The Patriot Act, defining Search and Seizure in the Digital Age? – by “Dylan D”

It may be hard to believe but it has been 9 years since the Patriot Act was signed into law. The legislation was hastily pushed through congress after the September 11th terrorist attacks. It was designed to give the government more power to prevent terrorism in the future. But many have seen the controversial piece of  legislation as a violation of Constitutional rights, most explicitly the Fourth Amendment. What the Patriot Act means today, is that search and seizure in the digital age has the danger of not being defined by the United States Constitution, but rather by a law designed to prevent terrorism. No one should be naive enough to think other wise, the intent of the law is to not only fight terrorism but lay the ground work for establishing search and seizure methods in the rapidly advancing digital age. Through briefly reading the Wikipedia article on the Patriot Act, I have come to the conclusion that the government no longer needs a warrant…….as long as its related to terrorism and national security….basically the law says, fight terrorism any way possible, Constitutional rights be damned. And while that may have seemed important in the aftermath of 9/11, is our fight against terrorism still more important than the Constitution today, 9 years and 5 days later?

Many will argue that the Patriot Act will expire and will not be foundation for search and seizure in the digital age. But to those who have that point of view I ask the fallowing question. Why does Congress keep renewing the Laws that were set to expire in 2005 in the original bill? This is not a Republican or Democrat thing because Congresses controlled by both parties have voted to extend. This is an American thing! We have become so concerned about National Defense and protecting our country from terrorist ( not that either of those things are unimportant) that we are willing to let ourselves be monitored and searched through means that violate our Constitutional right to protect ourselves against unreasonable searches and seizure. What have we as a country become?

This past weekend John Stewart and Stephen Colbert held their much anticipated Rally to Restore Sanity. I will be honest I did not watch one second of it, my plan the whole time was to watch the important parts on YouTube the next day. But that is not the point, the point is the title of their rally could not be more appropriate. Restoring sanity may be the most important step for this country to take as we struggle to move forward. Restoring sanity means waking up and saying the Constitution of the United States is what has guided the country for over 200 years, it has shaped the US into the country it is today, it has made us a great country. The Constitution has lead us through world wars, a civil war, a civil rights movement, and a cold war. If that great document can lead this country through that much, why can it not take on terrorism and the digital age too. The sane thing to do is realize it can and it will……but only if given the chance.

Big Brother’s New Sib – by “Daniel E”

Big Brother’s New Sib

This is a Farewell to the Arms of Big Brother exerting sole control over the media and journalism. Wikileaks is “new model of journalism.” Wikileaks is a website that collects and publishes leaked information typically labeled as “classified.” Yet, this “classified” information exposes corruptions and abuses of governments around the world. The information published is of little threat to national security. It is published so that the public can monitor Big Brother. It operates under the words of the Supreme Court that “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government” (Nyt v. US). Wikileaks has published information on:

  • War, killings, torture and detention
  • Government, trade and corporate transparency
  • Suppression of free speech and a free press

Wikileaks has had measurable success. For instance, they exposed that President Moi of Kenya costs the country $3,000,000,000 in corruption which swung the December 2007 Kenyan election.
Wikileaks is successful obtaining classified information, because of its information collecting policy. It guarantees anonymity to information sources. We have seen this model of anonymity help several internet blogs succeed. Anonymity encourages individuals to freely express their minds and share information because there is little fear of personal identification and subsequent reprisal.

Most recently, Wikileaks has introduced us to modern warfare – attacks and documents only seen in war movies. They have leaked more than 90,000 United States military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan filed between 2004 and January of this year. In July, Wikileaks released a video showing combat in Iraq:

Collateral Murder

The word “revolutionary” has been used to describe Wikileaks. This seems fit given that “during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” (Orwell). The media, is often considered the Fourth Branch of government. It censors information of public interest. It works under Big Brother. In the media, we simply get reports containing deceptive words used as propaganda, such as “freedom fighter” and “war criminal” – our modern  “newspeak.” Wikileaks allows us to monitor Big Brother. It can be considered Big Brother’s Big Brother. It can be considered a rogue organizations, such as Al Qaeda. It has no defined geographic base and we do not know when it will strike. However, when it does strike, we know its will help improve transparency between governments and citizens.

The challenge for Wikileaks is to solidify its identify. It has to expand its reach to ensure people can rely on it for news. Wikileaks needs to develop relationships with news media outlets to foster the exchange of information that is important for the public to hear. Furthermore, Wikileaks needs to decide if it does want to adopt a political agenda – a practice that often harms the reputation of news outlets like Fox News. By labeling the video of the Iraqi attack “Collateral Murder” Wikileaks seems to adopt an anti-war stance, which is not beneficial if they want to be an impartial news source. It will be interesting to see the transnational impact Wikileaks has in the future.

Leniency – by “Diego B”

The reaction to fifteen year old children having their lives severely affected by a black and white legal system is one of disbelief. How is it that a young teenager can have their life so drastically changed for (by today’s technological standards) being a teenager? The idea that sending your middle school girlfriend or boyfriend a photograph of yourself can affect your life opportunities decades later is baffling. Yet, there is a necessary reasoning for it all. Child pornography is seen as such a heinous act because of what it does to the child in question, or because of what usually takes place to make a child participate in pornography. This is why teenagers, despite the fact that they usually do not intend to start a child pornography distribution ring, are punished so severely for “sexting”. However, if any sort of leniency were allowed in these cases then the immediate result would be loopholes, which would promptly be taken advantage of by those actually intending to create the distribution rings, or by those with other malicious intents.

Six years ago, a sub-average videogame titled The Guy Game was released for several videogame platforms. The game features guess-based questioning which, when answered correctly, rewards the player with less and less censored imagery of female nudity. Largely brushed aside as bargain-bin lining, the game attained notoriety four months after its release when one of the female participants revealed she was underage (17) at the time she was filmed for the game. She coupled this revelation with lawsuits against the developers and publishers of the game, as well as the owners of the platforms that the game appeared on. At the time of filming, the teenager in question was, presumably, a freely willing participant. What changed between the filming and subsequent release of the game? She could have either planned to file suit all along, or she could somehow have been forced to participate. Regardless of the possibility of the former, the creators of the game are still to blame. It is their responsibility to accurately verify somebody’s age when dealing with such a potentially explosive situation. The law on the matter of child pornography must be kept as strict as possible to help keep situations like these from happening.

When dealing with something considered wrong by the large majority of the population, but highly sought after by a small but desperate minority, the prevention methods must be incredibly strict. This holds true even moreso when the central issue deals with the exploitation of children, or minors. The loopholes possible by being lenient under these cases are unacceptable. In the case of The Guy Game, if the creators of the game had been reprieved or treated in a more fair fashion due to their genuine ignorance, then any studio or developer could claim the same when faced with similar charges. Enticing or coercing a minor into pornography is not something below people that are willing to supply their desperate clients, so these laws must be kept strict in order to prevent these potential openings. The same holds true in the case of “sexting”; many underage teenagers already willingly participate in the activity, so it would not take much threat from the determined to make a child play along in a charade of ignorance for a quick trade-off. It is unfortunate that teenagers with relatively innocent intent are so severely affected, and the process for taking care of those specific cases involving a minor sender and minor recipient should be reviewed, but the alternative of simplifying the process of exploitation is far more dangerous with a more far-reaching potential to cause harm.

What about the First Ammendment? – by “Christopher P”

The United States of America is supposed to be the land of the free, where individuals with different tastes and desires can exist in peace, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others, and do all that they agree to do.  To me, that is a beautiful thing.  It is beautiful to live in a country where individuals can be who they are (so long as they do not infringe on others rights or hurt others).  While many groups may not agree with each other, for example, many groups find homosexuals and/or pornographic films depicting homosexual acts distasteful and/or obscene, they are entitled to their opinions, and homosexuals are entitled to engage in homosexual acts, to watch pornography depicting homosexual acts, and to have their own opinions about groups who view them with distaste, even if their opinion is a minority opinion.  To me this is a beautiful thing.  That is what America is about, freedom for both the minority and the majority to enjoy their own lives to the fullest and do what they want to do no matter what other people think (so long as they are not taking away another person’s rights).  This is what makes us a free country, and this is what hundreds of thousands of men have fought, sacrificed, and died to protect.

What boggles my mind given the importance of individualism and protecting minorities in our free country is the recent indictment of Paul F. Little, 50, also known as Max Hardcore, by the United States Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section with five counts of transporting obscene matter by use of an interactive computer service and five counts of mailing obscene matter in relation to 5 of Little’s films, and Little’s subsequent conviction.  The ruling was made by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bucklew for the Middle District of Florida on October 3, 2008, which sentenced Little to four years in prison on multiple obscenity charges, and ordered Little to three years of supervised release following his release from prison, to pay a $7,500 fine, to forfeit the obscene films charged in the indictment as well as all gross profits from the distribution of the films and the Internet domain names Little used as part of his business.  His company, Max World Entertainment Inc., was also fined $75,000 and ordered to serve five years of probation.

Little’s films involve fisting, urination, vomiting, acts of humiliation, degradation, and portrayal of actors dressed in a way that could imply they are under the age of 18 (although this is kind of ridiculous as children don’t dress scantily clad the way pornography actors do, with skirts 2 inches in length), although all the actors are consenting adults who willfully agreed to engage in the scenes, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition that adults can portray children in films and books.

Max Hardcore’s films are indeed distasteful, but then again many people find BDSM pornography distasteful (which involves many of the acts that Little was accused of), homosexual pornography distasteful, interracial pornography distasteful, or any type of pornography whatsoever distasteful.  There are people who view any portrayal of women who are not covered from head to toe in veil as highly distasteful.  In fact, many people find movies like SAW- which depict the abduction, brutal torture and murder of dozens of people to be quite distasteful.  But we do not indict the makers of the film SAW under obscenity charges, nor do we indict companies that produce homosexual pornography.  We respect these various opinions of what is and is not tasteful, but we do not act on them and infringe on other people’s rights to live the lives they want to live, to watch what they want to watch and enjoy what they want to enjoy.

Glenn Greenwald, writer for Salon, says that he believes the verdict is a major blow to our first amendment rights, and in the below paragraph he paints a fairly good picture of the hypocrisy of our government:

“So, to recap, in the Land of the Free: if you’re an adult who produces a film using other consenting adults, for the entertainment of still other consenting adults, which merely depicts fictional acts of humiliation and degradation, the DOJ will prosecute you and send you to prison for years. The claim that no real pain was inflicted will be rejected; mere humiliation is enough to make you a criminal. But if government officials actually subject helpless detainees in their custody to extreme mental abuse, degradation, humiliation and even mock executions long considered “torture” in the entire civilized world, the DOJ will argue that they have acted with perfect legality and, just to be sure, Congress will hand them retroactive immunity for their conduct. That’s how we prioritize criminality and arrange our value system.”

(http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2008/10/05/porn/index.html)

The meaning of ‘censorship’ – by “Michael N”

We in the United States are not accustomed to Internet censorship.  We all know that there is material that cannot be legally posted online, for various reasons; few still believe in an absolutely unregulated cyberspace.  Traditional laws still apply; whatever is illegal offline is probably illegal online as well.  Laws concerning libel, copyright infringement, obscenity, and more apply to the Internet because they apply in general.  We accept the existence of these types of laws, to the extent that even if we disagree with them, we do not generally consider them “censorship”.

Other countries have differing laws.  What would be free speech in the West might be considered subversion in China, and illegal.  That is to say, if someone in China published the same material, they might be subject to penalties.  Distribution of the material might also be prevented or stopped.  We would consider this censorship.

But even in Western countries, standards are not uniform.  It is well known that British libel law is quite different from the American variety; the burden of proof is on the defendant, for example.  (This kind of inconsistency has led to libel tourism.)  We might say that this constitutes a form of censorship.

However, the term “Internet censorship” means something different; it has come to mean “blocking”.  This is probably because the countries most interested in suppressing free speech also try to prevent their citizens from accessing certain material from the outside.  Since an authoritarian regime has no power to prevent publication outside its borders — it cannot enforce its censorship/subversion laws against someone outside its jurisdiction, nor shut down an outside website at its source — it may resort to technical measures that prevent users from accessing the material.

Both internal censorship and blocking took place in China recently in response to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, and this is common practice with many sensitive issues in that country.  Presumably, nothing similar would ever happen here.

Yet the character of the proposed Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) — even the amended version — has many people not only concerned, but outraged.  Some of the criticism comes from prominent Internet engineers, partly on ideological grounds, but also because of the technical methods that the bill would require — namely, interference with the domain name system.  I am not qualified to comment on their fears of a fragmented global DNS, but I suspect that a system could be devised to blacklist sites in the U.S. using other means.

There are already legal procedures to take down U.S.-hosted sites’ copyright-infringing content.  So what is new is the proposed blocking of non-U.S.-hosted sites.  A good candidate would probably be The Pirate Bay, which the bill’s language almost seems tailored to fit.

Would blocking be completely effective?  Of course not.  Would it reduce piracy?  Maybe.  Do I support the legislation?  No.  Would a blocking regime against sites “dedicated to infringing activities” really cause that much harm?  Who can say for sure?  An examination of Wikipedia’s rundown of Internet filtering policies shows that plenty of “free” countries engage in some degree of blocking, though usually not in response to copyright infringement.

Censorship is a strong word in a free society.  The mere fact of some sort of filtering of Internet content does not, in my view, constitute censorship.  The key is in the decision of what, precisely, to disallow.  Some present the slippery slope argument, with such rhetoric as:

Once the Attorney General has a system set up for censoring the Internet, everyone who has a problem with a website will want to get in on it. How long before it’s expanded to block Wikileaks, pornography, gambling, anarchists, supposed terrorists, and anybody else the Attorney General doesn’t like that day?

While this may be true, it isn’t necessarily so.  We would do well to remember that at the end of the day, it’s not dissenting political views that we’re talking about blocking, but unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works.  We should not take for granted the freedoms we enjoy, and it is right to oppose legislation which we disagree with or which subtracts from those freedoms.  But we would also do well to recognize what real censorship is, and not to confuse it with something more trivial.  To be sure, I think that blocking content is bad policy.  But it’s also important to be reasonable, and to save the polemics for when they are really needed.

The difference between hate and stupidity – by “Jennifer F”

Hate speech seems to be the hot button issue of the moment. From the anti-gay bullying that led to several highly publicized suicides of gay teens last month to the current DKE fiasco this may be the one topic that everyone has an opinion on. At the end of the day most of us won’t take up the cause of net neutrality or copyright law, but as members of society we have a vested interest in creating a hospitable environment for ourselves and others.  However, the use of the “hate speech” discourse hinders meaningful conversation.

As the recent DKE controversy has illustrated, misogyny and inappropriate conduct are still widespread even among we “enlightened” Yalies. Rape isn’t funny. Necrophilia is pretty messed up. But labeling the actions of the DKE pledges as “hate speech” and a “call to violence” is completely counterproductive. It prevents dialogue surrounding the specific misconduct and instead turns to character judgements of the individuals involved. The guys of DKE said stupid things. Really really stupid, offensive things. But calling it hate speech implies that these men are violent, woman-hating sexual deviants. To them, their chants were funny. To the rest of us, not so much. Rather than demonizing them as misogynists, Yale could benefit more from a dialogue and culture that makes it clear that such behavior is not amusing to the vast majority of us. “No means yes, yes means anal!” is an immature and offensive slogan, but it does not translate directly to “I hate women and advocate rape and other forms of sexual violence.” It just means that some people have really bad taste and a messed up sense of humor. Likewise, “that movie was so gay” is intended to mean it was lame, not that it had a subversive homosexual agenda and homoerotic themes which offended the homophobic sensibilities of the viewer. Is the phrasing inappropriate? Yes. Offensive? Absolutely. But painting this conduct as hate speech turns it into an all-or-nothing debate in which neither side benefits.

The derailing potential of such black and white thinking is evident in the campus response to the DKE pledge incident. DKE looked like a bunch of jerks. But then the Women’s Center declared that the behavior was violent and imminently threatening. To most Yalies (us women included), that’s just not the case. This polarization has actually hurt the dialogue by reinforcing the stereotype of the Women’s Center as somewhat radical and just a tad overly sensitive, and making us sympathize with the plight of the beleaguered frat boys. Not what the WC was going for. (Not to knock the Women’s Center, their sponsorship of a forum on the sexual climate was a positive step forward.)

The debates around hate speech tend to take the focus off of the misconduct and instead focus on the values of the individuals involved. In D.C. v. R.R., the legal proceedings focused entirely too much on the personalities of those involved. D.C. and his parents insisted he wasn’t gay. R.R. tried to defend himself by pointing out his acceptance of a gay family member. While R.R. was clearly kind of a sick kid and a total jerk to boot, as a pluralistic nation we don’t have the right to regulate his views on homosexuality. Libel, sure. Threats of physical violence, of course. But whether or not he actually has a problem with homosexuals is not and should not be relevant to the case. There will always be homophobes and misogynists and racists, no matter how much we may wish otherwise. If we want freedom of speech and religion, we’re going to have to take the flip side of the coin as well and swallow freedom to hate. But let’s not conflate insensitivity and immaturity with hate and the incitement of violence. Some people say really stupid stuff they don’t mean. And as for the ones that do mean it, well, haters gonna hate.Walk it off, little man.

GLAAD with Facebook – by “Malory W”

Last week Facebook announced new efforts to respond more quickly to hate speech that violates their terms of service. In the past couple of weeks Facebook has worked with members of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and other LGBT organizations to remove harmful and offensive posts that have plagued many of Facebook’s public pages. This effort comes on the heels of recent tragedies involving different forms of cyber bullying resulting in suicides such as in the case of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi who ended his life after his roommate used the Internet to shame and harass Clementi over his sexual preference.

GLAAD initially got involved in cleaning up Facebook after receiving complaints from various members of the gay community about a Facebook page that was established in memory of victims of anti-gay bullying that became covered with derogatory hate speech and images. The organization responded by reaching out to Facebook and starting a dialogue on effective measures to control offensive and hateful posts. Facebook responded quickly, partnering up with GLAAD to clean the site of anti-gay hate speech. Supporters of Facebooks initial steps have ranged from Jarret Barrios, President of GLAAD, down to Perez Hilton, the controversial celebrity blogger.

While the case of this memorial page to bullying victims may have been pretty clear-cut hate speech, some cases could be and probably have been proven to be more difficult to classify. Facebook has consistently said that they prohibit any kind of hateful content and that they have mechanisms in place to remove harmful posts as quickly as they can. However, they also emphasize that their users are allowed to express unpopular opinions and that there must be a careful balance between free speech and removing hateful content. It seems likely that these two would occasionally, if not frequently, come into conflict.

While these are steps in the right direction in an attempt to curb cyber bulling and harassment, I can’t help but wonder how long it would have taken for Facebook’s own “mechanisms” to target this page had a large and widely respected group such as GLAAD not stepped in? With Facebook users generating millions of new pieces of content every hour, it seems highly unlikely that Facebook can effectively monitor its content without massive help from Facebook users themselves. Thus, is there real hope for strict control over cyber bullying and Internet hate speech? Possibly. As long as Internet users themselves take an active role in reporting offensive actions. However, the conflict between defining something as free speech or hate speech will always leave some content unresolved.