Civil liberties roundup

  • Drones in domestic policing a liberty danger, warns NYT [editorial, earlier]
  • When prosecutors freeze bank accounts, high-level targets can’t hire the best lawyers to defend themselves. Regrettable unintended etc. [Silverglate]
  • On criminalizing false statements to federal agents [Scott Greenfield vs. Bill Otis]
  • “Congress Has Enough Time to Keep Spying on You, Forever” [Matt Welch; Cato video with Julian Sanchez]
  • More on Philadelphia forfeiture [John K. Ross, Reason, earlier]
  • Homeland Security program: “Public Buses Across Country Quietly Adding Microphones to Record Passenger Conversations” [Kim Zetter/Wired via Fountain]
  • Does Brooklyn indictment signal U.S. claim of universal jurisdiction over acts hostile to its foreign policy, anywhere in world? [Eugene Kontorovich/Volokh]


  • I believe the crime the woman who bought the guns used in the Webster shootings is being charged with is participating in a straw purchase. It’s true that, technically, that crime consists of falsely claiming on the form you have to complete when buying a gun from a dealer to be the real purchaser of the guns in question, and so involves a false statement. But this sort of crime is a long way from the much broader crime of making a false statement to law enforcement. It consists of making a false entry on a form in response to a specific question relevant to determining whether it is legal for the dealer to sell you the gun. Complaining about criminalizing all false statements to government in this context is misleading.

  • I suppose someone who is willing to assume the risk that her insane son will kill her, take her guns and shoot down dozens of children and teachers will be stopped by the dread of committing a felony by lying on a form. Yeah, that’s the ticket.


  • If you think the gun purchase case of “criminalizing false statements to federal agents” is lame, then you will really enjoy reviewing the case of Jim Brown, former Louisiana Insurance Commissioner, who got free room and board in a federal prison for supposedly lying to an FBI agent, but he was never allowed to review (or even see) the notes of same said agent about the conversation.

  • People freak out about “drones” because they imagine something from “The Terminator”, and privacy fetishists get a lot of mileage out of that. If you described them as “a remote-control plane with a webcam duct-taped to the bottom” it would be a lot less scary…but, then, some people prefer scary, because scary is exciting.

  • This isn’t about Sandy Hook, it’s about Webster. The charge in that case isn’t lying to a federal agent, it’s getting a gun for a convicted felon by claiming, falsely, that you are getting the gun for yourself. The statement isn’t even made to a federal employee; it’s made, in writing, to the dealer selling the gun. Does anybody really think it shouldn’t be a crime to do that? I’m as unhappy as anybody else about criminalizing all false statements to law enforcement, especially when they won’t even let you record the statement. But that’s not what’s at stake here. People who pretend they’re buying guns for somebody else because the other person can’t pass a background check should go to jail.

  • >When prosecutors freeze bank accounts, high-level targets can’t hire the best lawyers to defend themselves.

    When the money in the defendant’s bank account is stolen, it is proper to seize it for restitution to the legitimate owners. But I gather that an increasing number of asset freezes have little to do with bona-fide restitution.

  • @DensityDuck:
    “People freak out about “drones” because they imagine something from “The Terminator”, and privacy fetishists get a lot of mileage out of that. ”

    That and you wonder at what point “domestic policing” becomes attaching a Hellfire on the reasoning that sometimes an immedate SWAT type reaction will be needed (even if that is only a rare event). Unfortunately, the history of science and technology is replete with examples of doing something not because it is right or wrong, or even a good idea, but because we can.*

    Actually, more of a realistic concern is confliction of air space. To be invisible to people on the ground, most drones are nearly impossible to see from the air. They fly at altitudes used by helos, light private planes, and ultra-lights, which have to depend upon visual identification (and, except ultra -lights, responses to radio queries) to avoid collisions. It can be expected that News Helos are going to be in areas in which the police are interested in enhanced surveillance from the air (like on-going crime scenes). Adding to that air space nearly invisible drones, which do not respond to radio quiries, looks like a really bad idea.

    * My personal favorite was the decision by the Imperial German General Staff to use poison gas in WWI. They failed to consider that the prevailing winds were West to East, that Chlorine was heavier than air and would settle into low places (like the deep bunkers used to hide from British and French counter-battery fire), would be readily drawn into the bunkers’ air supply systems which had no or primitive filters, and their own troops had no suitable gas masks or other protection against Chlorine gas. The result is that the German Army likely suffered significantly more casualties than the British or French until suitable air filtration systems, gas masks and protective suits were developed and issued. However, well before then, the Allies decided to retaliate in-kind, but didn’t suffer from the wind usually blowing the gas back into their trenches and bunkers.