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US Courts Approve 30,000 Secret Surveillance Orders Each Year 85

Posted by Soulskill
from the busy-as-a-klingon-at-a-tribble-farm dept.
An anonymous reader writes "U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith estimates in a new paper (PDF) that 30,000 secret surveillance orders are approved each year in U.S. courts. 'Though such orders have judicial oversight, few emerge from any sort of adversarial proceeding and many are never unsealed at all.' Smith writes, 'To put this figure in context, magistrate judges in one year generated a volume of secret electronic surveillance cases more than thirty times the annual number of FISA cases; in fact, this volume of ECPA cases is greater than the combined yearly total of all antitrust, employment discrimination, environmental, copyright, patent, trademark, and securities cases filed in federal court.' He also adds a warning: 'Lack of transparency in judicial proceedings has long been recognized as a threat to the rule of law and roundly condemned in ringing phrases by many Supreme Court opinions.'"
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US Courts Approve 30,000 Secret Surveillance Orders Each Year

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  • While this is horrifying, it's at least a little comfort that there is any rule of law or due process left at all. That itself will probably be gone given a decade or so.

    • Re:Welp... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @07:29AM (#40230923)

      Due process? The people put on secret surveillance cannot defend themselves against those surveillance warrant. They can't go to court and attack the arguments of the police. There's judge oversight but not due process.

      As for rule of law... Well there certainly aren't 30k terrorists in the USA. The people put on surveillance must then include criminals and innocent people. I'd love to see statistics on what crimes these 30k are accused of and how many of them do not get convicted (or their case never goes to trial to being with).

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They all broke the same law. Not donating enough to the politicians and judges.

        • They all broke the same law. Not donating enough to the politicians and judges.

          But how do we know they didn't donate enough? Without a right to face your didn't-bribe accuser with bribe receipts in the courtroom, there's serious risk that the value of bribes may be nullified. Without a free press publishing statistics to correlate donations with respect for the donator's privacy, how can the public make informed choices about if, or how much, they should donate?

          Is that the society we want to live in? One

          • by game kid (805301)

            Is that the society we want to live in? One where you slip government officials a little something on the side with the understanding that you will be treated as a preferred citizen, and then the government welches on the deal? That's not the social contract I was brought up to expect.

            Hey, works for Walmart [google.com]! ...well, except perhaps the "government welches" part. *sigh*

          • by Shotgun (30919)

            Is that the society we want to live in? One where you slip government officials a little something on the side with the understanding that you will be treated as a preferred citizen, and then the government welches on the deal?

            Of course not, that is why the Obama administration re-negotiated the terms of the Solyndra loan so that the bribe collectors could get their investments returned first (before the taxpayers) in bankruptcy court. The fidelity of "campaign contributions" must be upheld before all else.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Psyborgue (699890)
        They can't defend themselves against the warrant, sure, but if the evidence collected is ever used against them in court, they do have the opportunity to contest whether it was collected validly. Take this terrorist for example. [wdtimes.com] Here you have a guy who is contesting the evidence against him on the grounds the FISA warrant was obtained improperly. He may win. In most countries they would simply put a bullet in the back of his head and be done with it.
        • Re:Welp... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:56AM (#40231711) Homepage

          Here you have a guy who is contesting the evidence against him on the grounds the FISA warrant was obtained improperly. He may win. In most countries they would simply put a bullet in the back of his head and be done with it.

          Are you advocating becoming one of those countries?

          You get two choices, rule of law and procedure which is upheld, or whatever the hell the state security apparatus wants to do. I doubt anybody who has ever lived in a country where the latter prevails would advocate for it.

          When you stop following your own laws and rules, you cease to be a free society.

          So if warrants aren't properly obtained, and the legalities aren't observed, they should get thrown out. Walking all over procedure and people's rights in the name of expediency is never a good solution.

          But, hey, if you want a world where people get rounded up in the middle of the night without any real legal recourse or process ... well, there's always someone trying to do that. Me, I'll stick with advocating for someone keeping tabs on what's going on and making sure the police are playing by the rules.

          It's easy to forget those rules and safeguards were put in place to prevent abuses. You have nothing to fear if you've done nothing wrong or have nothing to hide is never going to work out in the long run.

      • Re:Welp... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Shavano (2541114) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:02AM (#40231135)

        Due process? The people put on secret surveillance cannot defend themselves against those surveillance warrant. They can't go to court and attack the arguments of the police. There's judge oversight but not due process.

        As for rule of law... Well there certainly aren't 30k terrorists in the USA. The people put on surveillance must then include criminals and innocent people. I'd love to see statistics on what crimes these 30k are accused of and how many of them do not get convicted (or their case never goes to trial to being with).

        Your indignation appears to be based on misconceptions. First, the police never give you a chance to defend yourself before they get a warrant to search or surveil you. They get the warrant and the first you know about it, if you ever do, is when they show up to search your property or arrest you. So in that regard, these secret warrants are not greatly different from standard warrants. When getting a warrant, probable cause means establishing that there is substantial reason for suspicion that a crime has been committed and substantial reason to suspect that surveiling you will produce evidence relevant to the investigation. They don't need to suspect YOU of a crime.

        The secrecy regarding these warrants has to do with the fact that there are (supposed) national security aspects to the proceedings, and if it became known that the FBI was investigating you, or the reason for which they are investigating you, that fact of itself might compromise the country's ability to carry out military operations, foreign surveillance, etc.

        Probably few of these cases involve possible terrorism. They might involve espionage, military secrets, etc.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The secrecy regarding these warrants has to do with the fact that there are (supposed) national security aspects to the proceedings

          Yeah, because being able to claim "national security" so that no one can know a thing is a great power for a government to have...

          I'd rather people find out the information, to be honest.

        • Yet we're not seeing 10s of thousands of prosecutions for terrorism, espionage etc. Of course secret prisons and assassinations of some millions of Americans would indeed be essential for operational security too...
          • Re:Welp... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @11:02AM (#40233547) Homepage Journal

            Yeah, that's the most damning thing about it. Even if you decide it's best to be very lenient with the government, the volume of search warrants to prosecutions suggests that most of the time that they asked for the warrant, it turned out that it was unjustified and probably did not actually lead to useful evidence.

            In real life, if someone cried wolf that often, eventually the wolf-crier would lose credibility with you. If you thought back to all the times they previously cried wolf and gave persuasive arguments that there was a wolf, but now realize that most of those arguments were bullshit, then you would rethink what is truly a persuasive argument.

            Yet the FISA court appears to not have this memory and intelligence. Less than my dog it seems. Believe me, it takes far fewer than THIRTY THOUSAND "psych! I didn't really throw the ball!" lessons for her to learn I didn't really throw the ball.

            • by Shavano (2541114)

              These are electronic surveillance warrants, so I doubt there's anything like a one-to-one relationship between cases and warrants issued. I have no way of knowing what the ratio might be.

              But let's take what might be a typical example of somebody who might be suspected of some such crime.

              1. Here's a list of electronic services that might be monitored in connection to ONE person under investigation:
              2. 1 Your cell phone
              3. 1 Your home phone
              4. 1 Your work phone
              5. 3 Each of your three email personal email accounts
              6. 1 Your
      • As for rule of law... Well there certainly aren't 30k terrorists in the USA. The people put on surveillance must then include criminals and innocent people. I'd love to see statistics on what crimes these 30k are accused of and how many of them do not get convicted (or their case never goes to trial to being with).

        The article doesn't even mention terrorism. This includes all cases where someone's phone was tapped or his e-mail read under a court order. For the police to tell someone that they have tapped his phone or are reading his e-mail would defeat the whole purpose of doing so.

        The judge in the article does not want to stop tapping the phones of suspected mobsters and shady politicians. He wants to have the warrants unsealed automatically after a certain number of years have gone by. That way, anyone who was not

      • by houghi (78078)

        Well there certainly aren't 30k terrorists in the USA.

        Thanks to these surveillances and the TSA. Right?

      • We'll at least a judge did rule on them. How do you think the police can execute a warrant if the suspect knows about it before hand? It probably mostly has to do with drugs I would imagine.

        • by 0111 1110 (518466)

          Judge = rubber stamp. Why do you think it is drug related?

          • Because of this video that shows 1000 cars going to the same residence every day for a month. Or because one of their friends says they did it. Or both.

    • Re:Welp... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @07:33AM (#40230945)

      While this is horrifying, it's at least a little comfort that there is any rule of law or due process left at all.

      Rule of law? It looks like the judges just rubber stamp it.

      That itself will probably be gone given a decade or so.

      No. even if it makes the nightly news, folks won't give a shit. You see from what I've seen, generally speaking my fellow Americans don't really know what freedom is. To them freedom means being able to drive where they want, eat what they and watch what they want - plenty of bread and circuses. Protections from Government abuses and viloations of Civil Liberties is off their radar or they consider it to be some pinko Liberal value. They can still own a gun, after all! Although gun ownership is in our Constitution, slowly, all so slowly, that right has been chipped away - gun laws in most states have become incredibly restrictive to LAW abiding citizens. Guns rights have become one of the bones, if you will, to be thrown to a very vocal portion of our society so that they'll ignore some of the real scary things that are happening with our rights.

      Nevermind. Most folks won't give a shit until they're stopped and asked to show their papers. Even then, there will be plenty of folks who won't mind because they think it keeps them safe from all the: drunk drivers, drug addicts, rapist, child molesters, terrorists, and every other public threat due jour.

      People are too stupid to be free.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Nevermind. Most folks won't give a shit until they're stopped and asked to show their papers. Even then, there will be plenty of folks who won't mind because they think it keeps them safe from all the: drunk drivers, drug addicts, rapist, child molesters, terrorists, and every other public threat due jour.

        Yo, try driving within 100 miles of the Mexican border. They've got permanent checkpoints that are not at all at the actual fucking border.

      • by omni123 (1622083)

        While this is horrifying, it's at least a little comfort that there is any rule of law or due process left at all.

        Rule of law? It looks like the judges just rubber stamp it.

        Yep, from all your exposure and understanding of the topic it definitely looks like they just rubber stamp it.

        Yep. You've seen and documented these secret proceedings and came here to tell us all.

        You know what is equally destructive to liberties, freedoms and fighting to regain civil rights? Fear, uncertainty, doubt. Conspiracy theorists. Extremist of any wing or any standpoint. America has long since lost it's level headed moderated advocates and instead all we're left is secret surveillance and conspiraci

        • by MadKeithV (102058)
          The secrecy of the surveillance orders is what actually creates the uncertainty and doubt, and EVERYONE should be fearful of people in power starting to hide behind secrecy, because all the ages of history of mankind have shown that power corrupts.
          • by omni123 (1622083)

            The secrecy of the surveillance orders is what actually creates the uncertainty and doubt, and EVERYONE should be fearful of people in power starting to hide behind secrecy, because all the ages of history of mankind have shown that power corrupts.

            I don't disagree but enough FUD is coming off the surveillance orders without a bunch of hyper sensitive politically motivated individuals running around adding to it; a well thought out and moderated approach is the only viable answer.

            Unfortunately we aren't capable of that in modern history.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              a well thought out and moderated approach is the only viable answer.

              That can't happen unless there's transparency. And considering the history of our own Government, FUD is the prudent course of action.

              Above you said:

              You know what is equally destructive to liberties, freedoms and fighting to regain civil rights? Fear, uncertainty, doubt. Conspiracy theorists.

              First, FUD and conspiracy theories are two different things.

              Secondly, you are wrong. Fear, uncertainty and doubt motivates people to dig deeper. To challenge those in power and to ask questions.

              I get from you're stance that you'll just sit back and trust our elected officials to take care of you and look out for your best interests.

              ... a bunch of hyper sensitive politically motivated individuals running around adding to it

              Nor does it help that there

            • The secrecy of the surveillance orders is what actually creates the uncertainty and doubt, and EVERYONE should be fearful of people in power starting to hide behind secrecy, because all the ages of history of mankind have shown that power corrupts.

              I don't disagree but enough FUD is coming off the surveillance orders without a bunch of hyper sensitive politically motivated individuals running around adding to it; a well thought out and moderated approach is the only viable answer.

              Unfortunately we aren't capable of that in modern history.

              Part of a well-thought-out approach would involve finding out what is so secret. We cannot have an informed discussion when so much is kept from us. When the actions of the state are kept secret from us, all we have are conspiracy theories. And further, when people are being spied on in secret with no possibility of public scrutiny the appropriate response is suspicion and derision. With the poor track record for honesty that the government has, I can't give them the benefit of the doubt.

              • by DarkOx (621550)

                We cannot have an informed discussion when so much is kept from us.

                I agree, the only solution I see is to assume the worst. If our leaders can't operate with secrecy being the exception rather than the rule; we must assume they are tyrants unfit and unworthy to govern. We must assume their actions are contrary to the general welfare, and the founding principles of our nation and vote accordingly in elections and treat them accordingly in our day to day dealings.

            • by Sperbels (1008585)

              I don't disagree but enough FUD is coming off the surveillance orders without a bunch of hyper sensitive politically motivated individuals running around adding to it; a well thought out and moderated approach is the only viable answer.

              A well thought out and moderated approach is what happens when enough hyper sensitive politically motivated individuals make enough noise. Otherwise, the issue is ignored. This is exactly our politics works in America today.

        • You know what is equally destructive to liberties, freedoms and fighting to regain civil rights? Fear, uncertainty, doubt. Conspiracy theorists. Extremist of any wing or any standpoint. America has long since lost it's level headed moderated advocates and instead all we're left is secret surveillance and conspiracies.

          You are certainly correct that FUD can have an impact on civil liberties, whether it's making people afraid to speak out or inducing them to give up their rights for perceived safety. But I am confused as to why you mention conspiracy theorists. Most of the FUD I encounter comes from the media. They are always telling us about terrorists and immigrants and criminals coming to kill us, marry our women and diddle our children.

          So I agree that the American people are too scared and anxious to have a rational

          • by mpe (36238)
            You are certainly correct that FUD can have an impact on civil liberties, whether it's making people afraid to speak out or inducing them to give up their rights for perceived safety. But I am confused as to why you mention conspiracy theorists. Most of the FUD I encounter comes from the media. They are always telling us about terrorists and immigrants and criminals coming to kill us, marry our women and diddle our children.

            The source of the conspiracy theories here being those spreading the FUD. There ar
        • Want to see FUD? Look no further than the mainstream media which portrays drone strikes killing innocents as needed, never questions the status quo, has laughable coverage of the rest of the world that portrays it as a dark, dangerous place (when the statistics show a different story) and maintain a silly idea that the US is a beacon of freedom and that other countries "hate us because of our freedom".

          Conspiracy theories are the natural result of having a government that isn't transparent, a government
      • While I agree with most of what you are saying, I take issue with the quib about firearm owners. As a firearm owner myself, as well as a member of the NRA(though, not for long), Georgia Carry(www.georgiacarry.org), and an active member of Georgia Packing dot Org(www.georgiapacking.org), I can assure you that we firearm owners are well aware of the abuses of government and its agents. Since firearm owners tend to have more problems, per capita, with law enforcement and the various governments in general, w

    • Obligatory simulation of the approval process for surveillance orders:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P46qYCIt954 [youtube.com]

  • transparancy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joebagodonuts (561066) <cmkrnl.gmail@com> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @07:23AM (#40230885) Homepage Journal

    Greater transparency would enable meaningful oversight not only by appellate courts but also by Congress and the general public.

    ...and the executive branch will pitch a fit. We would benefit from congress actually asserting itself a bit more in this area. I'm not interested in living in a monarchy

    • by guises (2423402)

      Greater transparency would enable meaningful oversight not only by appellate courts but also by Congress and the general public.

      ...and the executive branch will pitch a fit. We would benefit from congress actually asserting itself a bit more in this area. I'm not interested in living in a monarchy

      You need to back this up with something. It was congress who passed the PATRIOT act in the first place, and keeps passing extensions, retroactive immunity for telecoms, [insert your own examples]. The executive branch has certainly committed it's own share of offenses, but there's no reason that I've seen to the idea the idea that the president and co. are more secretive than other people in power.

      Someone in congress will call for transparency when they think it will win them points with voters or lobbyis

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      Thing is, this has nothing to do with a monarchy, or even who is at the top. These sorts of things get out of control because the bureaucracy gets a hold of these methods.

      Sure, the President could make use of these powers, but he's probably not personally doing so, except in very specific cases. The problem is that there is a huge entrenched set of Federal agencies who effectively have free run of these powers without having to be ordered to use them. These agencies maintain their power no matter who is

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Oh, wait....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @07:34AM (#40230965)

    Sure 30,000 is a big number. But on balance, this means that .01% of the U.S. population is being surveiled.

    That seems like a low number to me.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's probably high enough to include every single political activist in the country, which is certainly part of who they're interested in suppressing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Black Parrot (19622)

      Speaking of numbers, according to a story making the rounds yesterday the USA has 5% of the world's population, but 25% of the world's prison population.

      Something has gone seriously wrong in the Land of the Free.

    • An order does not have to cover only one person, they can be for areas and times, for example.
    • by ewanm89 (1052822)
      Not even that, it's 30,000 warrants for surveillance issued, if they stop surveillance, or need to extend the time, or that surveillance turns up a new address they need to put surveillance on too, basically it's 30,000 individual warrants.
    • No it means 0,01% are on double secret probation.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think I see what the problem is.

    http://transparency.gov/
            The connection has timed out
            The server at transparency.gov is taking too long to respond.

    With that sort of response, you have got to go looking elsewhere in order to get anything done.

  • Since the summary didn't say, ECPA is The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, an updated version of the 1968 Federal Wiretap Act.

    FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the FISA court (technically the FISC, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) generally rubber stamps wiretapping warrants, even after the fact.

  • Tracks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wowsers (1151731) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:00AM (#40231111) Journal
    So that's 30,000 that went through the courts, nice PR spin. How many surveillance ops were mounted WITHOUT court orders?
    • You may want to believe that is a lot,but those doing the surveillance want to get evidence they can use.if they don't get it legally, it does them little good. Funny how we demand more and more transparency of everyone else and everything else, but we must have lots to hide if we are so paranoid about this. If they monitored me and my family, they would get put to sleep. I've got nothing to hide.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        If they monitored me and my family, they would get put to sleep. I've got nothing to hide.

        Obviously you're not someone who organizes protests.

      • If they monitored me and my family, they would get put to sleep. I've got nothing to hide.

        Oh, you've got something to hide alright, Citizen. We just haven't found it or made it a crime... yet.


        Sincerely yours,
        BB

        • haha. Either you are quite funny or you've lost all faith in their actually being good people that don't sneak around trying to do evil in the dark.
          • OR he's calling out blatantly dishonest characterizations, presumtions, charicatures like the one you present for example. PRIVACY IS HIDING. EVERYBODY USES PRIVACY - in its leal and social constructs. NOTHING TO HIDE IS A LOGICAL IMOSSIBILITY therefore, IMO of course. [see sig]
            • I don't believe in privacy the way you do. It is interesting for you to state as a presumed fact that you cannot believe in privacy and have nothing to hide. Says more about your perspective than actual truth.
              • Actually, you might very well have something to hide. Especially when the people commanding those doing the surveillance are the same ones who make the laws. And even that assumes the government doesn't break its own laws. Yes, I have much to hide from the government, but I don't believe I'm doing a single thing that's wrong.

                I believe few plan for their government to become corrupt...

      • You may want to believe that is a lot,but those doing the surveillance want to get evidence they can use.if they don't get it legally, it does them little good.

        That's really not the case. Those surveilling you just want to find out what you're up to. If it leads them to think you are doing something illegal, they can get a warrant for other stuff that will be admissible. But they might also just want to know what political rallies you are interested in, or whether you hold anti-establishment views. Then they'll know you're dangerous and can keep tabs on you just in case you start to make a difference. The people who are watching you don't have to go through t

        • I'll give you all that, but even if I do something "interesting", it will not be illegal....unless our country continues to head down the road of socialism that it is doing right now. The more we can push back the Federal government to simply the authority given to it by the Constitution, the less this discussion is troubling. Its all the people in support of more laws and more government control that make me more worried about our direction than just the government by itself. There are lots of people in
          • I'll give you all that, but even if I do something "interesting", it will not be illegal....unless our country continues to head down the road of socialism that it is doing right now. The more we can push back the Federal government to simply the authority given to it by the Constitution, the less this discussion is troubling. Its all the people in support of more laws and more government control that make me more worried about our direction than just the government by itself. There are lots of people in our country pushing the government to get more and more involved. This is the result.

            Whether or not your actions are illegal may not matter. If you become a threat to the established order, violent or not, you will be dealt with. That's really what all this surveillance is about; "terrorism' is only one target.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            I'll give you all that, but even if I do something "interesting", it will not be illegal....unless our country continues to head down the road of socialism that it is doing right now.

            Ahhh, so now we have it. As long as it's a conservative government that's favorable to people like you, you don't care how much it spies on people who aren't in favor. Hopefully when the tables turn, there will be records of this attitude of yours.

    • or these approvals are nothing more than rubber stamps.

      either situation is nothing to be proud of.

      Can we throw this guy out too? Perhaps after enough "you get four years to earn our trust" Presidents they might take the American public seriously again.

      Of course Congress needs a good flushing as well, the Tea Party puts the fear in Republicans, the Democrats seriously need their equivalent - a group powerful enough and outside of most of their control who can threaten even old timers.

    • by mpe (36238)
      So that's 30,000 that went through the courts, nice PR spin.

      That's the number which were okayed by the courts. How many were actually presented to the courts?

      How many surveillance ops were mounted WITHOUT court orders?

      Probably quite a few were approved after the fact or used as precursors to court approved ones...
  • I hope everyone realizes that while 30,000 seems like a large number... that means less than .01% of the US Population is under surveillance. I'm fine with that.
    • Re:Perspective (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:20AM (#40231331)
      Which is a large enough number to include just about every major and semi-major political activist. Keep in mind that there is only a turnout of about 64-ish percent for most presidential elections.

      It should be worrying that the US courts approve even 1 secret surveillance order, let alone 30,000.
    • Meh. It could be less than 30,000 because warrants have to be renewed at regular intervals. I mean, they could be bugging a fewer number of people for a long period of time.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:29AM (#40231415) Homepage Journal

    The "secret warrants" I really want to know about are the ones the judges turn down.

    First, are there any? Second, on what grounds do any get turned down? Is it, "No, you knucklehead, that 82 year-old nun who goes to anti-war meetings is not a threat to national security" or is it, "Hey, this bit here about "capture or kill" that 82 year-old nun, is that really necessary?".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I read stories like these all almost every day, going on for years now. Then I read the comments and see angry American citizens decrying Americas descent into a police state. But I don't see any actual real protest, only angry comments online. Where is the angry protest marching on Washington? I'm Swedish and when our government tried to introduce new legislation that would give the intelligent agency increased power, there were huge protests for weeks all over the country. This legislation was also pretty

    • I read stories like these all almost every day, going on for years now. Then I read the comments and see angry American citizens decrying Americas descent into a police state. But I don't see any actual real protest, only angry comments online. Where is the angry protest marching on Washington? I'm Swedish and when our government tried to introduce new legislation that would give the intelligent agency increased power, there were huge protests for weeks all over the country. This legislation was also pretty tame compared to what you already have in America. Why are you so timid?

      Short answer [wikipedia.org]

      • by DanZee (2422648)
        The reason is that Americans have been lulled to sleep. The average American barely has any idea of what's happening in the news, let alone what the government is doing. 48% of families receive government assistance. As long as that check comes every month (actually, it's now a debit card) they don't care what's going on.
        • Re:Americans (Score:4, Insightful)

          by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @11:00AM (#40233493) Homepage Journal

          48% of families receive government assistance. As long as that check comes every month (actually, it's now a debit card) they don't care what's going on.

          Not that I disagree with the sentiment, but you do realize how misleading that is, right? I.e., Pell grants, tax credits, mortgage deductions, school lunch/breakfast programs, hell, even right-of-way payments technically qualify as 'government assistance.' Also, does that percentage include state and local government assistance, or just federal?

          I for one would love to see a breakdown of what assistance is received by whom.

    • Re:Americans (Score:5, Interesting)

      by kilfarsnar (561956) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @09:59AM (#40232511)

      I read stories like these all almost every day, going on for years now. Then I read the comments and see angry American citizens decrying Americas descent into a police state. But I don't see any actual real protest, only angry comments online ... Why are you so timid?

      There are a number of reasons that can be mixed and matched for any given individual.

      First, some of us do protest. There were huge protests around the Iraq war back in 2003. But media coverage was lacking (odd, eh?). There have also been the "Occupy" protests which have been widespread and some quite large. The corporate media have a funny way of downplaying or casting aspersions at these protests though. And business seems to go on as usual in spite of them. But they are there, and they do have an impact.

      Second, the American people are fractured as a society. We are as suspicious of each other as we are of the government. That makes it harder to organize people around things they agree on. We have been taught to fear our neighbor and look to the state for authority and protection. Organizations like unions that used to be a political force have been systematically beaten back by business and other interests.

      Third, many of us buy in to the hype and don't perceive that we are slipping into a police state. Many of my friends and family don't see it. They think totalitarianism has to look like Nazi Germany, and even then it has to look like it does in the movies. I am not forthcoming to most people about my political opinions, and those with whom I am think I'm a little "out there".

      Fourth, there are real risks to protesting in the United States. If I get arrested at a protest, my employer will not be happy and I could lose my job. I would probably need to take time off work to join a protest. I can do that, but many of my hourly-wage fellow citizens cannot; especially on a sustained basis. If you work for a company that does business with the government, your employer might not like your protesting either. People can be fired for just about any reason in the United States.

      Fifth, many people's lives are still fairly comfortable and they don't want to upset the apple cart. It's plain old short-sighted self-interest.

      Lastly, and this is related to point three, the American people don't really know what's going on. See my signature for more insight. They know things are bad, but they don't really know why. And the "news" where they get their information is not going to explain it to them. How does the Fed's zero interest rate policy affect their savings account or their ability to borrow money? How many Wall Street firms engaged in fraud over the past decade? When is the right to free speech most important? Was there a state of emergency declared after 9/11/01 and if so has it ever been repealed? Why does it matter? Most Americans don't know the answers to these questions. They don't even know the questions. They are too busy with keeping their jobs and raising their kids (most families need two incomes these days) to pay close attention. Or they think the government is corrupt and unresponsive anyway, so why bother. In short they are disengaged. Those in power who really know the score are interested in keeping them that way.

      Well, you asked... ;-)

      • --We are as suspicious of each other as we are of the government.--

        Yep, and the government accounts for much of that.

      • by aralin (107264)

        You forgot one. Every single american is guilty of some crime that carries at least 5 year minimum sentence. If they start to stir shit, the government will start looking into their lives (through a secret warrants most likely) find it and lock them up. In a state where everyone is guilty of breaking some law, the prosecutor is the judge, the courts are just a farce at that point. The real problem are the overbroad laws.

        I was listening to the NY police commissioner say on record while arguing for marihuana

        • You forgot one. Every single american is guilty of some crime that carries at least 5 year minimum sentence. If they start to stir shit, the government will start looking into their lives (through a secret warrants most likely) find it and lock them up. In a state where everyone is guilty of breaking some law, the prosecutor is the judge, the courts are just a farce at that point. The real problem are the overbroad laws.

          While I agree, I didn't include that because I'm not sure that's a calculation a lot of people are making. I have found that most people I meet fall into the category of having no idea they are living in a totalitarian state, or at least not appreciating the extent and significance.

          I was listening to the NY police commissioner say on record while arguing for marihuana possession laws that often they cannot prove a case, so they opt for locking the guy on marihuana possession with mandatory sentence (often higher than that of the crime they wanted to lock him up for) and they are happy that a guy got locked in, because they "know" he is guilty. And he did not even see anything wrong with saying that. I cringed.

          Yeah, that's a reprehensible attitude. Though, knowing what I do about the NYC PD, I can't say I'm too surprised. Such a friendly bunch!

          The level of government propaganda in US is at least 10 times higher than it was in communist Czechoslovakia where I grew up, with the slight difference that there people knew that the government is lying to them, in US they eat it up. It turns my stomach when I listen to it. The president can go to war with any country simply by calling them 'evil', because naturally "Americans are good and they have to fight evil." Ingenious. The propaganda around drug prohibition is even worse. Not to mention the overly broad laws being spoon fed based on false pretense.

          This is a really important point, and it relates to my last point in the post above. The

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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