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Posts Tagged ‘civil liberties’

Flex your rights has four videos up on Youtube. You should definitely watch these if you live or have plans to live in America.

The intro and the music at the beginning is a bit jarring, and the acting could have been more professional, but overall these videos are well-made. They are an excellent primer on your rights when dealing with police and strategies for asserting these rights effectively but sensibly.

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Officers’ safety comes first, and not infringing on people’s rights comes second.

So spake Lt. Fran Healy, special adviser to the police commissioner of Philadelphia, in response to questions about the police arresting and detaining 9 people who had committed no crime.

Sometimes I wish I was a vigilante, with power and means to confront the Healys of the world and deliver some well-deserved comeuppance.

(Hat tip: Radley Balko)

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The reaction of the TSA — the umbrella organization formed after 9/11 to regulate airline security in the US — to the recent terrorist attempt has been along expected lines. More lines, more meaningless regulations, more stifling security measures. When Richard Reid had the bright idea a few years ago to hide explosives in his shoe, the TSA reacted by asking everyone to take off their shoes henceforth for the security check. Considering that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab strapped the explosives onto his underwear, we ought to be thankful that the TSA’s imagination has so far been..um…restricted. I mean, sure, it has issued an order that all babies be put into overhead luggage bins during the last hour of the flight, but consider the much more sinister possibilities.

My thoughts on this issue can be summed up in one sentence: Umar Farouk failed, but we are doing our best to make sure his goal succeeds.

Stephen Bainbridge puts it well:

Has TSA ever considered the possibility that maybe the terrorists aren’t really interested in blowing up a plane. Maybe the terrorists figure they win everytime we in the West spend millions of man-hours being hassled, inconvenienced, and generally put upon by a myriad of stupid security measures.

Now Professor Bainbridge may be ascribing more subtlety to the terrorists’ modus operandi than they probably possess, but it is worthwhile to pause and think about what he is saying. A free society, by its very nature, offers many targets for terrorists. It is impossible to shut them all down. Nor is terrorism as transcendent a presence as some might want to believe. With smart, mostly non-intrusive measures, the threat can be further reduced. Sure, there will be attacks from time to time, just as there are crimes every day, but the real damage from these attacks are not caused by the incidents themselves, but by our terrorized reaction to them. It is when we fearfully overreach and put into place crippling regulations that cost us time, money and curtail our civil liberties, that the real harm occurs. As security expert Bruce Schneier puts it:

A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

At some point, we need to do a cost benefit analysis: how much hassle, fear and security clampdown is too much? Is it worth going through so much TSA tyranny, much of it a charade,  and give up so much of our convenience, liberty and well-being in an attempt to make our existence slightly more secure against terrorist attacks?

Update: Nate Silver crunches the numbers and concludes that your chances of being on a given flight departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. So you could take 20 flights a year and still be less likely to be attacked than you are to die of a lightning strike.

Update 2: This is hilarious:

Anyway, I have a better idea. Let’s ban all clothing from all flights. Both the shoe bomber and Abdulmutallab used clothing — not Wi-Fi and not live TV — to make their failed attempts. In addition to taking away the possibility of hiding incendiary devices, a total ban on all clothes will also have the following positive results:

1. Terrorists will have a further disincentive from targeting flights, because religious extremists tend to be squeamish about naked people.

2. It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions because shy people wouldn’t fly, thus reducing the number of flights overall.

3. I don’t know why, but I think people would be more courteous. Talk about friendly skies!

Of course, I’m not serious about the clothing ban. But it makes a lot more sense than the TSA’s new ban on Wi-Fi and in-flight TV.

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This is probably familiar to anyone who has been following the civil war — now declared over by the government — in Sri Lanka, but I missed it till today. It is an oped by Lasantha Wickramatunge, former editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper of Sri Lanka. It was published posthumously and is a chilling piece of writing — not just because it eloquently defends civil liberties — but because Wikramatunge was murdered in January this year, exactly as he predicted in the linked essay. Do read it if you haven’t already.

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I get plenty of junk in my Facebook feed every day most of which I barely give a second glance; today however, one particular item caught my eye. Titled “Vigil for Binayak Sen”, this particular Facebook event was in support of Dr. Binayak Sen, whose continued detainment by the Chhattisgarh government violates every principle of justice. Not only has he not been charged with any recognizable criminal offence, the laws under which he was arrested allow for arbitrary detention without any right of appeal: he has been in jail since May 2007 with no end in sight.

All that, however has nothing to do with why I am writing this post; the reason is because the description of this event  begins as follows,

Jonathan Mann award winner and civil liberties activist, doctor of the poor, Dr. Binayak Sen has been jailed by Govt. of India under fabricated charge of being a supporter of Maoism.

But why should it matter who Dr. Sen supports? Maybe he supports the Maoists, maybe he does not. That fact is completely irrelevant. If freedom means anything, it means the right to expouse any views, however repugnant. If you believe in freedom of thought and speech, supporting an organization, whether it is is the Maoists or Al-Qaeda or the Nazis, should never be a crime. It is only directly criminal deeds that ought to be actionable, nothing else; not views, not speech, not associations.

By starting the description of the event in this manner, the author automatically gives an impression that this arrest is wrong because Binayak Sen is accused of supporting the Maoists while he in truth does not. BS!  This arrest is wrong because it violates individual liberty and it’s wrongness would not reduce even the slightest were Binayak Sen the greatest supporter of Maoism in the world. Why are so few people inclined to defend liberty purely for liberty’s sake?

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This is pathetic.

I hope the guy has a forgiving temperament, because if it was me, the `ex-girlfriend’ would have very bad things happening to her for the rest of her life. I can comprehend murder, abuse or theft for revenge or gain. I can comprehend the most terrible act of tyranny for a selfish cause. Of course I do not condone them, but at some level, I do understand — without necessarily sympathising with — those things and recognize the possibility of forgiveness and redemption. 

Using the force of law to take away another’s liberty just because you think that would be good for him I cannot understand. Or ever forgive.

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Here’s the link. It’s a long poignant piece that points out the folly of the drug war by focussing on the outrageous case of Cheye Calvo.

The fact that pieces like these do appear in the mainstream media (Washington Post is regarded as one of the three most important US newspapers, along with NYT and WSJ) is a hopeful sign. That, and the fact that a majority of people in the US want marijuana decriminalized according to recent polls, suggests that the tide is turning.

In contrast, while I lived in India, I do not remember seeing a single pro-legalization article in any newspaper, magazine or television channel. However, attitudes can change fast, especially in this globalized world, and if the US ever decides to go the legalization route, I predict that much of the world will follow suit within ten years.

(Hat Tip: The Agitator)

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