October 12, 2001

It's starting already, the Financial Anti-Terrorism Act sounds like it's targetting terrorism, but the real targets are Americans. (See Terror Bill Limits Gambling, Too .)

Democrats were similarly split, with ranking member saying that college students must be shielded from gambling's lure. "The chief users of Internet gambling are not terrorists, they are our youths," said Rep. John LaFalce (D-New York). "Lots of different kids are given credit cards -- not one -- multiple cards. It's easy to gamble from dormitory rooms, or with wireless connections from campus quads, or with Palm Pilots any place."
During the 90-minute debate, liberal icon Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) sounded almost libertarian. "Too many people who disapprove of gambling want to ban it," Frank said. "It's not generally been the policy of the U.S. government to tell people how to spend their money."
The bill would ban credit card companies from issuing card numbers to be used on gambling websites. Credit card firms and banks would be liable if they have "actual knowledge" that they may be providing services to online casinos, a penalty that some members said went too far.
"The problem with actual knowledge is that a court can assume this," said Castle, the sponsor of the unsuccessful amendment.
The only committee member who voted against the final bill was Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Texas.
Paul said the anti-gambling sections were about "whether the government should try and mold behavior. Over centuries governments have tried to do this.... Gambling is entertainment. We should not allow government to regulate entertainment."

The highly controversial USA Act passed today by a 96-1 vote. The lone dissenter was Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.

Feingold had attempted to amend the bill, but unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. (See: A Senator's Lonely Privacy Fight .)

Here are a few excerpts from one account -- Terror Bill Clears Senate, by Declan McCullagh for Wired News.

During the three-hour debate, the Senate voted to table -- effectively killing -- Feingold's amendments, which would have:
  • Still allowed police to perform "roving wiretaps" and listen in on any telephone that a subject of an investigation might use. But cops could only eavesdrop when the suspect is the person using the phone. The amendment was rejected, 90-7.

  • Preseved the privacy of sensitive records -- such as medical or educational data -- by requiring police to convince a judge that viewing them is necessary. Without that amendment, the USA Act expands police's ability to access any type of stored or "tangible" information. The amendment was rejected, 89-8.

  • Clarified that universities, libraries and employers may only snoop on people who use their computers in narrow circumstances. Right now, the USA Act says that system administrators should be able to monitor anyone they deem a "computer trespasser." The amendment was rejected, 83-13.

  • Barred police from obtaining a court order, sneaking into a suspect's home, and not notifiying that person they had been there. The "secret search" section currently is part of the USA Act -- and is something the Justice Department has wanted at least since 1999, when they unsuccessfully asked Congress for that power at the time. The amendment was not introduced.

Feingold's amendments would have rewritten only a tiny portion of the vast, 243-page bill. Even if they had been added, the USA Act still allows police to conduct Internet eavesdropping without a court order in some circumstances, lets federal prosecutors imprison non-citizens for extended periods, and expands the duration of an electronic surveillance order issued by a secret court from 90 to 120 days.

October 11, 2001

I saw Senator Barbara Boxer on television this morning talking about the Airport Security Bill that has been working its way through Congress. She described two key issues that have been holding things up. Issues that I personally hope she and other members of Congress keep fighting for:

  1. "To make sure that those screeners at the airport are really professionals," and not unqualified people hired quickly and trained poorly in haste.

  2. To have extended unemployment benefits for the displaced airline workers. "Since we've helped the airlines keep flying, we feel that we should help the airlines people that have been laid off."

    Boxer is worried that if this issue isn't dealt with now, it may never be dealt with. That would be bad for the thousands of Americans that have been laid off as a result of this tragedy.

    "We can't get agreement to do it," Boxer said. "Sometimes you have to stand up and fight for people that maybe don't have the same voice as the airline executives."

  3. She also noted that, presently, the biggest problem is the Fillibustering going on that's getting in the way of even taking a vote.

October 10, 2001

Dianne Feinstein thinks our already strained National Guard should be patrolling the highways and bottlenecking imported goods: Feinstein wants security role for National Guard - Senator would expand duties far beyond airport protection.

Feinstein's proposal, if put into effect, would result in the largest call- up of the National Guard in more than 50 years. The last time units were used in such numbers was during the Korean War, when the 40th Division of the California National Guard was sent into combat.
"Five million cargo containers entered the United States last year," she said, "and only 2 percent were inspected. We have always put trade ahead of the security of our nation."

Hmmm. Seems like a funny time for confessions.

I wonder who the "we" is. I guess the only thing we know for sure is that Dianne was speaking for herself.

October 09, 2001

CNET's Eliot Van Buskirk wrote a great piece about preserving our civil liberties during this time of War, and the implications of the letting the White House create an atmosphere of self-censorship: Remember what we're trying to save .
Even more frightening is the idea that the government could use its new, expanded role for subtler purposes than accusing someone of breaking a law. Consider the case of Bill Maher, who made a controversial comment on his Politically Incorrect show, which now faces cancellation. Ari Fleischer, spokesman for the White House, condemned Maher's statement, then uttered this chilling remark: "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." Whether or not you agree with what Maher said, his right to free speech is one of the essential principles on which our country was founded. Fleischer's threat that Americans always need to watch what they say and do addresses my fear: that security measures put into place to catch these terrorists could eventually be used to silence dissenting voices within our media and populace. To surrender the right to say what we think is to give up what we're trying to defend in the first place.
Assuming for the moment that the civilized world is not about to come to an end, we must be careful not to grant our government too much power, because it will be nearly impossible to reclaim what we've given away after the current threat is dealt with. If the government installs its Carnivore surveillance machines in our ISPs now, it could be hard to get them removed once everything (hopefully) returns to normal. Given what happened 17 long days ago, it seems a bit strange to write about holding onto our freedom to exchange the odd MP3 over the Internet. There are so many more serious issues at hand. But with any luck, we will again start caring about the things that concerned us before that tragic morning changed everything. When that day comes, I want our civil liberties to be as strong as they are now. The combination of the Internet and computers could be the perfect tool for control and surveillance of our citizens. In our quest for justice and security, let's try to hold on to some measure of our freedoms.