Monday, April 7, 2008

The Political Economy of Fear

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” wrote Benjamin Franklin. Attempting to gain security by sacrificing liberty is also a foolish action, is ACLU’s stance, because it only increases the potential for harm. A short while ago a very dangerous action took place right under the noses of the people of Clatsop County and very few chose to even blink.

Our United States Constitution guarantees each of us to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment guarantees that we “shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The US Supreme Court (US v. Katz 389 US 347) has made it clear that this core privacy protection does cover government eavesdropping. The law takes account of the need for emergency surveillance but the need for quick action cannot be used as a rationale for going outside the law. FISA allows wiretapping without a court order in an emergency; the court must simply be notified within 72 hours. In cases of espionage. In cases of public safety. And always, at some point, public disclosure.

Ironically, in August of 2003 the City Council of Astoria, Oregon, became the 150th local government body in the U.S. and the eighth in Oregon to declare their city a ‘civil liberties safe zone.’ Astoria’s resolution directed Oregon’s delegation to U.S. Congress to work to repeal all laws that threaten civil liberties and requested the City Manager to instruct city employees to continue favoring practices and policies protecting rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.

Even more ironic the very people who, so avidly and angrily, screamed for the Patriot Act to be renounced by our local governments cheered when a local agency revealed it had turned over a list of names of people to be interrogated by an Oregon Department of Justice (ODOJ) investigator not once but twice within the last year! But these people, these “lovers” of social justice, so hated the man being hounded they felt it was okay for his civil liberties to be violated. They not only looked the other way at this barbarous act they used its rancid drippings to inflame public sentiment against the man.

Numerous local media sources reported that an ODOJ agent had received a list of names of local people from the Sheriff specifically to interrogate regarding their interaction with one man. No media source could tell its readers who had filed the complaint nor what the complaint was regarding. The Department of Justice first denied an investigation had taken place and then said it wasn’t an investigation but merely an “inquiry”. It doesn’t matter what it was labeled, folks. The fact is the agent got a list of names of people to interrogate from one of our law enforcement agencies regarding a legal citizen and no one, apparently not even the citizen, to this day know why the agent was here! Despite the fact that the Department of Justice has stated that, “Someone asked us to investigate a complaint that proved to be unsubstantiated.”

Someone? Who??? No paper trail, even though state law says there must be one. How did the Sheriff know whose names to give to the agent? Apparently, no media thought to ask him. Think about it, if this were you. If you picked up the paper tomorrow and found out that the sheriff had given an agent a list of names of people to interrogate about you. Wouldn’t your first question be, “How come the SHERIFF has such a list?” Then the next question, “Who is charging me with what?” Personally, myself, I would be more worried about the sheriff having a ready made list of people to question about my associations, lifestyle and viewpoints that he promptly handed it over to another law enforcement agency and, apparently, there is no enforceable law to keep him from doing just that.

Oregon law states that no enforcement agency can collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views, associations or actions of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership unless the information was collected in a criminal investigation or reasonable grounds exist to suppose that the person is involved in criminal activities. Not violations, not parking tickets, not a building code violation. Criminal activity as defined by law. The Sheriff has repeatedly stated that the commissioner was not being investigated by his department. Why hasn’t anyone asked the sheriff the obvious question: “Why did you have a list of people to give the DOJ agent?”

Where are the voices of outrage? Silenced. The attorneys in Clatsop County silently allow this to happen, frightened to speak or else be aligned (and maligned) with the commissioner who was thrown to the jackals? Where is the Astoria City Council now? Silenced. Afraid they will be the next to be “investigated” by one man, sitting in an office, with a direct line to the Attorney General’s office?

When you go, once again, to hear the orator recite Niemöller’s First They Came, can you honestly hold your head up high? What price did you pay for this recall? What price did you pay for the imagined “safety” of the river? What price did you pay for your silence?

It’s your fear now, bought and paid for. Own it.