Posts Tagged ‘Constitution’

A democratic police state?

August 9, 2013

Being “democratic” has increasingly become the cloak under which the oppression of minorities can be carried out without much criticism. Though constitutions are supposed to enshrine the values and fundamental principles which protect minorities from excesses of the “majority” –  following the majority view is itself the cornerstone for an ostensible “democracy”. And every constitution has built-in mechanisms – usually more complex than just a simple majority vote – by which it can be amended to suit the wishes of the majority.

Which is what happened in Egypt where a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood put in place a constitution which would have ensured the oppression of non-Muslim minorities. Which is what applies in Russia where the majority feel more comfortable with an authoritarian government. Which is what is happening in Libya after the overthrow of Gadaffi’s regime. Which was happening in Tunisia. Which is happening in Hungary. Which has just happened in Zimbabwe. Which is what threatens in Afghanistan.

But it also happens in well established democracies. Coercive and oppressive measures to be applied to minorities can always be justified in any democracy provided it can be shown to be the “majority” view as expressed by the “democratic institutions” in place. To oppress a minority for “the common good” is always possible and justifiable – even in a supposed democracy.

And so it is also in the US. Actions which are more reminiscent of a police state of the cold-war era can be and are justified because Congress – as a democratic institution – allows it. If it was the objective of the 9/11 terrorists to undermine the democracy of the US, then the US – under the cloak of its “War on Terror” – has itself achieved part of that objective.

Ladar Levison who is the owner of the encrypted email service Lavabit has been forced to cease operation. Presumably because Snowden used the service. He has this to say:

My Fellow Users,

I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.

What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.

This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.

Ladar Levison
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC

The New Yorker writes:

As Kevin Poulsen and others have pointed out, our collective experience has prepared us to guess what is going on here: Levison got either a national-security letter “or a full blown search or eavesdropping warrant.” In the weeks since the Guardian and Washington Post first began publishing stories with Snowden’s documents, the picture of the National Security Agency’s domestic-surveillance practices that’s come together is different from the one most everyone held before we’d ever heard Snowden’s name. And it has left the Administration’s explanations of what it does and doesn’t do looking pretty spotty, and at times just false. …..

…. The extreme example that an unnamed official gave Savage is a search for a phone number the N.S.A. believes terrorists are using to call each other. What about a name? Could the N.S.A. read e-mails from members of the public if they simply discuss the case of someone the government has said is a threat? It sounds like it. This is dangerous; we already have Senators constrained from talking about what they know. We can’t all be afraid to ask questions; for a democracy, the most threatening thing would be the absence of such conversations. ….

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