This blog began in 2007, focusing on anthrax vaccine, and later expanded to other public health and political issues. The blog links to media reports, medical literature, official documents and other materials.
Last week, Republicans and Democrats in Congress joined President Obama in congratulating themselves for taming the National Security Agency’s voracious appetite for spying. By permitting one section of the Patriot Act to expire and by replacing it with the USA Freedom Act, the federal government is taking credit for taming beasts of its own creation.
In reality, nothing substantial has changed.
Under the Patriot Act, the NSA had access to and possessed digital versions of the content of all telephone conversations, emails and text messages sent between and among all people in America since 2009. Under the USA Freedom Act, it has the same. The USA Freedom Act changes slightly the mechanisms for acquiring this bulk data, but it does not change the amount or nature of the data the NSA acquires.
Under the Patriot Act, the NSA installed its computers in every main switching station of every telecom carrier and Internet service provider in the United States. It did this by getting Congress to immunize the carriers and providers from liability for permitting the feds to snoop on their customers and by getting the Department of Justice to prosecute the only CEO of a carrier who had the courage to send the feds packing.
In order to operate its computers at these facilities, the NSA placed its own computer analysts physically at those computers 24/7. It then went to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court and asked for search warrants directing the telecoms and Internet service providers to make available to it all the identifying metadata — the times, locations, durations, email addresses and telephone numbers used — for all callers and email users in a given ZIP code or area code or on a customer list.
The first document revealed by Edward Snowden two years ago was a FISA court search warrant directed to Verizon ordering it to make available to NSA agents the metadata of all its customers — more than 113 million at the time. Once the court granted that search warrant and others like it, the NSAcomputers simply downloaded all that metadata and the digital recordings of content. Because the FISA court renewed every order it issued, this arrangement became permanent.
Under the USA Freedom Act, the NSA computers remain at the carriers’ and service providers’ switching offices, but the NSA computer analysts return to theirs; and from there they operate remotely the same computers they were operating directly in the Patriot Act days. The NSA will continue to ask the FISA court for search warrants permitting the download of metadata, and that court will still grant those search warrants permitting the downloading. And the NSA will continue to take both metadata and content.
The Supreme Court has ruled consistently that the government must obtain a search warrant in order to intercept any nonpublic communication. The Constitution requires probable cause as a precondition for a judge to issue a search warrant for any purpose, and the warrant must “particularly [describe] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Because this is expressly set forth in the Constitution itself, Congress and the president are bound by it. They cannot change it. They cannot avoid or evade it.
Probable cause is evidence about a person or place sufficient to permit a judge to conclude that evidence of a crime will probably be found. Both the Patriot Act and the USA Freedom Act disregard the “probable cause” standard and substitute instead a “government need” standard. This is, of course, no standard at all, as the NSA has claimed under the Patriot Act — and the FISA court bought the argument — that it needs all telephone calls, all emails and all text messages of all people in America. Today it may legally obtain them by making the same claim under the USA Freedom Act.
When politicians tell you that the NSA needs a court order in order to listen to your phone calls or read your emails, they are talking about a FISA court order that is based on government need — not a constitutional court order, which can only be based on probable cause. This is an insidious and unconstitutional bait and switch.
All this may start with the NSA, but it does not end there. Last week, we learned that the FBI is operating low-flying planes over 100 American cities to monitor folks on the streets and intercept their cellphone use — without any search warrants. Earlier this week, we learned that the Drug Enforcement Administration has intercepted the telephone calls of more than 11,000 people in three years — without any search warrants. We already know that local police have been using government surplus cell towers to intercept the cellphone signals of innocent automobile drivers for about a year — without search warrants.
How dangerous this is. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It applies in good times and in bad, in war and in peace. It regulates the governed and the governors. Yet if the government that it regulates can change it by ordinary legislation, then it is not a constitution but a charade.
Suppose the Congress wants to redefine the freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion or the right to keep and bear arms, just as it did the standards for issuing search warrants. What is the value of a constitutional guarantee if the people into whose hands we repose the Constitution for safekeeping can change it as they see fit and negate the guarantee?
Meryl, enjoying spotting animals in the Thai jungle
Visiting tigers (inside the cages) in Chiang Mai
I think I'm in the wrong cage...
Night shot of a wild elephant
Canoodling at Elephant Nature Camp, Thailand
5 and 7 month olds playing
Mum and her 5 month old infant
Dusky Langur, curious about us humans in his territory
Self-satisfied Dusky Langur, after he relieved himself on me
Rhesus macaque: "I need three hands for this meal"
After swimming with dolphins at Key Largo, they checked me out at the edge of the pool
Visiting a Bhutanese Dzong, the regional seat of both government and religion (and a fort for good measure)
Why am I blogging?
Because life is meant to be lived! The left side of this blog has photos of some peak experiences. And the right side contains information about which I am passionate.
Too many peoples' lives are characterized by lack of authenticity, and fear of acknowledging and expressing their true nature. Employees cannot say what they think at work, and in the corporate system we must squish ourselves into square holes when we are round pegs. We thus lose touch with our souls, becoming cogs in a soulless, profit-driven machine.
The culture of political correctness has meant, in medicine, that we ignore how the foundations of our science are being undermined by commercialism. Clinical data generated or presented by the manufacturers of drugs, vaccines and devices cannot be trusted: there are hundreds of studies proving this. But this fraudulent information continues to be the only data informing the approval and use of vaccines, drugs and devices.
Unless scrupulous ethical conduct is demanded of physicians and biological scientists, our lack of meaningful standards will carry the medical-pharmaceutical system down the path of increasing irrelevance.
Medicine and its tools need to be affordable. The current medical-industrial milieu, characterized by contempt for science, countless ways for insiders to achieve wealth due to failure of good governance, and regulatory agency-to-industry revolving doors, has ushered in stratospheric pricing... further kicking us down that path to irrelevance.
Why is our new health care plan a giveaway to health industries instead of to health consumers? Wha won't it cover all Americans? Why was the "public option" never an option for the Obama administration?
So many of our leaders carry a heavy burden of mendacity and avarice. If they instead got in touch with their own souls (perhaps by exposure to the natural world), or made their decisions by maximizing the amount of good that results, our leaders might find real meaning and value in their lives.
Until that happens, the only way to straighten out the current mess is to demand accountability and impose penalties on unethical/dishonest leaders. Both political parties enjoy bounteous hors d'oeuvres from Pharma's table, making it unlikely the existing political "process" will provide relief--as we've seen in the demoralizing healthcare reform drama.
Until then, I'll continue to "call it as I see it" in this blog -- working and living the way life should be, in rural Maine, far from the centers of power.
Ellen Byrne has created several designs encapsulating aspects of the FBI's ridiculous case against Bruce Ivins. They can be purchased on T-shirts and coffee mugs. All proceeds will be donated to the the Frederick County chapter of the American Red Cross, a favored charity of Dr. Bruce Ivins.