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A Time to Make Their Case

Sunday, August 13, 2006

There's been some chatter on the television, the radio, and the blogosphere of how the Britains were able to foil this latest terror plot because they're not bound by the same restrictions as their counterparts in United States law enforcement. In Britain, they're basis for searching an individual is what they call 'reasonable suspicion' while in America they have to have 'probable cause' of wrong doing. The former is immensely less restrictive than the latter, but it also is immensely more violative of your right to privacy and property. For example, they have 'sneak and peak' warrants to enter a target's home unannounced to search for whatever they're looking for. Remember, all of this is done without the target's knowledge or consent. In the United States, we now have these types of warrants thanks to the Patriot Act, but the ACLU is trying to thwart their usage through various lawsuits.

We must understand that there are fundamental differences between citizens of the United States and subjects of the British Crown. Ours is a representative democracy while theirs is a monarchy of sorts. The biggest difference is that we in the United States have Rights independent of the State while British subjects have privileges extended to them by their sovereign. Therefore, the State has restrictions set on it's authority by American citizens via our Constitution and Bill of Rights which limits how far the State can intrude into our lives. To put it in simple terms, the people assign boundaries to the State in the United States, while the State assigns boundaries to their subjects in the United Kingdom. (See rights and privileges for a more in-depth look at their differences.)

Unfortunately, this creates a situation that pits the State against the people as it tries to increase its authority. The State is constantly pushing at the edges of its boundaries to gain control over new areas. History shows us that the State's push usually occurs when there is an event that threatens the security and safety of the people like Pearl Harbor or 9/11. When the people are at their most vulnerable, the State steps up and says, "Grant us these new powers and we'll protect you." A quick run through a history book will show this to be true.

That is why I'm so worried about something that is sitting out there on the horizon. Unless you've been really paying attention, you'll of most likely missed it. There are two bills in committee right now, S. 2453 and S. 2455. I've written about these before, so I won't go into them again in this post. Needless to say, I view both as a direct assault on our rights and liberties. Both bills are meant to weaken our Bill of Rights protections and allow the State even more authority to intrude into our personal lives without just cause.

So, let me lay out this scenario for you as I see it. There are these two bills in committee that the Bush administration would love to have passed into law. With the Senate being on recess until September 5th, the Bush administration has time to make its case for how these two bills would give them the authority to at least match their British counterparts in the UK, all the while couching their arguments in their pursuit of capturing terror suspects. In the coming weeks, watch for the revelations made by the UK of the methods they used. Then watch for the reactions by our law enforcement agencies. I'm guessing something along the lines of: "It would be great to have tools like that." or "If only we had that kind of authority, we could thwart all kinds of terrorist plots." Americans, ever the fearful bunch, won't raise any kind of meaningful protest to this new expansion of the police state.

Let me leave you with a couple of quotes which further illustrate my point...

The first is by President Bush:

[President] Bush also thanked investigators in the U.S. and Britain for working together to stop the plot. White House aides said they hoped the successful investigation would dampen criticism of the administration's controversial anti-terror methods, such as secret monitoring of phone calls, e-mail and financial transactions.

"This week's events demonstrate the vital importance of ensuring that our intelligence and law enforcement personnel have all the tools they need to track down the terrorists and prevent attacks on our country," Bush said.
(Click here for source.)

This next one is from an article at etalkinghead:

Lost in the intense and breathtaking reporting concerning the averted terrorist airline attacks in Great Britain was a side bar report that the key intelligence that MI5 and Scotland Yard gleaned was from so-called 'sneak and peak' warrants.

These warrants allow agents to clandestinely break into the target's premises and search for certain prescribed items and information. Although in the U.S. the Second and Ninth Circuit Courts have historically upheld these warrants, the first express statutory authorization of them came with the Patriot Act in 2001.
(Click here for source.)

And finally, from the Free Speech Coalition website:

First amendment lawyer Lawrence Walters was a featured guest on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" Thursday night, discussing the foiled terrorist plot in the U.K., and Scotland Yard's use of NSA (National Security Agency) wiretap surveillance to execute the arrests of 21 terrorist suspects who were plotting to down as many as 10 airlines headed to major U.S. cities.

The topic of debate between O'Reilly and Walters focused on whether the U.K.'s use of wiretap surveillance should serve as an example that aggressive surveillance is an effective method of tracking terrorist activities, and, therefore, the Bush administration should be given carte blanche to conduct covert investigations into the private activities of American citizens.
(Click here for source.)

I don't know about you, but this seems like pretty compelling evidence to me.

UPDATE: While watching Fox News, I saw a sound bite in which Michael Chertoff commented:

"What helped the British in this case is the ability to be nimble, to be fast, to be flexible, to operate based on fast-moving information,"

A quick search on the Fox News site turned up this article. This is exactly what I was warning about:
The U.S. should consider reviewing its laws to allow for more electronic surveillance and detention of possible terror suspects, citing last week's foiled plot, the chief of homeland security said Sunday.

Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, stopped short of calling for immediate changes, noting there might be constitutional barriers to the type of wide police powers the British had in apprehending suspects in the plot to blow up airliners headed to the U.S.

But Chertoff made clear his belief that wider authority could thwart future attacks at a time when Congress is reviewing the proper scope of the Bush administration's executive powers for its warrantless eavesdropping program and military tribunals for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


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