Posts filed under Civil Liberties

Just End It

Recently from Jesse Walker:

In practice, CVE’s efforts are already focused overwhelmingly on Muslims. But the big question here shouldn’t be which groups ought to be the program’s targets. It’s whether the program should exist at all. No matter whether it’s aimed at Islamists, white nationalists, or anyone else, the CVE approach has two big problems.

First: It rests on the idea that the best way to root out terrorism is to fight “radicalization.” This idea has support among both Democrats and Republicans, but the evidence supporting it is sparse. When investigators at the British think tank Demos (not to be confused with the U.S.-based liberal group of the same name) spent two years studying the differences between violent and nonviolent radicals, they found that while nonviolent radicalism can be a stepping stone to terrorism, it can draw people away from terrorism too. Meanwhile, there were other forces pulling people into terrorism that didn’t have much to do with ideology at all. Other probes have reached similar conclusions. So the focus here is all wrong: Radical ideas do not usually lead to violent tactics, and violent tactics do not emerge only from radical ideas.

Second: That focus can lead to some serious civil liberties problems. “Even though the agencies running the programs promised that they wouldn’t use CVE for intelligence purposes (as they did in earlier iterations of it), the program itself is designed to teach community members, teachers, police, social workers, and religious leaders to identify and report to law enforcement people showing signs of ‘radicalization,'” comments Michael German, a former FBI agent who now hangs his hat at the Brennan Center for Justice. So in practice, he argues, you get “soft surveillance,” and that surveillance “is intended to suppress ideas, which is likely to cause more problems than solve them. It encourages the identification, reporting, and ‘treatment’ of people with bad ideas, which will only lead to misuse of security resources and deprivation of civil liberties.”

Needless to say, that sort of surveillance can itself radicalize people. So CVE also runs the risk of contributing to the very process it’s meant to stop.

–Jesse Walker, Don’t Rebrand the ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ Program—Just End It
Reason, 2 February 2017

Shared Article from Reason.com

Don't Rebrand the 'Countering Violent Extremism' Program—Just …

The question shouldn't be which groups the program ought to target. It's whether the program should exist at all.

Jesse Walker @ reason.com


Don’t Send In The Clowns

You are going to think I am making this up, that this is a joke. I am not making it up; it is not a joke. I received this e-mail at 2:03pm on Tuesday from the Auburn University Public Safety & Security Department. This is a straight-up copy and paste job from the e-mail.[1] It is possibly the most amazing thing I have ever received from the campus cops.

From: Auburn University Public Safety & Security
Date: Sep. 20, 2016, 2:03pm
Subject: Rumors of Clowns on Campus

Auburn University Community:

On Monday evening the university and Auburn Police Division received a few reports of people dressed in clown costumes on campus. There were also several social media posts that suggested the same. We have seen similar reports of clown sightings at other universities and towns across the State of Alabama and the Southeast.

Auburn Police officers were on patrol and immediately responded to the areas reported but were unable to locate anyone. Auburn Police will continue to patrol our campus and investigate any suspicious activity. We are not aware of any danger or threat to our campus community.

We also had a report of students walking around looking for people dressed as clowns. For your safety, we strongly encourage you to leave this job to Auburn Police. Please use good judgment and avoid wearing clown masks, as it could be perceived as a hazard or threat to others.

We urge our campus community to be vigilant and always report anything suspicious by dialing 911. If you have information or questions, you can call the Auburn Police Division’s non-emergency number at 334-501-3100.

Another resource that is available to students is the free Rave Guardian app. Features of this app include the ability to send tips and photos to Auburn Police or set a safety timer to allow friends and family to help look out for your safety. Get the app and register with your AU email to maximize the features available.

We would also like to take this opportunity to remind you about the Night Security Shuttle which provides safe on-campus transportation and operates from 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 a.m. (while the Tiger Transit is not running). To request a ride on the security shuttle, please call 334-844-7400. This on-campus service is free to our campus community.

The safety of our students, employees and visitors is our priority and we will continue to do everything possible to keep our campus safe.

Over at Reason‘s Hit and Run blog, here’s Jesse Walker on the Great Clown Panic of 2016 as it comes to higher education and secondary education in Alabama.

Shared Article from Reason.com

The Clown Panic Comes to College - Hit & Run : Reason.com

Auburn University has issued a public-safety bulletin about the clown menace. Read it here.

Jesse Walker @ reason.com


The Great Clown Panic of ’16 began in August, you’ll recall, when children at an apartment complex in Greenville, South Carolina, claimed to have spotted some malevolent clowns in the woods, sparking city-wide chatter about clown conspiracies. Before long, the delirium was spreading across the Carolinas. In Winston-Salem, two kids claimed that a clown carrying candy had tried to lure them into the forest; not long after that, in nearby Greensboro, a man called 911 to report a clown, who he then supposedly chased into the woods with a machete. (“Officers responding to the call could not find the clown,” the local News & Record reported.)

The meme[2] had marched into Georgia by mid-September, when two Troup County residents claimed to have seen some clowns trying to lure kids into a van, then confessed that they had made it up and were charged with making a false report. Last week a Georgia girl was arrested for bringing a knife to her middle school. She said she needed it to protect her from the clowns. By then the currents of coulrophobia had flooded into Alabama, where Facebook posts about the clown threat prompted schools across the state to go on lockdown, and where yet more hoaxsters were eventually arrested.

Now the Alabama wave has hit the world of higher education. . . .

. . . Amid this cascade of hoaxes, pranks, and schoolyard rumors—and possibly, at some point, a sighting of an actual professional Bozo on his way to a birthday party—there have been exactly zero confirmed cases of harlequins plotting to kidnap or molest children. But you knew that already.

Meanwhile, in the Lee County high schools, it looks like a teenager, allegedly a young woman at Beauregard High School, used the clown panic to get on social media and make threats of a school shooting, either against Opelika City Schools or against Beauregard High School or against Beauregard Elementary School. The Lee County sheriff said there is no evidence that the threat is credible, but Beauregard schools announced they’ll be under a heightened sense of awareness for the rest of the week, which means, more or less, that they’ll be swarming the campus with cops from the sheriff’s office; and Opelika City Schools placed schools on lockdown yesterday. The sheriffs office announced that they had used tracking technologies to identify, track down and arrest the female student allegedly responsible for the video (We used technology available to us to identify who she was. –Sheriff Jay Jones.) They will be charging her with felony charges for making terroristic threats. Meanwhile, people in the newspaper comment threads are more or less overtly threatening to shoot people for wearing clown suits, and newsmedia stories continue to relay reports of an amorphous clowning menace lurking in the shadows of social media and the dark edges of the piney woods:

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office isn’t the only agency in the area to receive reports of creepy clown threats.

LaGrange police took to Facebook to warn the public about several calls they received Set. 12 about clowns in a van and wooded area trying to talk to children. There were also threats made on Facebook media the previous weekend from “clowns” threatening to commit crimes at LaGrange schools.

Police determined that the threats were not credible. By Friday, they arrested four people who allegedly made “creepy clown” threats toward LaGrange High School.

Two were arrested in Troup County Sept. 14 after falsely reporting creepy clown sightings in Hogansville, Ga.

–Sarah Robinson, Hundreds checked out of Lee County schools following ‘creepy clown threat’
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, September 21, 2016

And in the superstore parking lots of Alex City:

Clown sighting at Walmart proves unfounded

Wednesday afternoon a customer at Walmart on Highway 280 called police to alert them to a person dressed as a clown in the parking lot.

The caller told dispatchers that she saw a male, dressed in a clown costume in an older model red pickup truck with a confederate flag showing in the back.

. . . Officers were dispatched to the parking lot, but found the vehicle empty when they arrived. They backed off and waited for the occupant of the vehicle to return. But when the owner returned, there was no white makeup, no red nose, no rainbow wig and not a single balloon animal. The man wasn’t even wearing size 24 red shoes.

After questioning the man for a few minutes, police left and the man went on his way, and was seen dialing a cellphone to tell someone what had just happened.

While this turned out to be nothing, Alexander City Police issued an alert via social media on the subject.

“We have received social media messages in reference to clowns posting threats on social media pages” a post attributed to Deputy Chief Jay Turner reads. “The threats have not been credible and as written in the article it takes a considerable amount of time to investigate the alleged threat.

“The easiest solution is to change your social media security settings and only allow those you know to post on your social media page; this will eliminate receiving posts from these fake profiles being used in this current fad of clown hysteria.”

Elsewhere, police are locking people up when they track them down.

After threats were made to schools in Baldwin, Bibb, Calhoun, Escambia, Etowah, Geneva, Jefferson, Mobile and Montgomery counties, there have been several arrests. A 16-year-old from Pleasant Valley, an 18-year-old in West Blocton, 22-year-old Makayla Smith and two juveniles from Flomaton and four Geneva juveniles, three students at Geneva Middle School and one Geneva High School student, have all been arrested and face charges. Several are charged with making terrorist threats.

–Mitch Sneed, Clown sighting at Walmart proves unfounded
Alex City Outlook, September 21, 2016

  1. [1]If you want some corroboration, here is the Plainsman story issued about “Clown Sightings on Campus” shortly after the e-mail blast was sent out.
  2. [2]Sic. There’s no such thing as a meme. —Ed.

State of Emergency

Following up on my post from Friday, I find this reported earlier today from Agence France Press:

Shared Article from Agence France Presse

Maduro in crackdown under Venezuela emergency decree

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a sweeping crackdown Saturday under a new emergency decree, ordering the seizure of paralyzed factories,…

Valentina OROPEZA @ msn.com


Notice, in particular:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a sweeping crackdown Saturday under a new emergency decree, ordering the seizure of paralyzed factories, the arrest of their owners and military exercises to counter alleged foreign threats. . . . Addressing his supporters at a rally in central Caracas on Saturday, Maduro announced some of the actions to be taken under the decree, which has not yet been published.

. . . Maduro’s decree expanded an “economic emergency” declared in January to a full-blown state of emergency.

The extent of the decree was unclear, but political analysts said it could be used to limit the right to protest, authorize preventive arrests and allow police raids without a warrant.

Maduro said the measures, which initially apply for three months, will likely be extended through 2017.

–Valentina Oropeza, Maduro in crackdown under Venezuela emergency decree
Agence France Presse (15 May 2016)

This seems unlikely to end well.

See also.

Government science

For nearly a decade, the Conservative government in Canada enforced formal rules and a byzantine censorial bureaucracy deliberately intended to control the time, manner and content of any and all public statements by every one of the many scientists working for branches of the Canadian government. Of course this policy destroyed open communication, hampered research, and damaged the careers of promising scientists. It was often used heavyhandedly to censor scientists’ discussion of their own research to comply with political priorities and even to muffle public criticism of the governments’ communications procedures or censorship policies.

The basic liberal response is to look at this horrible situation and say, This is why it’s important to elect governments that won’t try to control what the scientists that work for them can say to the public. Just think of what might happen in Canada if the political winds reverse.

The radical response is to look at this horrible situation and say, This is why it’s important for scientists to be independent of government funding. If scientists work for the government, then their jobs are dependent on a political process and they are subject to political control. But scientific shouldn’t be subject to the direction of the political winds.

The original article from Nature follows below.

Shared Article from Nature News & Comment

Nine years of censorship

Canadian scientists are now allowed to speak out about their work — and the government policy that had restricted communications.

nature.com


Nine years of censorship

Early one Thursday morning last November, Kristi Miller-Saunders was surprised to receive a visit from her manager. Miller-Saunders, a molecular geneticist at the Canadian fisheries agency, had her reasons to worry about attention from above. On numerous occasions over the previous four years, government officials had forbidden her from talking to the press or the public about her work on the genetics of salmon — part of a broad policy that muzzled government scientists in Canada for many years. At one point, a brawny minder had actually accompanied her to a public hearing to make sure that she didn’t break the rules.

But the meeting last autumn was different. Miller-Saunders’ manager at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in Nanaimo walked in with a smile and gave her advance notice that the newly elected government would be opening up scientific communication: she and other federal researchers would finally be free to speak to the press. . . .Canadian scientists celebrated the move far and wide. . . . Six months later, the government is loosening its grip on communications but the shift at some agencies has not been as swift and comprehensive as many had hoped. And with the newfound freedom to speak, the full impact of the former restrictions is finally becoming clear. Canadian scientists and government representatives are opening up about what it was like to work under the former policy and the kind of consequences it had. Some of the officials who imposed the rules are talking about how the restrictions affected the morale and careers of researchers. Their stories hint at how governments control communications in even more politically repressive countries such as China, and suggest what might happen in Canada if the political winds reverse.

The crackdown on government scientists in Canada began in 2006, after Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party was elected prime minister. During the nine-year Harper administration, the government placed a priority on boosting the economy, in part by stimulating development and increasing the extraction of resources, such as petroleum from the oil sands in Alberta. To speed projects along, the administration eased environmental regulations. And when journalists sought out government scientists to ask about the impacts of such changes, or anything to do with environmental or climate science, they ran into roadblocks.

For decades before the Harper administration, reporters had been free to call up government researchers directly for interviews. But suddenly, all requests for interviews had to be sent to government communications offices, which then had to get approval from multiple tiers of bureaucrats higher up. “It was an incredible rigmarole to try and get the most innocuous bit of information to media or the public,” says Diane Lake, who was a communications officer with the DFO at the time.

Lake had been a newspaper reporter for a dozen years before joining the department in 1992, so she knew what journalists needed to produce stories. She has fond memories of her time as a communications officer before the Harper years, but after he took office, her job became less about communicating science and more about censoring it. When journalists called her trying to reach scientists, she was required to get approval for scripted answers that researchers could give, but she found the authorization process opaque and arbitrary. There were never any written protocols on what would pass muster and what wouldn’t, she says. I would always say, can you write that down? to folks in Ottawa. No one ever did. . . .

–Lesley Evans Ogden, Nine years of censorship
Nature (03 May 2016)