Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

The Onion Couldn’t Have Topped This: Arlen Specter’s Spying Scandal

Wired’s Threat Level blog has a great post about Arlen Specter’s effort to get to the bottom of a recent spying scandal. Not, mind you, the Bush administration’s various warantless wiretapping programs, but rather spying among football coaches in the NFL:

Apparently real-world warrantless spying isn’t as egregious as snooping on opposing NFL coaches.

Specter and other lawmakers initially talked tough when The New York Times disclosed Bush’s spying program in 2005. “There is no doubt that this is inappropriate,” Specter said at the time.

But Congress, including Specter, eventually passed the Protect America Act, which allowed government officials to eavesdrop in the United States on telephone conversations and e-mails without warrants, if the target of the surveillance is “reasonably believed” to be overseas.

And now, with the warrantless wiretapping issue still simmering, Specter believes that the most pressing spying issue in the country involves coaches taping each others’ hand signals.

SCOCA Overturns Gay Banns Ban

As many expected, the California Supreme Court has overturned that state’s ban on gay marriage. So many expected it, in fact, that opponents have already submitted more than a million signatures through California’s initiative process to put an anti-gay-marriage amendment on the ballot this fall.

I wonder if opponents of gay marriage in California will rely on the same arguments as did the Washington Supreme Court

Wisconsin Governor Defunds REAL ID

WisPolitics.com reports that Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) plans to take more than $20 million out of the state’s REAL ID account and transfer it into the state’s general fund.

Wisconsin Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R) objects:

When I shepherded the REAL ID bill through Congress 3 years ago, it was in response to one of the key recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, that ‘fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft.’ As we saw in 2001, in the hands of a terrorist, a valid ID accepted for travel in the US can be just as dangerous as a missile or bomb.

Congressman Sensenbrenner is correct to claim responsibility for REAL ID, but less accurate in other parts of his statement. The 9/11 Commission’s ‘key’ recommendation wasn’t key. (Indeed, Congress’ effort to follow the Commission’s recommendation was repealed by REAL ID.)

Nobody - not the 9/11 Commission, not Congressman Sensenbrenner, not Stewart Baker, nor anyone else - can explain the proximity between false ID and terrorist attacks, or how REAL ID cost-effectively secures the country against any threat.

Wisconsin’s governor has issued a mighty well-placed snub to the creator of the “Sensenbrenner tax.”

Measuring the Cost of E-Verify Red Tape

A recent story in the Arizona Republic describes the rising practice of using “registered agents” to take care of the paperwork associated with the E-Verify system, which is mandatory for employers in Arizona. Registered agents know how to navigate this system, which requires employers to submit information about their new hires to the federal government for an immigration-status background check. Registered agents are there to step in and reap the rewards when employers throw up their hands.

The story reports that registered agents charge from $7.50 to $10.00 per new hire. There are about 50,000,000 new hires per year in the country (according to Labor Department statistics), and let’s assume that average employer is a little more efficient than those who use a registered agent - so make it $5.00 per new hire. That’s $250,000,000 per year, just on basic administration of the E-Verify system.

There are plenty of other costs to electronic employment elgibility verification, which I wrote about in my recent paper, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

At a recent hearing, Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA) reportedly said, “There are certain interests that simply do not want employment verification.” He was referring to an internecine fight with a human resources group. But I found in my paper that “successful internal enforcement of federal immigration law requires an overweening, unworkable, and unacceptable identity system.”

Freedom-loving Americans do not want employment verification. They think it’s doubly or triply foolish to spend taxpayer dollars and burn employers’ time on policies that reduce our economic growth.

L-1: The Technology Company in Your Pocket

Inspired by the promotional brochure I recently came across, I’ve taken a look at L-1 Identity Solutions in a new Cato TechKnowledge. Though it has better options, L-1 and its new acquisition, Digimarc ID Systems, seem likely to continue lobbying for the REAL ID Act. My concluding line: “A corporate lobbying operation can do as much harm to liberty as any government agency or official.”

‘Testilying’

“Testilying” is a term that police officers use to describe false testimony they give in court so that an otherwise illegal search or arrest can be justified.  It’s hard to tell how common the practice is, but it’s much more common than most people want to believe.

This New York Times report is telling.  First, we don’t know how many illegal searches and arrests take place because, as Federal Judge John Martin observes, “We don’t have statistics for all the people who are hassled, no gun is found, and they never get into the system.”  These are low-visibility state offenses that we might call state misdemeanors.  They happen all over but more often in the poorer neighborhoods.  Who would go to the trouble of consulting a lawyer for an illegal 10 minute police stop and pat-down?  How many lawyers would bother to take such a case if someone did walk in off the street with such a complaint?

Next come the cases where the police find contraband and go to court with a fabricated story in order to try and get a conviction.  In a system where such conduct goes unpunished, it’s safe to say we’re going to get more of it.  And the cops who skirt the rules are likely to rise through the ranks faster.  After all, they have many more arrests to their credit than their peers.

Note the utter indifference of the police and prosecutors to reports of testilying.

Kudos to the New York Times for this “revealing glimpse” of our troubled system.  For some related Cato work, go here and here

REAL ID Deadline Passes - Zero Compliance

Yesterday - Sunday, May 11, 2008 - was the statutory deadline for state compliance with the REAL ID Act. Not a single state has begun issuing nationally standardized IDs as called for by the law. Nor are they putting driver information into nationally accessible databases.

Matthew Blake of the Washington Independent has a solid recap of the situation.