Category Archives: Free Speech

Free speech, grand juries and asshats

There are right ways and wrong ways to spout off about government officials. You can say:

I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.

Or you can say:

Metaphorically speaking, I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible public official on whom I am entitled to comment, purely as hyperbole, on a matter of public concern under my First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the Government for redress of grievances. Cf: The Screwtape Letters, an allegorical series of essays in which C. S. Lewis used Hell as a literary device for comment upon matters of spiritual and political concern.

Source: Department Of Justice Uses Grand Jury Subpoena To Identify Anonymous Commenters on a Silk Road Post at | Popehat

The first might get you summoned to appear before a grand jury costing you thousands upon thousands of dollars in legal fees along with untold hours of lost wages. The last will make you look like a moron with no backbone but at least you’ve had your say and you’ve kept your bank account intact.

Edward Snowden statue installed by artists in Brooklyn removed by park officials

I fully understand the park officials removing an unsanctioned piece of art but……

The NYPD says its intelligence division is investigating the statue and will be searching for DNA or other clues that may bring up a suspect. It’s not clear what charges are possible, NBC continues to report.

via Edward Snowden statue installed by artists in Brooklyn removed by park officials |

Why go to this expense to prosecute the artists responsible?

It’s again a felony to record the police in Illinois.

Dan passed this along and I think I need to make it as widespread as possible. Illinois is making it a felony to record law enforcement officers. To be sure, regular citizens are getting the same protection but at a lower sentencing rate.

According to, the bill discourages people from recording conversations with police by making unlawfully recording a conversation with police – or an attorney general, assistant attorney general, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney or judge – a class 3 felony, which carries a sentence of two to four years in prison. Meanwhile, the bill makes illegal recording of a private citizen a class 4 felony, which carries a lower sentencing range of one to three years in prison.

via Illinois Just Made it a Felony for Its Citizens to Record the Police and the Media is Silent | The Free Thought Project.

Now I’m not sure what constitutes “illegal recording” but I’m guessing it’s illegal to record anyone who doesn’t consent to being recording.

News or Propaganda?

Tech firms have seen a slump of at least $1.7bn in sales this year due mostly to Asian countries losing confidence in the tech firms ability to handle sensitive data without the data being compromised.

An analysis of financial filings from technology giants IBM and Cisco by The Independent on Sunday reveals the two businesses have seen sales slump by more than $1.7bn £1.03bn year-on-year in the important Asia-Pacific region since Mr Snowden revealed in June that US companies had been compromised by the NSA‘s intelligence-gathering in the clandestine Prism programme.“US companies have seen some of their business put at risk because of the NSA revelations,” said James Kelleher of equity research firm Argus Research.

via IT firms lose billions after NSA scandal exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

There are two ways of looking at this. The tech firms have lost this business because they are not trustworthy or the tech firms lost the business because of Edward Snowden’s leaking of sensitive documents. One perspective is gained from reading the news while the other is the result of propaganda released as news.

Lavabit Shutting Down

Boing Boing is reporting that Ladar Levison is shutting down Lavabit. Lavabit offered an email service with better privacy than the free email services such as Gmail and Yahoo! offer and it is also the email service used by Edward Snowden.

Evidently Snowden’s problems have sloshed over onto Mr. Levison. Here’s the letter he posted on

My Fellow Users,

I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.

What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.

This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.


Ladar Levison

Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC

Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.

Our government isn’t suppose to be our enemy. I’m saddened by this evidence that it is.

FBI Director: NSA Leaks Educate Terrorists Who ‘Don’t Understand The Internet’ | Mediaite

Dan passes along this article. FBI Director Robert Mueller says that leaks like those given by Edward Snowden harms our nation’s security by educating the terrorists.

“We tend to think that people know and understand the internet around the world,” he continued. “But you have persons who want to undertake terrorist attacks who don’t have a full understanding of the internet. And, to the extent that you expose programs like this, we are educating them. We’re educating them about how the internet works actually worldwide.”

“They will be educated and find other ways to communicate and we will not pick up the communication that we want,” Mueller warned. “I would not underestimate the price to be paid by substantial disclosures.”

via FBI Director: NSA Leaks Educate Terrorists Who ‘Don’t Understand The Internet’ | Mediaite.

I would hope that he would assume our enemies fully understand all technologies that we do and then some. But it sounds like he is depending on an uneducated enemy to keep our country safe.

I don’t know about you but it is NSA’a and the other Federal agencies denouncement of Edward Snowden that is giving me pause to fear, not Snowden’s leaks.

Flutterby™! : Government overreach outrage of the moment 2013-06-10 05:59:58.699733-07

Dan has a list of links to news items dealing with the US government’s snooping on it citizens. Rather than repeating them here I’ll just send you over there. He did include a graphic that explains why I view Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning as more heroes than villains. I’m not sure either chose the best approach for making the information public that they did but the information did need to be released.

FBI phone snooping tactic ruled unconstitutional

The Patriot Act, that knee-jerk piece of legislation passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, has run into more constitutional problems. One provision of it allowed for the FBI to use a National Security Letter (NSL) to compel a phone company or ISP or other communications vendor to hand over customer’s records and data and then gag the vendor from ever disclosing having even received an NSL. That last part is the part that bothered me. From my understanding, that NSL gag provision is in effect in perpetuity, not just until the investigation is over. That removes oversight and could lead to all sorts of abuse of the letters and to individual’s civil rights.

That may change:

A US judge has ordered the FBI to stop its “pervasive” use of National Security letters to secretly snoop on phone and email records, ruling Friday that the heavily used tactic was unconstitutional.

The order issued by US District Court Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco came as a surprising blow to a measure heavily used by the administration of President Barack Obama in the name of battling terrorism.

via FBI phone snooping tactic ruled unconstitutional.

It seems Judge Illston has the same concern I have. I have no problem with the FBI obtaining records it needs to prosecute dangers to the life and property of Americans. I do have a problem with having to worry about what I say that might be misconstrued by a federal eavesdropper that could put me into legal jeopardy and this is the same problem Judge Illston has with the NSL.

But in her ruling, Illston said evidence indicated that tens of thousands of NSLs are sent out every year, and that 97 percent of them are fettered with the provision that recipients never mention the requests.
“This pervasive use of nondisclosure orders, coupled with the government’s failure to demonstrate that a blanket prohibition on recipients’ ability to disclose the mere fact of receipt of an NSL is necessary to serve the compelling need of national security, creates too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted,” Illston said in her written decision.

via FBI phone snooping tactic ruled unconstitutional.

If the FBI knows that the recipient of an NSL can, at some point disclose the receipt of the letter then the FBI will be less likely to use these letters to go on fishing expeditions and will only be reading private discussions when there is probable cause to suspect terrorist activities.

The judge did give the FBI 90 days before the “cease and desist” order goes into place so that they will have time to appeal her ruling but now that the courts are listening I can’t see how such prevalent use of  NSLs can be found to be constitutional. I’ll be watching this.


Controlling the Message

Kathleen Parker is upset about a couple of things. She sees the run in the White House had with Bob Woodward and the press being denied access to the President when he played golf with Tiger Woods as an ominous threat to a free press. But apparently she also sees the “blogosphere” as a threat to the free press too.

I’m bothered by Gene Sperling’s effort to bully Woodward into not publishing his story placing the origin of the idea for the sequester on the White  House, there is plenty of corroboration that Woodward is correct, but I’m bothered because I just don’t like bullying. I don’t see this, as Parker does, as a danger of the independent press losing access to the White House.

See, in Parker’s world there is the “official media”, of which she is a part and then there is the “alternative media” of which she is in competition with. She seems to think the “official media” is a part of the fourth estate while the “alternative media” is not and is an outlet for politicians to get their word out bypassing the gatekeepers in the fourth estate.

“Add to these likely sentiments the fact that Americans increasingly dislike the so-called mainstream media, sometimes for good reason. Distrust of media, encouraged by alternative media seeking to enhance their own standing, has become a tool useful to the very powers the Fourth Estate was constitutionally endowed to monitor. When the president can bypass reporters to reach the public, it is not far-fetched to imagine a time — perhaps now? — when the state controls the message.”
~ Kathleen Parker

See, I’m troubled because the Administration wants to hide the fact that they thought up the idea for this sequester but now want to blame the Republican leadership for it so are bullying reporters to keep the facts from being put out there. She’s upset because the “alternative media” is being given access to the White House also.

Kathleen, can’t we all just get along?


Is Nothing Sacred?

It’s interesting how times have changed. Growing up I always heard the Russians referred to as “those un-Godly Soviets” mostly due to their view that nothing, not even religion, should be above the state. The Russian Orthodox Church then was openly persecuted by the state with all sorts of restrictions placed on it. Now that the Soviets are gone and its back to being called Russia the tide has turned.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party proposed a law introducing jail terms for offending religious feelings after a protest against Putin’s increasingly close ties with the Church by punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow’s main cathedral in February.

via UPDATE 2-Russian patriarch says religion law must not go too far | Reuters.

Patriarch Krill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church thinks that protection of the Church from offensive speech is okay as long as it doesn’t go to far and prevent people from stating their beliefs. That’s kind of like telling someone to tell you what they think of you but don’t do it in a way that hurts your feelings.

So, tell me, should the law protect us from being offended by religious opinion?

Dixie Chicks and Free Speech

Natalie Maines is ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas. That sentiment wouldn’t mean much coming from your average Texan who has deep feelings against a war with Iraq but Natilie isn’t your average Texan, she’s the lead singer for The Dixie Chicks.

Now, I’m a Dixie Chicks fan and have been for several years and I’ll continue to be a fan of theirs for several more. I have tickets to one of their upcoming concerts and I’ll be sitting in my seat just enjoying myself to the fullest when they get into town. I’m also not entirely against President Bush’s foreign policy, especially regarding Iraq. A person’s politics has absolutely nothing to do with their entertainment value to me.

What really gets me about all of this, though, is that by focusing on what Natalie said rather than the songs that she sings people are saying that her political opinion matters. Well, it does, but no more than mine or yours. Natalie’s ability to entertain me is tremendous but I have nothing on which to base my respect for her opinions on politics or anything else other than music. She’s an entertainer, not a policy maker, and her comments, I’m sure, entertained the audience of the moment.

Aside from all of that there is this free speech thing. Now I understand that the bill of rights and the first amendment only applies to the government silencing its people and that the US government isn’t behind this movement to smash Dixie Chicks CDs over Natalie’s comments but I still think that Americans ought to at least follow the sentiment. I might disagree with Natalie’s opinion of the President but she has a right to express that opinion, even on foreign soil. She is a citizen of this country and not a political representative of it. She’s an entertainer, not a policy maker. She is speaking for herself and no one else.

Oh, and the same goes for Martin Sheen.