05 July 2013

4th Amendment Rights: Snowden and a local concern about illegal searches in subway stations

Two things.

First, I want to clarify my comments on Edward Snowden. I AGREE with folks who say that by doing the job that Congress should be doing, i.e., calling out illegal surveillance in wholesale violation of the fourth amendment, he was doing the American people a service.

What I questioned, and still question, was whether it wasn't going too far to then expose other matters, including intelligence on foreign surveillance, to review and debriefing by semi-hostile foreign intelligence services such as China's and Russia's. And it's hard not to infer that this is exactly what happened.

I also agree that when Snowden was interviewed at length by Glenn Greenwald, he was talking almost exclusively about the US public's right not to be subjected to illegal surveillance, and of the danger of the government using these powers in secret, and using unconstitutional prosecutorial powers to suppress and punish those who would reveal the government's own lawbreaking. To that extent, Snowden was worthy of respect and admiration; and had that been the whole story I would have (and did) acclaim him as a modern day Paul Revere.

But after that, it became clear that potentially damaging information that had nothing to do with domestic warrantless surveillance was being jeopardized, and the whole tone of his position and communication became about asylum, not whistleblowing. This was less than a profile in courage.

Having said that, the keystone kops affair of the US violating all diplomatic protocol by pressuring European countries to deny the Bolivian presidential plane airspace rights on the (apparently unfounded) suspicion that Snowden might be aboard was foolish and disgraceful. I cannot imagine what administration officials were thinking in authorizing that; and it totally destroys any moral credence their position vis-a-vis Snowden might conceivably have had.

Second, apropos widespread violation of the 4th Amendment in our country today, and our citizens' dangerous and foolish acquiescence in it, I wrote the following to the MTA here in LA. (Tilting at windmills, you say? I say, somebody's gotta do it).

David Studhalter
North Hollywood, CA  

July 5, 2013

Mr. Jason Campbell, Esq.
Customer Relations
One Gateway Plaza
Los Angeles, CA   90012

Dear Mr. Campbell: 

I am writing as a concerned citizen to protest the use of illegal search procedures in Metro Stations (as a condition of entry), in outright violation of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the highest law of our nation. I was advised by a MTA customer service representative that this illegal police activity is being undertaken on the recommendation and with the participation of the Sherriff’s Dept.

As I feel sure you are well aware, the 4th Amendment prohibits the illegal search or seizure of persons or their effects without probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed. The historical background of this critical component of our highest law was as a reaction against the prior practice of the British colonial government of issuing so-called “Writs of Assistance,” which allowed precisely the kind of general dragnet searches as are being conducted by the MTA and Sheriff’s Dept. right now, in the 21st Century. Such practice is completely illegal and must be stopped.

The notion that government agencies have a right to conduct such search without probable cause as a condition of using taxpayer-owned utilities or facilities is without any legal basis, and is no more than a subterfuge for violating the supreme law of the land.

And what is the supposed justification for this wholesale violation of the public’s constitutional rights?  We are told we must give up fundamental rights on which our nation was founded because of a supposedly unacceptable risk of terrorism. But, the actual facts are these: since 1970, more Americans have been killed by vending machines toppling over on them than by terrorism. Far, far more have been killed by the flu, and by car accidents, respectively. We must treat this risk with some perspective.

Of course there is risk, and vigilance and police work is needed to lessen that risk. But this must not come at the cost of respect and adherence to the Constitution, which is the Law, or of our fundamental rights and freedoms as citizens, the very basis of our Republic. I seriously question whether there is a scintilla of evidence that this search procedure has ever prevented any crime, in any case.

Once usurpation of Constitutional rights goes without protest; once it is acquiesced in; it will never end, until any vestige of our Republic and the crucial principles on which it was founded are no more. So, I raise my voice in protest, and demand that this illegal practice must stop immediately.

The favor of a response will be appreciated.

Very truly yours, 

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