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Feb 22 2012

Like a Virgin

This morning there was an article on NPR about drones or "unmanned aerial vehicles", as officials like to call them. They range in size from as small as a 6-inch wingspan to the size of regular aircraft, and can cost as little as $300 (and be controlled from an iPhone) to millions of dollars.

A new federal law, signed by President Obama on Valentine's Day, compels the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors -- from selling real estate and dusting crops, to monitoring oil spills and wildlife, even shooting Hollywood films. Local police and emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones.

It is estimated that within the next couple of years there will be as many as 30,000 drones in the sky.

In other words, as privacy law stands today, you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy while out in public, nor almost anywhere visible from a public vantage.

In addition, all these drones pose a very real threat to air travel due to possible mid-air collisions.

Then, in my snail mail later today I received a letter from the ACLU with the following message.

Nearly four years ago, Congress passed an unconstitutional domestic wiretapping bill — the FISA Amendments Act — allowing the NSA to spy on Americans' international phone calls and emails.

The ACLU filed suit challenging the law an hour after President Bush signed it. And they've been in court fighting the constitutionality of it ever since.

But from the beginning, the government has asked the courts to dismiss the ACLU's lawsuit, arguing, in essence, that the 2008 law should not be subject to judicial review. And late Friday afternoon, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to endorse that dangerous idea. It urged the Supreme Court to overrule a sensible appeals court decision and deny the ACLU's clients the right to challenge the NSA's dragnet surveillance activities.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have argued that no one can challenge the government's secret spying unless they can first prove they've been spied upon. It sounds absurd, but it's true.

Friday's indefensible action by the Obama administration sets up a huge 2012 struggle over the 2008 FISA Amendments Act — one that will be waged in the courts and in Congress where the Act is set to expire at the end of this year.

"Like a Virgin" was the longest-running hit of 1984. (Yes, I'm a big fan of Madonna, and of female vocalists in general.) I wish that Orwell's "1984" were fiction, and that Madonna's hit song was all that 1984 was about, but I've long since lost my virginity when it comes to such idealistic notions.

I'll never forget the words of Mark Silverstein, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado, when he spoke about the loss of constitutional freedoms after successfully defending Flying Dog against the State of Colorado -- "where there's smoke under the door, the fire's not far behind" when it comes to the loss of our civil rights.

Ah, but all is not lost because WE THE PEOPLE still have power.

"Politics is the art of controlling your environment. That is one of the key things I learned in these years, and I learned it the hard way. Anybody who thinks that "it doesn't matter who's President" has never been Drafted and sent off to fight and die in a vicious, stupid War on the other side of the World -- or been beaten and gassed by Police for trespassing on public property -- or been hounded by the IRS for purely political reasons -- or locked up in the Cook County Jail with a broken nose and no phone access and twelve perverts wanting to stomp your ass in the shower. That is when it matters who is President or Governor or Police Chief. That is when you will wish you had voted." - Hunter S. Thompson

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Your wordy friend this spring-like February night in Frederick, MD.

Jim Caruso

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