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Friday, September 20, 2019

The U.S. Justice Department and Facebook: Secretly Mining Personal Information

Collusion between business and government has hardly been a rarity; the extent of secrecy regarding it , however, may be a surprise. Whereas business-government economic partnerships (as well as university-government partnerships) have typically been made public, the extent to which government uses businesses to get information on citizens has hardly been transparent. In spite of a U.S. federal law enacted in 2015, documents released in September of 2019 “show how far beyond Silicon Valley the practice extends—encompassing scores of banks, credit agencies, cellphone carriers and even universities.”[1] The documents, which cover 750 of the half-million subpoenas issued since 2001, reveal that more than 120 companies and other entities received subpoenas for information on customers, users, or students. F.B.I. could lawfully “scoop up a variety of information, including usernames, locations, IP addresses and records of purchases” without a judge’s approval.[2] A gag order keeps the businesses from divulging even the receipt of a subpoena. So much secrecy accompanying so much power is, I submit, dangerous to a republic. In fact, the subtle effects on citizens in the public square can easily be overlooked even if the negative impact on freedom is serious.

1. Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, “Secret F.B.I. Subpoenas Scoop Up Personal Data From Scores of Companies,” The New York Times, September 20, 2019.
2. Ibid.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

U.S. Constitutional Checks and Balances Under Threat: Congressional Oversight

Ambition checked by ambition. The assumption that political ambition can be counted on is the key to the “checks and balances” feature of the U.S. Constitution. Each of the three “arms,” or “branches,” of the federal government is checked by at least one other. This is not to say that the other arm takes over the function or even has greater competence; rather, the other arm is oriented here to providing accountability on abuses of power and investigating cases of gross negligence or incompetence. An offended branch should thus not be permitted to claim that oversight is not appropriate because it interferes with the function the branch. Treating oversight by another arm of the federal government as inherently partisan or illegitimate eviscerates the vital “check and balance” aspect of the U.S. Constitution. In disputes on oversight between two branches, the benefit of the doubt ought to go with the overseeing branch because it is only natural for human beings to resist being held accountable and so accountability itself needs a boost. I have in mind the case the director of national intelligence, Joe Maguire, blocking the inspector general from sharing an intelligence-whistleblower’s complaint with Congress in September, 2019.

The full essay is at "Constitutional Checks and Balances."

Monday, September 16, 2019

Israeli Secret Ops Undermining the United States: Political Realism as Undercutting Allies

On September 14, 2019, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was “giddy with excitement” after U.S. President Trump had communicated “the possibility of moving forward” with a mutual defense pact.[1] This communication was punctuated, however, by “cautious wording.”[2] Trump had recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s state capital and recognized Netanyahu’s annexation of the occupied Golan Heights. What accounts for the caution regarding a defense pact? Moreover, why had Trump been quiet concerning the Israeli election that was coming up in a week or so? Netanyahu was polling behind his contender, so vocal support from Trump, such as on Netanyahu’s campaign pledge to annex the Jordon Valley, would have been valuable to the sitting prime minister. At least part of the answer may have something to do with Israel’s undercutting military action in Iraq. American allies have their own geo-political agendas that can include undercutting the United States militarily.

1. Oren Liebermann, “Trump May No Longer Be the Gift that Keeps on Giving for Netanyahu,” CNN.com, September 16, 2019 (accessed on the same day).
2. Ibid.