Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Quick update, then back to bar review

Just a site note really quick, the webcam will be back in action just as soon as I figure out how to get my cam working with Linux. Any ideas? I thought this was interesting. I sat around thinking about the physics of it for a little while, only to realize that products like these are the reason I went to law school instead of engineering school.

Something else I can't figure out, why Congress can ask the right questions when they are the subject of government searches, but they can't defend the civil liberties of the rest of the country. It makes sense from one perspective, because now the President is meddling in their affairs. I fail to see why they would be similarly interested in the NSA program, it effectively violates their rights as individuals too. Honestly, they feel about the FBI searching their offices like I feel about the NSA having my telephone records. At least one world government has a good head on its shoulders. Finally, for those keeping tabs on the First Amendment, the Court issued an interesting split decision today. I will have a more thorough analysis once I get the chance to sit down and read the opinion.

Introducing, Stalk-a-Senator

Something else I can’t figure out, why anyone would want to spend $650 on an MS Office Suite when you can get OpenOffice.Org for free?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Interesting update

The title link goes to an interesting article discussing the history of the internet and the brewing controversy over net neutrality.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The dubious state of the internet and privacy

Net neutrality is becoming an international issue. Amnesty International started a new campaign called Irrepressible aimed at nations who monitor and punish individuals for expressing their political opinions through chat rooms, blogs, or other forms of internet media. It's nice to see the international community get involved with civil rights on the internet. Domestically, it looks like there will be several interesting revelations in the law in the near future. The New York Times coverage of recent litigation pitting Apple against bloggers who have released information on Mac technology spurred one California appellate court to rebuke Apple's request for subpoenas and restrict access to the bloggers' sources as a violation of the First Amendment. This is the first time that a court of any kind has extended protections typically afforded to print journalists to bloggers and internet news writers as well. Another new and interesting development in law affecting the internet is the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act. While the act only just made it out of a House committee, it at least appears that legislation may start to go in the right direction. Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott also testified before the Senate on behalf of SaveTheInternet. (a quick primer on what a world without a neutral net might be like) It's nice to see that Congress is interested in what the American public wants instead of bowing to its campaign contributors. Maybe this is just a hick-up in the oligarchical scheme of our government. It seems as though DRM is coming under new fire, too. All developments that I hope will lead to more user friendly computing.

On the personal privacy front, it turns out that the NSA will deny any request for information regarding its domestic telephone database under the Freedom of Information Act. Not only are they not now disclosing the program, but they won't give anyone any information regarding the program, even under the color of law. It appears that AT&T thinks that this information should not enter the public domain either. It's nice to know that everyone is on the same page about keeping Americans in the dark regarding violations of their civil liberties, and the Constitution. ComputerWorld.com is running an interesting opinion by a former NSA data analyst. While the opinion presents an interesting perspective consistent with my own feelings on the matter, I would like to clarify that my reading of FISA does not permit intelligence agencies to tap the phone lines of Americans, just see section 1802(a)(1)(B) of FISA to figure that one out.

Finally, I really want to know why Republicans feel the need to have so many lists with Americans' names on them. Apparently, the Mayor of New York wants a list of all the "legal" American workers on it. As if identity theft wasn't already a problem, why not create a new black market source for identities. It's useless and absurd to put the average American citizen at that kind of risk.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Fingers Crossed...

Apparently, the Grey Area has been on a week long hiatus. Unfortunately, this was not of my own design. My two lame excuses consist of being busy with things (read moving and the start of bar review) and not having internet access (read I am waiting on hardware from the phone company even though I have been paying for the service for 4 days now). Anyway, my hope is to get what I need to be back on line in the next week, and then begin posting on a more regular basis for all of the regular readers out there (read HI MOM!!!--kidding, but really who reads stuff?). On to the point of this post.

Is it bad that I hope for resignation, but wish for impeachment? Does it same something fundamentally negative about the common view of our government when the President only has approval ratings of 33-37%. Clearly, we lack confidence in our leader as a nation. But what does it say about our government when it's members, our so-called leaders, have violated the Constitution? That is why some of the CNN news was so interesting today. The title link leads to a story from CNN about a spat between Congress and the President. Apparently, the FBI searched and collected materials from a Congressman's office, and the members of Congress are strongly urging its return. On the other side of the fence, high ranking members of the Department of Justice threatened to resign if the President returned whatever was taken. This all seems to be leading toward a showdown between the misguided and over zealous President, and a Congress seeing the President ebb farther and farther away from the controls of checks and balances. It's apparent that there is a breakdown in the system. This little impasse is a good example. The DOJ's policy should be different. A bunch of lawyers shouldn't be so keen to use a minor caveat in legislation to override the Constitution, something that legislation can't legally do anyway. The more obscene thought is that a threat of this nature from an appointed official may carry weight in the Oval Office. The only fathomable reason is because the President is worried about finding replacements, individuals who are "confirmable." Going further, someone who would enforce the questionable policy already in place. It's interesting that the new head of the CIA not only openly supports the NSA domestic surveillance program, but was one of the minds behind its creation. So, this is the state of the nation. Sounds like time for a vote of no confidence in our government.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Apologies Apologies

So I have been taking a bit of a break from being a pundit largely because I have been disconnected from the world. Life will slow down some once I am done with things this weekend, and the Grey Area will resume with its normal schedule of updates. I am working on some site design ideas as well as possibly changing to a different blog host in preparation for giving the Grey Area its own dedicated domain. Look for some big changes coming soon, but first I have to get my affairs settled.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Not just listening, watching...

After last week's revelation about the breadth of the NSA domestic surveillance program, it would seem a large enough number of people would be against such a wholesale assault on our rights by the Executive branch. Interestingly, the NSA program wasn't the end of the government surveillance. We know to some extent that the government has been listening. Its clear too, at least from the last link that they are listening to discover the media's confidential sources, and apparently doing so without warrants. At least it seems like the tide of public opinion has changed concerning the NSA program. I think the most interesting development in these kinds of stories is the revelation that the government can watch us from above as well. While the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency original came into existence in order to assist in gathering foreign intelligence, it has taken a similar evolutionary path to the NSA, and now spends a significant amount of time watching domestic events. The article indicates the beneficial aspect of this "program" because it was very useful after Hurricane Katrina and Rita. However, these kinds of programs should be limited in their use. When the government looks over someone's shoulder from space is just as harsh a violation of the Fourth Amendment as collecting their telecommunications data. Someone, preferably Congress, needs to step in and begin to regulate this kind of abusive executive activity. The more iterations on a theme we receive tend to indicate the President's unwillingness to abide by the strictures of the Constitution. The American people shouldn't stand for it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Why we should care what the NSA does...

I was appalled to learn that 65% of Americans do not oppose the NSA wiretap program. I have head all of these excuses before. "They are only looking for terrorists, not me." "I won't ever commit a crime." "We need to do it to keep ourselves safe." Let's be realistic ladies and gentlemen, the purpose of the Bill of Rights exists to prevent development of a tyrannical American Government. Protecting against unreasonable search and seizure (the Fourth Amendment) is a right tied to the traditions of English speaking peoples, and has existed in some form as part of basic Constitutional documents for over 200 years. Permitting the NSA wiretapping program eviscerates this right from the Constitution in a meaningful sense. As the law stands now, if someone is accused of a crime, when taken to trial, the government can present evidence from these phone taps against them. If these taps are considered legal, when the government hears something they don't like and can be construed as criminal, they can file charges. This is an invasion of rights, even if it's as simple as knowing who, where, and when a person is calling. I am glad to see that this program has ruffled some Congressional feathers. It needs to. This is the President making a bold grab for power in clear violation of the Constitution, and his duty to uphold the social contract. When we give up one right, it's easier to take away another. No matter how great the threat to national security, we give up the basic concepts upon which this nation was founded by permitting this kind of injustice to continue. This would be like taking away the right to vote. The concept appalls us because it strikes at the heart of democracy. Liberty is the heart of our Constitutional system. It was the reason for people to fight against the English oppression in the first place.

It's also not a surprise that the Government has yet to really investigate what is going on. First, the NSA won't grant the Department of Justice clearance to investigate the program. This isn't a surprise because the Department of Justice is part of the Executive branch, and the President wants to continue to violate your privacy by looking into who, when, and where you call. I find it very interesting that the President has yet to produce evidence that this program has prevented a terrorist attack. Second, it looks like what the telecommunications companies did violates several existing federal laws. However, the likelihood that they will be prosecuted is slim because the agency who would prosecute them is the Department of Justice. It's interesting that this is the same agency controlled by the President, who won't investigate the NSA's program because the President supports it. Third, don't look to your phone company, if it's AT&T, Bell South, or Verizon, because, frankly, they don't care and won't help. So, kudos to Qwest, T-Mobile , and Verizon Wireless for not releasing their caller's information.

So, American's should care about the NSA program because they should not give up their freedom so easily, especially when so many American's have died in its defense. Letting the government take away our freedom, no matter how slight the infringement, destroys the purpose of that freedom, and strips citizens of other rights as a result. In addition, as citizens we must hold the President to a hire standard, especially when the President takes an oath to uphold the Constitution. The President, like every other branch of government, must adhere to the rules laid out in the Constitution, or the document and democratic principles mean nothing and we the citizens are left with a tyrannical government that can do whatever it wants. Far more that 65% of Americans should be opposed to this kind of government action because of the negative effects it could have on our freedom. Today the NSA domestic spying program, tomorrow big brother.

BIG UPDATE: More from yesterday's post, Glenn Greenwald has an interesting take at Unclaimed Territory.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Interesting Development

Reuters is reporting that the NSA keeps a database of telephone calls made by American citizens. For some reason this doesn't surprise me, especially after the New York Times report detailing the NSA program. Another Reuters report indicates that the President thinks this program is entirely within the law. Since the President is not a Lawyer, we can assume that this is the position of the Justice Department. The Justice Department asserts that this program is within the ambit of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. FISA creates a system of special courts that issue orders that permit foreign surveillance and searches in foreign nations, and was designed to require the foreign intelligence units in the government to comply with the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. Section 1802(a)(1) indicates that the FISA program only applies in situations were the NSA is collecting information on foreign organizations or entities. The Justice Department asserts in their letter that part of this section of FISA permits the Domestic Spying program because another statute provides the President with the power to act. This statute is the Authorization for Use of Military Force signed by Congress on September 18, 2001. Section 2(a) provides the president with

...all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
A letter to Congress from a group of Constitutional Law Scholars and former government officials indicates that the AUMF was not meant to get the President carte blanche as Section 2(a) seems to indicate. Especially since this authorization was issued pursuant to the War Powers Resolution of 1973, a law created to reign in the President's power to make war.

All of this means two things. First, if FISA does apply to surveillance of American Citizens, the AUMF doesn't permit the President to avoid the FISA system, and would require every domestic wire tap to go through the FISA courts. Second, if FISA does not apply to the NSA domestic spying program, then the NSA spying program is subject to the restrictions of the Fourth Amendment. If the former is true, then it's clear that the President is disregarding the AUMF and the requirements of FISA, which places the President in violation of laws created by Congress. If the president is in violation of a law of Congress, he is in violation of his duties as President. However, if FISA doesn't apply, the program must satisfy the Fourth Amendment. It's also clear that the President has not, to anyone's knowledge, obtained warrants for the NSA program. This means the NSA, and the President, are in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and in violation of the President's Constitutional duty.

This post only covers the specific legal issues involved with the NSA program. For anyone interested in a more specific breakdown of what has been going on with the program today, please see the Wikipedia article on the subject.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Big Brother is Watching

So we know that the Government has been keeping tabs on just about anyone it feels like since September 11, 2001. Now, it looks like the feds want to have a look at what all the college students are doing. Education is no longer free from oppressive government influence. I guess if the Government couldn't get access to library records under the Patriot Act, this is the next best thing. It's not just the NSA that wants in on the deal, the FBI is watching you, too. At least the FCC's nonsense may curb things a bit, since I doubt people will want to pay to have the Government invade their lives. Oh, by the way, its not enough for them to take a peak at who you are talking to, and listen in to find the most recent dirt on your neighbors, but they have to digital and internet media. It's nice to know that your government cares so much for you that its willing to violate the rights that are supposed to insure our freedom from these intrusions.

Monday, May 08, 2006

So much for the Democratic process

The title link goes to a story running at SaveTheInternet.com about a disturbing process for passing legislation in the House of Representatives. The real story is running here, and discusses how the new telecommunications bill will be drafted and passed out of public view. Though largely passed in committee, lobbyists who can influence the decisions on this bill.

The text of this article make it very clear that Congress has no interest in letting the public know how this law will be made. There is a very clear reason for this. If you had to get votes in a midterm election, but had to pass a telecommunications reform bill that will, in some way be it good or bad, effect every American, and have deleterious effects on the exercise of hallowed liberties, you wouldn't want the nation looking over your shoulder either. This is especially so considering that the lobbyist will be through ridiculous sums of money around to get their way. Most of this money comes from companies like Verizon and AT&T who stand to get the most out of it. It's sickening to think that this is how law is made, that the political process and all the principles imbued in the Constitution mean next to nothing because of personal bias and deep pockets. While I understand that our government fundamentally operates in a republican manner, the fact that Congress would so brazenly disregard the interests of the people makes me sick. It sounds as though it's time for a Hobbsean revocation of the social contract.

There may be hope though, especially if this is a trend. Even with the rumored return of the broadcast flag, there may as yet be some hope.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Just a quick note...

I was going to make "Punditry" my only post for the day but I saw this and couldn't resist. Jason Comerford at One Letter at a Time posted an interesting comment on the detrimental aspects of copyright law. What is most interesting about Mr. Comerford's perspective is he is not a legal professional, it's his opinion as a writer and artist. Check it out.

Something else I ran across entirely at random, ShelleyTheRepublican. I really hope this is a joke...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Political Punditry...

Before I get to the substance of this post, the "Grey Area" in print is making its last appearance in the Forum.

I can't figure out whether politics today is anything more than an exercise in futility. But we have to ask what the concept of politics in America truly is. When I think about politics, I think about the process of disagreement between the inefficient bipartisan system, or posturing for the purpose of winning an election. This leads to a variety of bills that are typically presented (though never passed) in the Congress. Many of these bills look woefully useless, ineffective, or Unconstitutional. Tim Wu at Slate.com has an interesting piece explaining why net neutrality is so important. The debate has fueled the creation of two competing bills. The first bill would effectively do away with net neutrality by ignoring it with some minor annual oversight. Generally, the law creates an FCC committee that reviews the state of internet access and information, which is then reported to Congress. While it appears this qualifies as oversight and possibly a neutral net, the bill really presupposes deregulation. The hands off nature of the FCC's task, and the fact that the reports and changes are only suggested to occur annual demonstrate that any regulation does little to actually regulate. The second bill does exactly the opposite by preventing the establishment of a telecommunications monopoly. This just goes to show how ineffective the operation of politics really is. This is politics, not acts of legislation. The finite distinction comes down to the purpose of the acts. The first bill may be legislative in its intent, but it appears to be something of a compromise. The second bill aims to bring the issue to light, so while it stands very little chance of becoming law, it brings the important facts of the issue to the senate floor. What makes the situation worse is that congress reintroduced a law that revives the broadcast flag. This was a bad idea once, since it was ruled unconstitutional. Its amazing the lengths at which some representatives will go to get a law passed. Anti-neutrality, and anti-consumer, this legislation demonstrates how the ineffectiveness of politics and how we have lost of the fundamental idea that the government exists for the people, by the people. Its more likely government for big business, by deep pockets. The way to fix it is simple, call your congress-person, explain your position, then make it clear that this is a vote worthy issue.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Weekend Tech/Legal News Roundup

Copyright Litigation...

The RIAA continues to sue unwitting individuals, as they attempt to bully people into paying out settlements to increase their bottom line. Interestingly, it looks like the musicians are fighting back. I am glad to see that the artists realize the detrimental effect the RIAA's action has on the music business and the distribution of Copyrighted material. The MPAA has engaged in similar legal action, but it appears at least one person isn't going to take the case lying down. Up until now, few have been willing to stand up to the guerilla tactics of the major media companies. Its kind of hard to counterclaim, though, when the defendants are dead. Regardless, this litigation is fruitless, and I wish more people would stand up to these corporations. The government may becoming after the RIAA and the MPAA though, since a court has ordered the RIAA to release formerly confidential papers regarding a recently abandoned anti-trust investigation.

Follow-up on Oklahoma laws concerning digital entertainment rights...

Oklahoma passed a bill prohibiting violent video games. After what Microsoft did and now this, I won't be moving to the big OK any time soon.

On another note speaking of Microsoft, it appears MS is going to continue to role out abusive anti-consumer software under the auspice of preventing piracy. Does it bother anyone that this is largely occurring regardless of the wishes of the end user. I may think twice about accepting the EULA.

On the need for Net Neutrality...

As an end user, we have fewer rights when subject to the free market without regulation. Yesterday's posted short film by PublicKnowledge explains exactly why this is the case. Interesting, AT&T is already attempting to limit bandwidth by not rolling out new technology for the masses. Apparently, Verizon is now attempting to charge extra for dial up users. This works to the disadvantage of people outside of serviceable high speed internet areas. Net Neutrality is now working against people in rural areas.

Internet Privacy is Still an Issue

This is especially true since Congress is considering mandatory ISP snooping. This means, Congress will require internet service providers to record user traffic. The government is also asserting a national security privilege in the AT&T wire tap litigation. Not only does the government want to expand the scope of their investigatory powers, they also want to make sure that the courts cannot work to remedy any violation of civil liberties that may result. The prospect of the Executive Branch violating its duty to enforce the Constitution should be at least disturbing. It makes me feel ill. Don't forget, the government wants to know everything you do on-line, regardless of whether you are a terrorist or if they have reason to believe you are a terrorist.

Finally, For those keeping up with Supreme Court News...

The United States Supreme Court reversed a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals permitting Federal Courts to get involved in Anna Nicole Smith's probate litigation. Federalists should be pleased since this holding will limit the power of federal courts to get involved in probate battles, allocating more power to the states to determine how to deal with property claims. Lets not forget that this could make Miss Smith a billionaire.