Sponsored Content
« Mitt Romney Goes After Obama On Jobs | Main | Obama On The Economy: The Checks Are In the Mail! Swearsies! »
June 13, 2011

Writs of Assistance Are Back

You know why we had the American Revolution? Writs of assistance. Writs of assistance were a form of non-specific search warrant in colonial times that enabled officials working with the British Empire to search anything they wanted at any time. They had no expiration; they did not have to detail a location, and they did not have to describe the items being sought. Our forefathers blew a gasket over that and ran the English out of this country.

From Wikipedia:

In practice, customs writs of assistance served as general search warrants that did not expire, allowing customs officials to search anywhere for smuggled goods without having to obtain a specific warrant. These writs became controversial when they were issued by courts in British America in the 1760s, especially the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Controversy over these general writs of assistance inspired the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which forbids general search warrants in the United States. In the United Kingdom, general writs of assistance continued to be issued until 1819.[6]

Well, the Fourth Amendment is under attack today, especially with all the newfangled spy toys in this digital age, and writs of assistance are back.

From the story linked at Drudge today, Dirty Bureaucrats Expand Their Search Authority:

Washington • The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents — allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The FBI soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents. The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity.

. . .

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an "assessment." The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations "proactively" and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.

Under current rules, agents must open such an inquiry before they can search for information about a person in a commercial or law enforcement database. Under the new rules, agents will be allowed to search such databases without making a record about their decision.

(Emphasis mine.) Notice is says "criminal or terrorist activity"? Because we got to have the word "terrorist" in there. That way we can better fool the public!

Who is minding the store? Is the FBI so adverse to shoe leather investigation, they need to tell us, "Trust us; we're professionals, and we only want to look at anything we want to, and these new digital toys sure are convenient!"? We already have the legal fiction that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy with, say, your checking account, since bankers and people who work in end-clearing can look at it. Never mind the fact that no one expects a banker to actually identify you individually or your account activity as they monitor thousands of accounts and watch checks whiz by at the rate of 100 per second. Courts have allowed the distortion of "reasonable expectation of privacy" to the point it is almost meaningless.

And FBI agents. Trustworthy professionals, right? After all, they work for our nation's premier law enforcement organization. The fact is, they are people just like the people on your street or in your workplace. Most are decent, competent, ethical people, but every neighborhood and workplace has its Gladys Kravitz or George Constanza. People do dirty things for arbitrary and capricious reasons, and FBI agents are no different. They're just people too. Imagine the dirtiest schmuck you know going through your private things. They have some of those guys working at the FBI.

Years ago, my ex best friend married a particularly nasty person who got a job with the IRS. Guess how long it took for her to dig into all the friends' and neighbors' tax records. Guess how long it took for her to relay some of what she found to him, which eventually made its way back to me. Not long. Not long at all. And on this kind of thing, this skirting the rules, they sit back and chuckle to themselves, basking in the warmth of their power. (It's authority, not power, but they wouldn't know the difference.) With an ugly self-satisfaction, my friend told me about his wife's workplace, about how they would use work friends' computer terminals so that inappropriate searches could not be traced back to them.

The point is, FBI agents are bureaucrats too, no better or worse than this woman, and with the potential to do immeasurably greater snooping.

The Founding Fathers would not have put up with this for a second. The Fourth Amendment is not some annoying little hurdle, a trifle to be treated as a mere inconvenience to be gotten around while "us good guys on the inside nobly go about our duty." It's there for a reason.

digg this
posted by rdbrewer at 01:16 PM

| Access Comments

Recent Comments
Krebs v Carnot: Epic Battle of the Cycling Stars (TM): "[i] I think we can distinguish the little b bif f ..."

Moki: "439 NaNoWriMo is over and my word count was 59,000 ..."

Bifdeeznuts: " Blow me! ..."

#RoyalAlbanianPressOffice: "The People's Royal and Imperial Republic of Miklos ..."

fd: "I think we can distinguish the little b bif from t ..."

Anna Puma: "NaNoWriMo is over and my word count was 59,000 wor ..."

Chairman LMAO: "Said another Bif. ..."

Trump poisoned my cat: "423 As should all people with deep pockets. One af ..."

Chairman LMAO: "@432 One of you Bifs need to make like a tree and ..."

Gref: "420 388 Or someone who commits Heresy? Posted by: ..."

Ciampino - every law enacted against the 2nd is unconstitutional: "241 150 @elonmusk Twitter acting by itself to s ..."

Smell the Glove: "420 all the Twitter news made me "Hershey" in my p ..."

Recent Entries

Polls! Polls! Polls!
Frequently Asked Questions
The (Almost) Complete Paul Anka Integrity Kick
Top Top Tens
Greatest Hitjobs

The Ace of Spades HQ Sex-for-Money Skankathon
A D&D Guide to the Democratic Candidates
Margaret Cho: Just Not Funny
More Margaret Cho Abuse
Margaret Cho: Still Not Funny
Iraqi Prisoner Claims He Was Raped... By Woman
Wonkette Announces "Morning Zoo" Format
John Kerry's "Plan" Causes Surrender of Moqtada al-Sadr's Militia
World Muslim Leaders Apologize for Nick Berg's Beheading
Michael Moore Goes on Lunchtime Manhattan Death-Spree
Milestone: Oliver Willis Posts 400th "Fake News Article" Referencing Britney Spears
Liberal Economists Rue a "New Decade of Greed"
Artificial Insouciance: Maureen Dowd's Word Processor Revolts Against Her Numbing Imbecility
Intelligence Officials Eye Blogs for Tips
They Done Found Us Out, Cletus: Intrepid Internet Detective Figures Out Our Master Plan
Shock: Josh Marshall Almost Mentions Sarin Discovery in Iraq
Leather-Clad Biker Freaks Terrorize Australian Town
When Clinton Was President, Torture Was Cool
What Wonkette Means When She Explains What Tina Brown Means
Wonkette's Stand-Up Act
Wankette HQ Gay-Rumors Du Jour
Here's What's Bugging Me: Goose and Slider
My Own Micah Wright Style Confession of Dishonesty
Outraged "Conservatives" React to the FMA
An On-Line Impression of Dennis Miller Having Sex with a Kodiak Bear
The Story the Rightwing Media Refuses to Report!
Our Lunch with David "Glengarry Glen Ross" Mamet
The House of Love: Paul Krugman
A Michael Moore Mystery (TM)
The Dowd-O-Matic!
Liberal Consistency and Other Myths
Kepler's Laws of Liberal Media Bias
John Kerry-- The Splunge! Candidate
"Divisive" Politics & "Attacks on Patriotism" (very long)
The Donkey ("The Raven" parody)
Powered by
Movable Type 2.64