To begin with, it is a fool’s errand to believe that we can ascertain the intentions of the Founders on a huge raft of contemporary issues which – like radar itself, would have been completely off their screens in the pre-industrial, let alone pre-post-industrial, agrarian society in which they lived. Even the Founders themselves – the very people who wrote the document in question – began debating about what the Constitution permits immediately after ratification, notably the 1790 row between Hamilton and Madison over whether a federal bank was permitted. That particular debate – between two key authors of the Constitution a mere one year after it was ratified – suggests a second problem with the notion of constitutionalism as the foundational mechanism for policy-making. Namely, that the document is written in vague enough language in many places so as to permit multiple interpretations on given questions, each sometimes equally valid. Not for nothing, for example, is one of the key provisions of the document referred to as the “elastic clause”. The Constitution Is Just Parchment, Get Over It ☀
Cell phones are tracking devices that make phone calls. It’s sad, but it’s true. Which means software solutions don’t always matter. You can have a secure set of tools on your phone, but it doesn’t change the fact that your phone tracks everywhere you go. And the police can potentially push updates onto your phone that backdoor it and allow it to be turned into a microphone remotely, and do other stuff like that. The police can identify everybody at a protest by bringing in a device called an IMSI catcher. It’s a fake cell phone tower that can be built for 1500 bucks. And once nearby, everybody’s cell phones will automatically jump onto the tower, and if the phone’s unique identifier is exposed, all the police have to do is go to the phone company and ask for their information. Jacob Appelbaum ☀
It’s not the free and open democratic society that aspires to eliminate risk; it’s the police state. The police state does not succeed. I spent four years in the Soviet Union and, occasionally, there were incidents of political violence: we didn’t hear about most of them. But they occurred here and there, and if there had been a real movement in that country that wanted to use political violence, I don’t think it would have been possible for the KGB secret police to prevent all incidents at 100 percent. You just can’t do it. In a modern society, particularly where people are mobile, where people have vehicles that they can load up with explosives, or people go to public areas and are willing to wear explosive vests and blow themselves up, it’s impossible to reduce risk to zero. So, the question is: “How much risk are you willing to tolerate to have a free society?” That’s not a calculation that’s really mathematical. It’s psychological. It’s really hard to come to a clear conclusion about it, because as individuals, or even as a society, you have less power over this than you may imagine you do. David Shipler ☀
Losing Our Civic Religion: A Conversation With David Shipler ☀
- Matthew Harwood: What was the most disturbing or enraging story you wrote about in the book?
- David Shipler: There are two. One is the basic situation of personal frisks and car searches in these poor black neighborhoods. That was disturbing on two sides. One, that it was permissible and, two, that the residents acquiesced. Our Constitution exists not only because there is case law, but also because of individual citizens observing it and believing in it and fighting for it. So, when you have a whole group of citizens in neighborhoods that no longer fight for their constitutional rights, the rights go away. They exist only when they're exercised.
- The second one was Brandon Mayfield for two basic reasons. One was the use of surreptitious searches that ultimately couldn't be challenged, the sneak-and-peek break-ins to his house; the collection of DNA evidence, cigarette buts; copying the hard drives on three computers and one external drive; planting bugs in his house and his law office, violating attorney-client privilege.
- And the second part of that was the intellectual dishonesty of the FBI. Because what they did, and I think this has implications for a lot of other investigations, is they took particular facts that they had discovered in his house through the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant and arranged them in an incriminating fashion to make it appear as if he were involved in the Madrid train bombing. They took a faulty fingerprint match and used it as a pivot around which they spun a whole theory of the crime. We know this, by the way, only because he sued and pried documents out of the FBI. Most of these investigations we don't know about. We don't know the details. But in this case, we know because he got these documents.
- To me there were so many intellectual failures in the FBI investigation, beginning with the lab, that it really does create a certain terrifying concern for citizens. These people are pros, so they should be professionally trained to keep open minds the whole way through and not discount exculpatory evidence and not arrange evidence in a way that supports their theory of the case. There were a couple of mistakes that no good scientist would ever make doing a clinical trial. One was that there was context bias. The examiners knew what the case was about. So when they got the print from Interpol, they ran it through their computerized system and it spit out ten to twenty possible matches; they came in on a weekend and they knew that this was the case, the Madrid bombing. They had to solve it. That was the first problem. They shouldn't have been told what the case was because that heightens the sense of urgency to find the match even where it might not exist.
- Secondly, all the examiners knew what all the others had concluded. So, their first examiner, who was very experienced, concluded that this was a match [of Mayfield]. And the next examiner, who was supposed to exercise independent judgment, already knew what the first one had concluded. This was hardly a double-blind study.
There are not two sides to the separation of Church and State. There is only this: They must be separated for the health of our democracy. Americans are of many faiths and none. Our laws must apply equally to all. If your God doesn’t agree, does that mean He accepts instructions from you? Are you content with such a God? Roger Ebert ☀
Conservatives who defended every excess of the Bush administration now rail against Obama’s Imperial Presidency, and liberals who considered the Bush era one long descent into the dark night of fascism seem blithely indifferent to the present Oval Office occupant’s multiplying executive power grabs. Apparently, phrases like “he killed his own people” only grate when pronounced in a clipped, West Texas accent — otherwise, “wars of choice” against third-rate dictators go down smoothly. Either you think the assortment of powers outlined here is a problem or you don’t, and both are coherent positions. What’s incoherent and absurd is only worrying about it every four to eight years. Gene Healy ☀
Poor people are entitled to privacy, even if they can’t afford all the gadgets of the wealthy for ensuring it.…When you glide your BMW into your underground garage or behind an electric gate, you don’t need to worry that somebody might attach a tracking device to it while you sleep. But the Constitution doesn’t prefer the rich over the poor; the man who parks his car next to his trailer is entitled to the same privacy and peace of mind as the man whose urban fortress is guarded by the Bel Air Patrol.…We are taking a giant leap into the unknown, and the consequences for ourselves and our children may be dire and irreversible. Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we’re living in Oceania. Chief Judge Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit ☀
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