' but the flip side (and some say the real purpose of the changes) is that Big Brother’s activities can happen in the shadows, outside public scrutiny.

Then there's the Attorney General's authority for secret surveillance and searches at will, using emergency powers granted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is overseen by a top-secret FISA court. Under these powers, Ashcroft can do searches, wiretaps and other surveillance for three days before the court has to approve a warrant. He applied for over 1000 FISA warrants in 2002, and used the 'emergency' power over 170 times. In the previous 23 years combined, this power was invoked only 47 times.

Under Ashcroft, the Immigration service has detained hundreds of people, possibly thousands; refused to give a complete list of their names, length of detention, or charges; and frequently denied them access to lawyers or family. Secret deportations have been reported, as well as beatings, torture, and deaths in police custody. Citizens from a long list of mostly Muslim or Arab countries are required to register with the government or face deportation. On March 1, the DHS took over Immigration services, and these policies have no end in sight.

Legislation has been proposed giving the government power to strip Americans of their citizenship for simply associating with organizations labeled as being linked to terrorism- even if nothing illegal was done. Plans are afoot to create vast DNA databases of *suspected* criminals, which privacy advocates warn can be used for all sorts of nefarious purposes. Revised surveillance rules would allow Uncle Sam up to 15 days of voyeurism without a judge's OK.

Among the most disturbing scenarios is a planned gigantic 'total surveillance' system at the Defense Department’s new Information Awareness Office, which would give spooks access to all electronic data for anyone in the US—including phone, Internet, shopping records, credit reports, medical history, travel data, and so on. Our most intimate personal details have been arbitrarily reclassified as information necessary for national security.

And the list goes on. At a time of sweeping change and dramatic concentration of power, it is important that communities pay attention to these issues. Demanding accountability from 'representatives’ while that right is still available can be useful. But to the extent that public opposition is steamrolled, and ignored by corporate media, disrupting the global money pipeline may be the only tactic to which decision makers are responsive, at least while decision making is done in this secretive and undemocratic system.

And in a city like Boston, there is no shortage of suitable targets.
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