• Florida Forces Students Without Parent Note To Stand During Pledge, National Anthem

    September 21, 2016 // 14 Comments »

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    Florida’s Orange County Public Schools announced this week students must have parental permission if they want to kneel during the national anthem at football games or otherwise silently protest, such as refusing the say the pledge of allegiance.

    The move comes after students in a single school district knelt in solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against social injustice in America.

    Exercising First Amendment rights in Florida now requires parental permission.



    As Unconstitutional as They Come

    The school announcement is so wholly unconstitutional as to be laughable, except that it is Florida, the state immune from reality.

    Previous decisions in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals already found the portion of Florida law requiring students to “stand at attention” during the anthem violates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has long upheld not participating in the pledge, or remaining seating during the anthem, is protected speech under the First Amendment.

    West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), was the courageous wartime decision by the Supreme Court holding that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the pledge of allegiance in school. The Court stated constitutional rights are to be “beyond the reach of majorities and officials.” It held that the state did not have the power to compel speech for anyone.

    Barnette overruled a 1940 decision on the same issue, Minersville School District v. Gobitis, which said dissent was to try to change a school policy democratically — i.e., through the same system that imposed the restraints being challenged.

    The Court has also upheld that the Bill of Rights applies to students in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969).


    Florida, 2016

    Officials claim they are following a state law regarding the pledge of allegiance that requires participation in patriotic gestures (they are of course following the exact law the 11th Circuit has ruled unconstitutional, which makes it not really a law anymore, but whatever, Florida uber alles.)

    And so in sweaty Collier County one principal is telling students that they’ll be sent home if they don’t stand during the anthem at sporting events.

    “You will stand and you will stay quiet,” Lely High School Principal Ryan Nemeth announced. “If you don’t, you are going to be sent home and you’re not going to have a refund of your ticket price.”

    Ouch! No refund of the ticket price for you, commie ISIS terrorist students, unless you have a note from home.


    I want to read about the first student, who, when asked for his note giving him permission to remain seated during the pledge, hands over a copy of the Bill of Rights and says f*ck you, Florida.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Stung: Government Disappears Stingray Spying Records

    July 14, 2014 // 3 Comments »




    We’ve heard variations on the phrase “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” from the government for quite some time. It appears this may be true, at least if you are the government.

    In the case of Stingray, a cell phone spying device used against Americans, the government does have something to hide and they fear the release of more information. Meanwhile, the Fourth Amendment weeps quietly in the corner.

    Stingray

    Cell phone technology is very useful to the cops to locate you and to track your movements. In addition to whatever as-yet undisclosed things the NSA may be up to on its own, the FBI acknowledges a device called Stingray to create electronic, “fake,” cell phone towers and track people via their phones in the U.S. without their knowledge. The tech does not require a phone’s GPS. This technology was first known to have been deployed against America’s enemies in Iraq, and it has come home to be used against a new enemy– you.

    Stingray, also known as an International Mobile Subscriber Identity, or IMSI, catcher, works like this. The cell network is designed around triangulation and whenever possible your phone is in constant contact with at least three towers. As you move, one tower “hands off” your signal to the next one in your line of motion. Stingray electronically inserts itself into this process as if it was a (fake; “spoofed”) cell tower itself to grab location data before passing your legitimate signal back to the real cell network. The handoffs in and out of Stingray are invisible to you. Stingrays also “inadvertently” scoop up the cell phone data of anyone within several kilometers of the designated target person. Though typically used to collect location metadata, Stingray can also capture conversations, texts and mobile web use if needed.

    Stingray offers some unique advantages to a national security state: it bypasses the phone company entirely, which is handy if laws change and phone companies no longer must cooperate with the government, or simply if the cops don’t want the phone company or anyone else to know they’re snooping.

    This has led the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to warn “A Stingray— which could potentially be beamed into all the houses in one neighborhood looking for a particular signal— is the digital version of the pre-Revolutionary war practice of British soldiers going door-to-door, searching Americans’ homes without rationale or suspicion, let alone judicial approval… [Stingray is ] the biggest technological threat to cell phone privacy.”


    Trying to Learn about Stingray

    Learning how Stingray works is difficult.

    The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a FOIA request for more information on Stingrays, but the FBI is sitting on 25,000 pages of documents explaining the device that it won’t release.

    The device itself is made by the Harris Corporation. Harris makes electronics for commercial use and is a significant defense contractor. For Stingray, available only to law enforcement agencies, Harris requires a non-disclosure agreement that police departments around the country have been signing for years explicitly prohibiting them from telling anyone, including other government bodies, about their use of the equipment “without the prior written consent of Harris.”

    A price list of Harris’ spying technology, along with limited technical details, was leaked online, but that’s about all we know.

    Though the non-disclosure agreement includes an exception for “judicially mandated disclosures,” there are no mechanisms for judges even to learn that the equipment was used at all, thus cutting off any possibility they could know enough demand disclosure. In at least one case in Florida, a police department revealed that it had decided not to seek a warrant to use the technology explicitly to avoid telling a judge about the equipment. It subsequently kept the information hidden from the defendant as well. The agreement with Harris goes further to require law enforcement to notify Harris any time journalists or anyone else files a public records request to obtain information about Stingray and also demands the police department assist Harris in deciding what information to release.



    Something to Hide

    An evolving situation in Florida shows how hard the government is working to keep the details of its Stingray spying on Americans secret.

    The ACLU originally sought Stingray records in Sarasota, Florida after they learned a detective there obtained permission to use the device simply by filing an application with a local court, instead of obtaining a probable-cause warrant as once was required by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. It became clear that the Sarasota police had additionally used Stingray at least 200 times since 2010 without even the minimal step of even notifying a judge. In line with the non-disclosure agreement, very rarely were arrested persons advised that Stingray data was used to locate and prosecute them.

    The ACLU, which earlier in 2014 filed a Florida state-level FOIA-type request with the Sarasota police department for information detailing its use of Stingray, had an appointment with the local cops to review documents. The local police agreed to the review. However, the June 2014 morning of the ACLU’s appointment, U.S. Marshals arrived ahead of them and physically took possession of the files. The Marshals barred the Sarasota police from releasing them. The rationale used by the federal government was that having quickly deputized a Sarasota cop, all Sarasota records became federal property.

    “This is consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for Stingray information,” an ACLU spokesperson said, noting that federal authorities have in other cases invoked the Homeland Security Act to prevent the release of such records. “The feds are working very hard to block any release of this information to the public.”

    A Court Says the Feds Can Hide the Records

    Following the feds’ seizure of the Stingray records, the ACLU filed an emergency motion with a Florida court that would require Sarasota to make its Stingray records available. However, in a decision issued June 17, 2014, a Florida state circuit court judge found that his court lacked jurisdiction over a federal agency, allowing the transfer of the Stingray documents to the feds and de facto blocking their release.

    The ACLU plans further appeals. Unless and until they succeed, details of another way of spying on Americans will remain secret. The government does indeed have something to hide.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Good News: Supreme Court Rules Against Sweeping Drug Tests

    June 25, 2014 // 5 Comments »

    You don’t win them all, but once in awhile you win one. And in this case, it really matters.

    The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Florida Governor, Republican and presidential-candidate wannabe Rick Scott. Scott, since 2011, has been trying to mandate random drug tests for some 85,000 state workers because, yeah, drugs are bad or something. Scott’s executive order did not apply only to employees, such as drivers or pilots, whose duties might in fact be severely affected by drug use. Everybody, from receptionists to scuba divers, would be subject. By refusing to reopen the case, the Supreme Court agreed that Scott’s order was so broad as to violate Constitutional protections against unwarranted search and seizure.

    Scott issued a statement saying state employees “should have the right to work in a safe and drug free environment, just like in any other business.” The governor noted that portions of the case are still being debated in Miami federal court and that he would “continue to fight” for expanded employee drug testing despite the Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case.

    How Did the Supreme Court Get Involved Anyway?

    The interesting thing is that this issue was put on the Supreme Court’s doorstep at all. A lower court already conclusively said no, sweeping random drug tests are not Constitutional. Done, next issue please. The state of Florida didn’t want to let the tests go, and sought to appeal to the Supreme Court, hoping they might say yes when all the lower courts had already said no. The thing is that lots of people want their cases heard by the Supremes, and so there is a weeding out process. Basically, you have to first ask the Court to take your case. Such asking is done quite formally, via a petition, called a writ of certiorari, or simply a cert. Through the cert process, the court sets its own agenda. Some 10,000 certs are submitted in a typical year.

    Typically, fewer than 100 of those 10,000 petitions are chosen to move forward for a possibly precedent-setting decision. However, only a tiny number of all the certs filed are initiated by the government; on average, just 15 in a Supreme Court term. Tough odds. The bottom line is if the Supreme Court chooses not to hear from case, the lower court decision stands. That’s what happened with Florida, and Scott lost. Again.

    It’s undoubtedly a measure of the importance the Scott administration gives to random drug testing above all else that it chose to take such an aggressive stance, especially given the desperately low odds of success. In fact, Scott pressed the appeal despite a warning from U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro — who first ruled against the program in April 2012 — that there was “probably about zero” chance of success.

    Keep in mind that putting together an appeal isn’t cheap, but Scott won’t say how much taxpayer money it cost. So, the ACLU has filed a public records request seeking how much the state has been spending on the case. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said it’s likely to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money.

    You may thus not be surprised to learn Scott is up for re-election this fall.

    You’ll be equally not surprised that of all the state employees Scott wanted to randomly drug test, he did not include the Florida legislature or any Florida judges. He also did not include himself. You think if Floridians might want one employee to have a clear head at work, it’d be the top guy.

    Money

    Small world, huh? Rick Scott, the guy who just can’t seem to find enough excuses to try and drug test more people in Florida, owned a $62 million stake in the Soltanic Corporation, a chain of urgent care centers that, among other things, specializes in confidential drug testing. He transferred the shares of the company to his wife in January of 2011 just three months before both mandating that state employees would be tested and signing another law (below) for welfare testing into effect. Scott in fact founded the company himself in 2001, but claims due to the transferrance of shares to his wife he no longer as any connection to its business.

    Interestingly, during the brief period of time the random testing program was actually in force in Florida, the state actually lost money on the deal. Florida required people to pay upfront for their own tests, and then reimbursed those who passed. Since such a small number of people did indeed test positive, the state actually lost $45,780 because of the program.


    Welfare and Drugs

    This isn’t the first time that a federal court has had to step in against Scott’s drug test fetish. A judge in December refused to hear an appeal to overturn a previous ruling requiring applicants for welfare benefits to undergo mandatory drug testing. That decision made it clear that Florida could not require drug tests as a precondition for public benefits someone was otherwise entitled to receive. Scott also seeks to appeal that case, and has until a May 5 deadline to file with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Scott does love him some random drug testing, yes he does.

    In the decision to stay the drug testing, Judge Mary Scriven issued a 37-page order saying the law could violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on illegal search and seizure. Scriven issued a scathing assessment of the state’s argument in favor of the drug tests, saying the state failed to prove “special needs” as to why it should conduct such searches without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, as the law requires.

    “If invoking an interest in preventing public funds from potentially being used to fund drug use were the only requirement to establish a special need,” Scriven wrote, “the state could impose drug testing as an eligibility requirement for every beneficiary of every government program. Such blanket intrusions cannot be countenanced under the Fourth Amendment.”

    The judge went on to say “there is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.”

    During the time the law was in effect, only 2.6 percent of recipients tested positive for illegal drugs, mostly marijuana. The failure rate was well below that of the general population. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found in a 2009 survey that about 8.7 percent of the population had used illicit drugs in the previous month.

    But Should My Tax Money Go to Dope Heads?

    Now about this point in these discussions, someone (I see a hand in the back there, you sir) asks: Why should my tax dollars go to giving welfare to drug users? Shouldn’t state employees not be using drugs?

    So let’s figure out why people who say those things are dumbasses.

    Welfare to Drug Users. Sure, nobody wants to encourage illegal drug use. But benefits go to people who are hungry (yes of course there are welfare cheats, maybe not as many as tax cheaters on Wall Street, but there are indeed always cheats no matter what.) 73 percent of enrollments in America’s major public benefits programs are from working men and women. They work in jobs that pay wages so low that their paychecks do not generate enough income to provide for life’s basic necessities.

    An awful lot of people who receive benefits are also children, who are dependents of the adult claiming the need. Cut off the (drug using) adult and you cut off the kid. Indeed, about 45 percent of food stamp benefits go to children. Maybe cutting them out is what Governor Scott wants. Many public benefits recipients are elderly. Anyone want to take food from them? Anybody want to mandate they travel for drug tests? Anybody want to tangle with the range of medicines they may take that can trigger false positives? Oh, don’t want to test the elderly? Not much random in that is there, just profiling.

    Drugged out state employees are bad. Sure. But does Rick Scott have any stats to even suggest there is a drug problem among his employees he needs to solve with a complex and expensive random testing program? Isn’t random drug testing just a politically-neat solution to a problem that may not exist? Doesn’t it matter that some of the employees who may do drugs do them on their own time in a way that has no effect whatsoever on their day jobs? Isn’t Rick Scott equally worried about drunk employees? Nope, apparently not. No testing for booze. Nothing in Scott’s plans that mentions mandatory breathalyzer tests.

    Why It Matters

    Since Supreme Court rulings create precedent for lower courts to follow throughout the United States, the Florida decisions are very important. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which challenged both drug-testing plans as unconstitutional, said federal courts have clearly rejected blanket mandatory drug testing by the state.

    “The question of whether the state has the power to compel all employees to submit to suspicionless searches without good reason is settled and the answer is no,” said the lead ACLU attorney in the state employees case.

    But the most important reason sweeping drug testing (or sweeping electronic surveillance) is wrong is because we have a Constitution. The Fourth Amendment of that beautiful document assures Americans that they have a right to privacy that excludes unwarranted searches. You don’t have to decide if you want the right, it is the default and the government can’t just take it away from you simply because you happen to live in Florida.

    That’s what really is at stake here, and why efforts like that of Florida Governor Rick Scott are so wrong. They are, in fact, un-American.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America