The FISA bill needs your help!

By Phil Plait | June 24, 2008 11:09 am

Years ago, President Bush asked the telecom companies to give him massive amounts of personal data from their databases. This request was incredibly invasive, yet many companies (notably AT&T) bent over backwards to accommodate him. Their actions were in fact illegal; no one argues this.

However, a provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act gives these companies retroactive immunity from prosecution. This provision is about as un-American as it gets; forgiving a violation of our rights as private citizens all in the name of decreasing our freedoms without helping fight terrorism at all. It’s yet another in a long line of actions designed to make it look like this Administration is fighting terror, when in fact it’s almost entirely lip service.

This part of the FISA bill needs to be stripped out. The telecoms need to be held accountable for their actions, for one. For another, if passed, it will close the doors on investigations into why the White House did what it did, and what it has done with that information. I personally don’t trust this President at all, and would very much like to see what’s going on in there.

The House has already passed a version of FISA, and it’s up for vote in the Senate. If you agree with me, then please call your Senator now and ask that the retroactive immunity provision be removed from the bill! I just called mine (Salazar). FireDogLake has more info on whom to call, and the ACLU has info on what to say.

FYI, Obama wants to vote "yea" on the FISA bill, because it has many good provisions in it. However, because of the telecom provision, this can be a minefield for him. I’m guessing he would much rather vote on a bill that has immunity stripped out.

Get callin’.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (35)

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  1. Daffy

    Fighting terror? This administration wants to control its citizens and keep the money flowing to the military industrial complex.

    And at least 29 percent of our voting population wants them to do it.

  2. You can easily contact your Congresscritters on this issue using the system on DownsizeDC.org:

    http://action.downsizedc.org/wyc.php?cid=81

    You can mention the immunity issue (and anything else you want) in the personal comments section.

  3. MKR

    “After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year’s Protect America Act. . . It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.”

    Of course, he probably has a bunch of letters telling him to vote against it by now.

    You can see how he ends up voting here:
    http://obama.senate.gov/votes/

  4. Santiago

    Man, these are the things that make me want to sneak across the border so I could someday have a say on this kind of stuff.

    We actually have a saying in Mexico: America gets a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia.

    To all the Americans round here, remember that other saying about power and responsibility, please.

  5. Windyshrimp

    Obama has the power to atleast pause this bill. The fact is he is going to let the republicans win. He doesn’t want to put up a fight right now.
    If only the democrats stop letting them have their way >.>

  6. RL

    I haven’t been able to find a copy of the compromise bill, but why does granting immunity to the telecoms close the book on what the administration did or did not do on surveillance? Is this really true or is it just hyperbole?

    Cannot (and has not) Congress investigate this further if they wish?

    Why do people think that lawsuits against the telecoms will produce anymore information than Congress can?

  7. matttand

    Hey, Phil:

    Just contacted my two senators (Menendez and Lautenberg, NJ) and placed calls to Obama, Clinton, Specter (PA), McCaskill (MO), and Carper (DE). I intend on making more calls later.

    Specter’s office was the most forthcoming, with his staff member explicitly saying he’s against retroactive immunity and skeptical of the bill in general. Hopefully it’ll make a difference.

    I also wanted to thank you, Phil, for getting me off my virtual butt. I’ve been meaning to call the various Congress critters about this, and blew my chance with my federal Rep (Saxton, 3rd NJ). Not this time with the Senate.

    Here’s hoping, gang…

    Matt A

  8. N

    Man, these are the things that make me want to sneak across the border…

    You might as well. Millions of your fellow citizens already have.

    We actually have a saying in Mexico: America gets a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia.

    Yeah, well, we get all your poor, uneducated and unskilled, and the associated costs, so I figure we’re even.

    We have a saying here: “Oops, another emergency room is shutting down.”

  9. Rich

    “I haven’t been able to find a copy of the compromise bill, but why does granting immunity to the telecoms close the book on what the administration did or did not do on surveillance? Is this really true or is it just hyperbole?”

    Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com has covered this issue extensively for months. These guys are trying to pass this now, quietly, before they leave for the summer recess.

    As to your question RL; the suits against the telecoms are the best avenue to pursue what actually happened and just what information was gathered against whom. Retro-active immunity for their law-breaking stops the discovery process and in effect also stops any investigation into the illegal activities (in regards to this matter) of the Bush Administration and their enablers in Congress (including almost every Republican and a great number of Democrats).

    Our lawmakers wish to pass this bill to cover their own rear ends. A sad fact is that many lawmakers from both sides of the isle have been involved or gave tacit consent to this illegal spying – on Americans in America and without warrants. This is just another step that entrenches a two-teir system of law that treats everyday citizens with an iron fist on even minor violations with minimum mandatory sentences while treating the rich and the powerful completely different; now, literally eviscerating the Constitution of the United States to give breaks to their rich buddies and corporate leash-holders.

    Immunity is only a small part of this everyone. This bill removes the 4th Amendment of the Constitution from us. With this bill the President or his underlings can order spying on Americans in America with no warrant and no oversight. This bill requires merely that the Attorney General of the United States tell a court that the government is doing so for “national security” purposes and any lawsuit or any question of warrants is irrelevant. No court may look further into the matter. Seriously. The U.S. government with this bill will be allowed to monitor your mail, your phone conversations, your electronic communications, potentially even bug your office, home, and car without any oversight or warrant whatsoever, just because the President or his Attorny General say so. With this bill no court can countermand them. This is not a partisan issue. I trust no administration with this kind of power. I trust no party to decide which laws they will obey or which Constitutionally garuanteed rights they [i]feel[/i] we really have.

    I believe I can say without hyperbole that this is what our Constitutional Framers called tyranny. This is what they created the 4th Amendment SPECIFICALLY to avoid. Yet here we are, with nearly every Republican and a great majority of our Democratic lawmakers ready to pass into law a bill which shreds our right against unreasonable searches without a warrant. Habeas Corpus is already hanging on by a slim thread and that is a right that pre-dates the Consitition.

    In my past days as a Unites States military officer I swore a duty to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign AND domestic. Everyone of our lawmakers takes a similar oath. Yet here they are blithely throwing away one of our most cherished rights, a right critical to securing our individual liberty.

    They even have the gall to pretend this is a necessary move to make us secure in our persons. To protect us from danger. Cowards. Generations of Americans willingly flung themselves at danger to protect our civil liberties – our Constitutional [i]rights[/i], and these fools would trade away those very rights for which so many have sacrificed so much. And for what? To appear strong? To appease their corporate donors? To give the appearance that they are doing something anything to protect us from future attacks? We are certainly a long way from “Give me Liberty or give me death!” aren’t we?

    The saddest part is these very lawmakers, from our President to our most junior congressman will shortly spend a holiday weekend memorializing those Americans who, in the beginning and for generations after, sacrificied, struggled, fought, and died to preserve liberty for their descendents. It is the most grevious insult to their sacrifices and to their memories that these cowards so readily and greedily usurp our inheritance.

    Phil, I surely apologize for the rant on your blog here. Obviously, I am very passionate about this subject. I take this very seriously and am incredibly concerned about the future of our nation, so when I saw this mentioned in a forum I so respect I felt the need to jump on it.

    Please contact your Senators, both of them as soon as possible, and as many others as you can muster the will to contact. Tell them a free United States demands that those who break the law should be held responsible no matter how rich or powerful they are. That retro-active immunity sends a signal that Presidents can [i]order[/i] citizens and corporations to break the law with impunity and that those law-breakers can feel assured of no responsibility or consequences because the “government told them to do it.” (A rationale that several lawmakers have now used even though it was thoroughly dismissed nearly 60 years ago by our own government at Nuremburg). Tell your Senators that as the celebration of the independence of our nation draws near the most patriotic thing they can do is to preserve the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution and say no to unlimited and dictatorial powers for the Executive Branch. Tell them they must honor the sacrifices of our parents, grandparents, and the other generations past by standing firm and maintaining our cherished liberties.

  10. Nice wishcasting Phil.

    Believing that Obama would, “rather vote on a bill that has immunity stripped out”, is just as easy as believing that he’s using “the many good provisions in it”, as cover to maintain an inappropriate level of power in an office he may very well be occupying.

    Perhaps wishful Republicans are likewise shaking their heads and saying that George W. Bush didn’t really want a loss of freedom either, but the poor guy was forced into it in order to protect Mom and apple pie from those evil terrorists.

    And I must point out – it’s not the first apologetic nonsense I’ve seen on this blog buttressing the questionable actions of Democrats.

    If you want to vote Democrat – fine. If you think Obama should be President – fine. But I would hope it’s because you think he’s the best choice you have – despite the admitted imperfections of the man and the party he represents. Not because of some head-in-the-clouds delusion that Obama is secretly making political manoeuvres in order to carry out a noble agenda.

    And if you wanted to convince me he’s the best man for the job, you’d have to make a better argument than this. It wouldn’t matter if we were talking about George freakin’ Washington himself, a politician voting “yea” on something one perceives as a gross violation of American freedom cannot be so easily excused.

    And don’t kid yourself, how do you think the Democrats propose to carry out their agenda of saving “our planet” from the people on it, without expanding government power? Yeah, I’m sure Obama is really upset over lost freedoms. I bet the man can’t sleep at night for worrying about it.

    If you want some idea of what it’s like having the benevolent left running your life, “for your own good” – get a load of this:

    http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,23417469-661,00.html

    I don’t even smoke, don’t particularly like being around smoke, but I have seriously got to get out of here before they annex Austria and start gassing Jews or something.

  11. Sunshine

    I guess the ex post facto provision in the constitution won’t apply here. (sigh) It only works the other way, I believe.

  12. gopher65

    Santiago said:
    We actually have a saying in Mexico: America gets a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia.

    Hahaha:). We have that same saying in Canada. America gets a cold, and Canada gets pneumonia.

    N said:
    We have a saying here: “Oops, another emergency room is shutting down.”

    Canadians have a variation on that one too. Believe it or not we have large numbers of Americans sneaking across the Canadian border trying to get free health care here WITHOUT PAYING TAXES. Mooches. I’ve read that is actually one of the big reasons why our healthcare system is clogged up; too many Americans stealing from us like the thieves they are.

  13. > FYI, Obama wants to vote “yea” on the FISA bill, because it has many good
    > provisions in it.

    I shall take some small measure of issue with this statement, as a number of observers disagree strongly with this assertion.

    The problem with FISA is not the telecom immunity provision (although that itself is also repugnant), but that the bill itself, in spite of the insistence of Pelosi, Obama, Bush, Graham, et. al., removes judicial oversight.

    The prior edition of FISA required the government to provide evidence of probable cause. Certainly, the standard here was low. However, this was not open to declarative statements -> the organization (in the Executive branch) requesting the warrant would have to convince the members of FISA (in the Judicial branch), via presentation of evidence, that this was a justifiable claim.

    The new version simply requires that the Attorney General (a member of the Executive branch) sign a document saying that probable cause exists. The judges in the court have to accept this document on face value. Moreover, there is no challenge vector or audit possible.

    You can’t possibly argue that these two conditions are equivalent.

    I don’t like to appear that I’m blatantly promoting my own blog on other people’s blogs, but there is a huge number of references available on this topic:

    http://padraic2112.wordpress.com/2008/06/21/warrantless-wiretapping-part-vii/
    http://padraic2112.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/warrantless-wiretapping-part-vi/
    (many more links through that last post)
    http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/35726prs20080619.html

  14. hale_bopp

    If I remember correctly, Qwest was the only phone company that did not comply. The jokes circulating were that this was a clever ploy…just watch who switches to Qwest and you have your terrorists.

  15. Repeal FISA is up and running. Anyone who wants to is welcome to sign up and become a blogger on it. The purpose of the blog is to organize a drive to repeal the FISA laws and all laws that pardon or give immunity from prosecution anyone who has violated the Constitution during the Bush Administration.

    That is why we want everyone to be able to Post so they can start a conversation about an idea they have to make this happen.

    Stop on by and check it out. By all means leave a comment and sign up to blog with us as we figure out what needs to be done to return our Fourth Amendment Rights and our rule of law.

    If you have a blog already and you become a poster we will link to your site.

    http://repealfisa.wordpress.com/

  16. Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Perhaps wishful Republicans are likewise shaking their heads

    I suppose it’s hypothetically possible, but here in reality, Republicans are giddy about getting massive eavesdropping abilities legalized.

    to protect Mom and apple pie from those evil terrorists.

    True, Republicans do tend to be giant, pants-wetting wusses whenever you mention “terrorists”. I’m not sure how they reconcile that with their tough-guy self-images, but meh, I don’t get the whole “compartmentalization” thing.

    before they annex Austria and start gassing Jews

    Riiight.

  17. Tyler Durden

    Why do you hate freedom?

    (to data-mine)

  18. autumn

    @ IRONMANaustralia,
    I can think of a great reason to ban smoking on public beaches, and it has nothing to do with me caring about anyone’s health.
    The vast majority of smokers are filthy, littering, inconsiderate jerks when it comes to not leaving nasty bits of butts behind after they smoke. On any beach in the US, the majority of trash collected in any sort of pick-up consists of cigarette butts.
    In my socilalist opinion, smoke on the beach all you want, but if you flick a single butt into the sand, cut off a finger.

  19. @autumn:

    This is exactly the justification being given, (after all, they can’t very well argue the health issue outdoors), but if you think that’s a “great reason” for banning smoking then you don’t understand freedom at all now do you?

    I hate cigarette butts. In the Army, we had to pick up litter by hand almost every damn day when we were cleaning the barracks area, and most of that, as you might well guess, was cigarette butts, (none of which I was personally responsible for). The astronomical number of those disgusting things that I’ve had to pick up would shock and awe Carl Sagan, and I’m still not stupid enough to suggest that litter is even close to an adequate justification for banning outdoor smoking in a supposedly free country.

    And by the gods – if you can’t defend the freedom of people who are “filthy, inconsiderate jerks”, then you just don’t get it.

    To me, being surrounded by people doing things I hate, is the sweet sound of freedom. I don’t have to like it, and as you may have guessed I like to tell people about it, but only a deluded or fascist totalitarian scumbag wants to force everyone else to act in a manner they personally feel comfortable with, (without even mentioning the impracticalities of attempting to do so).

    And trying to circumvent personal liberty by masquerading this nonsense as concern about litter, is just pitiful. If you’re even close to buying into that line of BS, you’d fall for anything.

  20. DrFlimmer

    The problem is, that the whole world is doing such things: Controlling the public at all costs, 1984 and/or “V for Vendetta” are right on the way… and all this mess because of a “fight against terrorism”…. but against who?
    It makes me sad, but Sep11 was the thing administrations were dreaming of…. to control you in such a way in the name of “peace and freedom” (ridiculous…). It’s just like in the former sowjet union. Spy out everyone and everything!
    It’s a mad world!

  21. RL

    There is a lot of hyperbole on this thread and on both sides of the issue (as evidenced in the many links). I don’t really believe that the lawsuit discovery process will yield anything Congress cannot. I wonder how these lawsuits even proceed without being able to show damages of some kind or how they get around any national security issue. I also don’t believe those who say that the proposed legislation “won’t make us safer.” – how can gathering information on suspected foriegn agents not help? How are these people so certain? On the otherside, I agree with Sen Spector that the new legislation does not fix abuse of FISA since the legislation has the same language that the old act does. Nancy Pelosi tries to argue that the understanding/language is now understood and defined and future abuse prevented but I don’t agree with her on that. To me the abuse or ignoring of the statute is the biggest concern. I’m not really concerned about punishing the telecoms for doing what was pitched to them as right and legal at the time they did it.

    Its the classic debate between security and freedom. Now that we’re removed from 9/11 a good number of years, the pendulumn is swinging back.

    BAs opposition seems centered on telecom immunity. Is that the extent of it?

    Let me ask this question. What should be done to fix this legislation? The FISA court exists for what I think is a good reason. After reviewing numerous articles and statements from senators against this bill the big problem seems to be the problem is judicial oversite and meaningful review. Finding a way to control the FISA process and prevent abuse but still achieve the overall goal of safety seems to be what needs to be done.

    And it occured to me while reading this blog that a new group of thinkers has been identified. They join the ranks of Moon Hoaxers, LHC Doomsday Prophets, Holocaust Deniers and are related to 9/11 Conspiracy Believers: Terrorist Deniers. This group of people deny that there are groups like Al Queda or others who are intent on harming American and/or Western people. They view everything as a gambit to control society (to do what I’m not sure..none of the accused have a chance to stay in office for long). They say things like “9/11 is something adminstrations dream of…”. Skepticism of your government is good and healthy. But this is looney.

    The debate over FISA can be joined by people of good conscience on both sides. I respect the opinions of both sides, who I do think are motivated to do what they think are right. (Granted a lot are also playing politics). I don’t however pay much attention to the Terrorist Deniers. They can just save their breath (or typing).

  22. > I also don’t believe those who say that the proposed legislation
    > “won’t make us safer.” – how can gathering information on
    > suspected foriegn agents not help?

    You obviously didn’t read any of the links that I posted. :)

    (a) Information overload and waste of resources: the algorithms used to determine what “might” be suspicious activity are not vetted, so we don’t know (and can never evaluate) how well they actually work, but we can infer from information gathered that they’re not efficient. The algorithms find possible suspicious activity. An escalation process leads this through human analysis. The NSA hands a list off to investigative branches like the FBI. The FBI does a thorough analysis. Finally, some agents have to follow up on the final possible suspicious activity. This is a lot of human intelligence resources, for all the “magic digitality” of it. All of those people could be doing anything else. To date, we have no reason to suspect or believe that any credible terrorist plot has been foiled by use of this technology. There have been hand waving speeches that say that “dozens of plots” have been foiled, but we have no information that we can reasonable judge as being on objective analysis. In fact, all of the public terrorist plots that have been broken up have been broken up using traditional police investigation methods.

    (b) There is a terrible vector of soft abuse here. As I said above, we’ve gone from having a marginal but somewhat justifiable check on abuse here by involving two branches of government. We now only have *ONE PERSON* – if the Attorney General signs a document that says that there exists reason to believe that this person is involved in terrorist activity (with no stated requirements to meet), then boom! They can violate due process further and activate live wiretaps. Note -> they’re wiretapping everyone in the country already. That’s how the technology they’re using actually works. This “get a warrant” business is slightly disingenuous, the conversations and emails are already being scanned and analyzed, just not by a human.

    What if a future Attorney General decides that bombing an abortion clinic qualifies as terrorist activity? Well, *any* anti-abortionist group would be a reasonable place to start looking for a clinic bomber. Ergo, we must weigh our magic algorithm to pay special attention to people who are members of anti-abortionist groups. How about illegal drugs? They fund terrorist activity, right? (so does every other criminal behavior, for that matter). Let’s weigh every conversation that originates with a criminal. Eco-terrorists that bomb car dealerships? Let’s weigh the Sierra Club and PIRG. There’s provisions here that state that even if later review finds that the original justification for the live wiretap is found to be lacking due process, the wiretaps are still admissible as evidence. So now some kid working on saving the trees can get busted for pot possession. Will he? Probably not, of course… but data lasts forever. Tagging someone as a possible terrorist gets them into the “observe more closely” database -> how do they get out? How do they challenge the fact that they’re in there in the first place? Is some well meaning left-leaning intelligence person going to leak the recording of the conversation ten years later when that person is running for the Republican seat in Congress in their district?

    Remember too, you’re talking about data mining algorithms. So when you decide to raise the possible value of one activity (like involvement in a ecogroup), you’re not just raising the value of that one criteria, you’re raising the value of that inside a weighted relationship with neighborhoods. So if you suspect that someone is a terrorist, not only are you weighing them, you’re weighing everyone that they know. You get a snowball effect… if you weigh enough (and very few) factors, you can score remarkably high for fairly well defined communities.

    This is basically how the FBI used to generate its domestic surveillance lists, albeit by hand. This is why the original FISA bill was passed in the first place – because the FBI was wiretapping groups of people that were regarded as possibly subversive.

    (c) there is an additional vector of hard abuse here. Anyone who taps these lines gets access to everything the government has access to… and that’s everything. This is the world’s biggest information cookie jar. Judging by the fact that they were unable to keep the thing secret in the first place, and this involves multiple facilities that are NOT top secret secured government facilities, there exists a real danger that someone outside this beast will leverage its existence for reasons nobody likes. Organized crime could bribe a technician to splice a line, just to name one possibility. FBI and NSA agents are not bribe-proof either, not to mention the fact that it has been known to come to pass in this country that some percentage of law enforcement personnel occasionally abuse their authority.

  23. Nicholas

    [QUOTE]They join the ranks of Moon Hoaxers, LHC Doomsday Prophets, Holocaust Deniers and are related to 9/11 Conspiracy Believers: Terrorist Deniers. This group of people deny that there are groups like Al Queda or others who are intent on harming American and/or Western people.[/QUOTE]

    I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I don’t deny the existance of terrorism, just the risk/benefit analysis of those using it to pass legislation. Wikipedia reports approximately 4,000 deaths as a result of 9/11. That sucks. It really does. It is also around 1% as many deaths as have resulted from auto-accidents since then, just to pick one larger concern of mine. As a result I worry about terrorism about 1% as much as being injured on the road (which, BTW, government and citizens are doing precious little about). Once others show the same ability to think critically and do the math I will respect their concerns about ‘terrorism’. Of course, should they then consider sacrificing my civil liberties to attempt to decrease auto accidents, I will rail on them just as strongly for deserving neither freedom nor safety.

    If you feel I am in error, perhaps you could specify what it is I am not taking into account, in a calm and logical manner rather than emotionally-charged analogies.

  24. Nicholas

    Oops; that should have been 3,000, not 4,000. Sorry for the typo.

    Also, if anyone could advise how to make working ‘quote’ tags…

  25. RL

    Patrick,

    You make good points. I don’t disagree with point a, but I’d choose to let my congress representatives who have the right clearances look at what is being done and decide whether or not the program is efficient. Unfortunately, do to the nature of the work, not all can be revealed.

    Concerning point b, that’s why I suggested that the FISA act needs to be strengthened to avoid such abuses. Are you saying you’d scrap the whole thing or put in the proper checks?

    Concerning point c, abuse and corruption can occur at any time with or without FISA. At any time, organized crime or other criminal (foriegn or domestic) enterprise can do this. I’m not sure what this has to do with FISA.

    Overall, I’m in favor of FISA if its made more immune to abuse.

  26. RL

    Nicholas,

    I don’t agree with your logic or your mathematical formula for calculating priorities. Ideally, if my countries security services are working perfectly, the number of deaths dues to terrorism will be zero. I don’t think that suddenly makes the threat zero. Unfortunately, the number of deaths due to terrorism really spiked on 9/11 and the government has been rightly trying to close the holes that allowed things to happen. And it is not unexpected to have debate as this is done.

    If you’re not a Terrorist Denier, then great (you at least give it 1% which I think is low given the cost when that 1% comes around) . I just disagree with your setting of priorities. But there are a lot of people who want to insist that there is no threat and that the government is making this stuff up to control us. That is silly. And dangerous.

    And said, by the way, with little in the way of emotion or appeal to emotion. If any emotion is felt in this or previous posts, it wasn’t added by me.

    But now that you have me interested, let me ask this. Do you feel that mandatory seatbelt laws and helmet laws are an infringement on your civil rights? I know a lot of people who do. (And I disagree with them). How far would you go to reduce traffic fatalities?

  27. Tyler Durden

    For those arguing * in favor * of government data-mining everyone in the U.S., ask yourself:

    Would you be willing to give all of your personal information, banking information, medical history, and identification to a complete stranger?

    How is it any better to give this same information to the thousands of individuals who work for organizations like the FBI, NSA, CIA, etc? These people are * humans * and yes, the millions of records they have access to can and will be abused.

    “The debate over FISA can be joined by people of good conscience on both sides. I respect the opinions of both sides, who I do think are motivated to do what they think are right. (Granted a lot are also playing politics). I don’t however pay much attention to the Terrorist Deniers. They can just save their breath (or typing).”

    I don’t deny that terrorists exist. I deny that they pose a significant threat. I’m eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than I am to be killed by a terrorist. But I don’t suggest we raid the homes of every police officer in the U.S. and sew recording devices into their uniforms just to be sure.

  28. Tyler Durden

    “But now that you have me interested, let me ask this. Do you feel that mandatory seatbelt laws and helmet laws are an infringement on your civil rights? I know a lot of people who do. (And I disagree with them). How far would you go to reduce traffic fatalities?”

    Any law which punishes an individual for a victimless crime is an infringement of civil liberties. Not wearing a seatbelt or a helmet doesn’t cause an accident. It just ensures that you personally won’t make it out of a serious accident alive.

    Similarly smoking marijuana is a crime which has no victim. But instead of recognizing that fact in the name of family values the law * creates * criminals by creating unneeded and unreasonable statutes.

  29. Quiet Desperation

    Believe it or not we have large numbers of Americans sneaking across the Canadian border trying to get free health care here WITHOUT PAYING TAXES. Mooches.

    Duuuuuude, it’s not even five orders of magnitude *near* what’s going on in the southwestern US. The most impartial studies indicate it costs California alone about $10 billion per year.

    I’ve read that is actually one of the big reasons why our healthcare system is clogged up; too many Americans stealing from us like the thieves they are.

    Huh. When I say the same thing about the folks coming in from the south, I get called a racist. Ain’t double standards and political correctness fun, kids? Yay!

  30. Nicholas

    ““But now that you have me interested, let me ask this. Do you feel that mandatory seatbelt laws and helmet laws are an infringement on your civil rights? I know a lot of people who do. (And I disagree with them). How far would you go to reduce traffic fatalities?”

    Any law which punishes an individual for a victimless crime is an infringement of civil liberties. Not wearing a seatbelt or a helmet doesn’t cause an accident. It just ensures that you personally won’t make it out of a serious accident alive.”

    As Tyler points out, this brings up the larger question of when it is ethical or just to limit liberties. For instance, I certainly think we should curtail my neighbor’s right to build a nuclear bomb in his garage, because the restriction of that liberty must be weighed against the infringement on others’ liberties. Such is always a balancing act with justifiable shades of grey.

    However, in your example of seat belts no others’ liberties are being infringed by a person not wearing one, therefore it is not within the purview of the government to restrict such an action. So yes, seat belt laws are wasting taxpayer dollars in an unethical crusade. An individual has the right to take any risks they wish, so long as they do not put others in danger. I assume you were asking if such laws were justified, as they are by definition an infringement on liberty.

    I’m not advocating driving without a seatbelt of course. I never ever drive anywhere without wearing one, but I would never ever force another person to wear one under threat of violence. If one did want to try to make a difference in this arena, the tax money would be more efficiently, and more ethically, spent on public service messages in popular media to influence citizens’ decisions while still respecting their free will. I may not understand why someone would want to ride without a seatbelt, but that doesn’t mean they do not have a valid reason. After all, there are many things I do (or would like to do) that others may not understand. So long as those actions do not cause harm to others, there is no justifiable reason to restrict them.

    “I don’t agree with your logic or your mathematical formula for calculating priorities. Ideally, if my countries security services are working perfectly, the number of deaths dues to terrorism will be zero. I don’t think that suddenly makes the threat zero. Unfortunately, the number of deaths due to terrorism really spiked on 9/11 and the government has been rightly trying to close the holes that allowed things to happen. And it is not unexpected to have debate as this is done.”

    I can only justify prioritizations and decisions based on objectively verifiable data. Hence why I compared statistical probabilities of myself, or someone I care about, being harmed in a given way. Everything is statistics. I could easily be gored by a wild gorilla that escaped from the zoo on my way out of work today, but the statistical probability of that is so negligible that it hardly seems worth worrying about. Should the government spend money and restrict liberties to prevent my goring by said hypothetical gorilla? Would it be more justified for them to do so if lots of people were worried about said gorilla in spite of the overwhelming unlikelihood of the occurrence? The answer to both is no; the government should not be guided by irrationality.

    In a perfect world there would be no deaths by anything other than old age…or maybe not even that; just choice. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are always tradeoffs to be made. Where does the money come from to support these anti-terror programs? Whose family is going hungry tonight from higher taxes? What scientific mission was cancelled from budget cuts for it? Beyond that, what collateral damage are your new programs causing? I would much prefer to live with an increased probability of early death of 1% rather than a substantial decrease in my quality of life. Again, it comes down to the math: If average life spans are increased by 1%, but average quality of life decreased by 10%, then there is no rational justification for such a program.

  31. gopher65

    Quiet Desperation: You just have to phrase your statement in such a way that it is abundantly clear to everyone that you don’t care about race:P. As an interesting sidebar to this already offtopic conversation, the Guatemalans don’t like the Hondurans crossing their border. The Mexicans don’t like the Guatemalans crossing their border. The Americans don’t like the the Mexicans crossing their border. Heh. It’s sad to watch the food chain in action.

    As another sidenote, I *like* immigration. Illegal, legal, it makes no difference to me. I think that nationality is an outdated idea (and it is weird when you think about it. How can you belong to a country? The entire concept is screwy.). What bothers me is people who use services and don’t pay taxes (assuming they make enough money to pay taxes in the first place of course). That’s just wrong.

  32. > Any law which punishes an individual for a victimless crime is
    > an infringement of civil liberties. Not wearing a seatbelt or a
    > helmet doesn’t cause an accident. It just ensures that you
    > personally won’t make it out of a serious accident alive.”

    Er, not precisely. This is a very “rugged individualist” stance, but in practice it can often work out that this isn’t the case.

    Let’s say I don’t wear a seatbelt, and as a result I’m thrown from the car into some precarious position. Some first responder attempts to extricate me from this position, and is seriously injured as a result.

    To I bear some culpability for this? (Curious as to your stance, you’re welcome to say “no”).

    > Similarly smoking marijuana is a crime which has no victim.

    I somewhat agree with this, at least to the extent that smoking marijuana has as little ancillary effect as alcohol consumption. However, both can indeed have negative consequences for persons other than the user. Families, for one.

    Again, it’s definitely possible for someone to state that in their opinion, no one person has a right to have a say about these sorts of crimes, including those who are impacted negatively (the wife that loses a husband to a car crash, the children that aren’t raised properly because their parents are stoned all the time, etc.), or that there are already laws in place that govern at least some of those cases (child endangerment laws in the second case), and that in the remaining cases, the proper response of the government is to butt out anyway.

  33. Haha ^^ nice, is there a section to follow the RSS feed

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