Thursday, December 15, 2011

Home Sweet Police State

Fully half of Americans believe the United States federal government poses an immediate threat to the freedom of our own citizens.  As crazy as that sounds, actions like these tell us why that sentiment is so strong:

The United States House of Representatives voted today to approve the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual occurrence that approves the budget for federal defense spending. But this year there’s an addition to the bill: Section 1031, a provision allowing our military to arrest and hold enemy combatants for indefinite periods of time without charges, has been expanded to include US citizens and legal residents. Moreover, the provision allowing the arrest and indefinite imprisonment of US citizens was inserted at the command of the President himself. President Obama threatened to veto the whole budget bill unless the language protecting American citizens and legal residents from this provision was removed. Minnesota Senator Klobuchar voted for in favor of this bill, even though as a former prosecutor she knows what kind of unprecedented power this gives both our President and the military to control, harass and threaten US citizens.

Another measure that Senator Klobuchar voted for, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its companion, Protect IP Act (PIPA) is well on its way to passage in spite of enormous opposition from internet providers, engineers, major website companies, journalists, entertainers and grassroots activists. The bills are couched as legislation to strengthen US copyright laws. The language is fraught with problems, however, authorizing prison terms for people classified as offenders and giving the government the ability to shut down entire websites that the Department of Justice believes are violating the provisions of the law. In an open letter to Congress, some of the most prominent computer engineers and web inventors had this to say:

“The current bills -- SOPA explicitly and PIPA implicitly -- also threaten engineers who build Internet systems or offer services that are not readily and automatically compliant with censorship actions by the U.S. government. When we designed the Internet the first time, our priorities were reliability, robustness and minimizing central points of failure or control. We are alarmed that Congress is so close to mandating censorship-compliance as a design requirement for new Internet innovations. This can only damage the security of the network, and give authoritarian governments more power over what their citizens can read and publish.”

These two statutes, if they hold up in court, strip American citizens of our First Amendment rights, our due process rights, and any other right the presidential administration deems necessary in the “war on terror”. By expanding the definition of the war on terror to include US soil and include US citizens and legal residents as possible enemy combatants, the administration now wields enormous legal power over the American people.

Both of these bills have bipartisan support, which only increases the cynicism and distrust of people who are looking to one party or another to defend our inalienable rights. These statutes are blatantly unconstitutional and must be immediately challenged in the courts. Every lawmaker who voted for them, like Senator Klobuchar, needs to be held accountable and replaced in 2012 with leaders who will untangle this mess and put the American people first.

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