Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” ― George Orwell, Animal Farm

What was striking about this year’s State of the Union address was not the sheer arrogance of the president’s remarks, the staged nature of the proceedings and interactions, or the predictable posturing of the rebuttals, but the extent to which the members of the various branches of government—President Obama, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the assorted government agencies—are just one big, brawling, noisy, semi-incestuous clan.

Watching these bureaucrats, both elected and appointed, interact in the unguarded moments before the event, with their hugging and kissing and nudging and joking and hobnobbing and general high spirits, I was reminded anew that these people—Republicans and Democrats alike—are united in a common goal, and it is not to protect and defend the Constitution. No, as Orwell recognized in Animal Farm, their common goal is to maintain the status quo, a goal that is helped along by an unquestioning, easily mollified, corporate media. In this way, the carefully crafted spectacle that is the State of the Union address is just that: an exaggerated farce of political theater intended to dazzle, distract and divide us, all the while the police state marches steadily forward.

No matter what the president and his cohorts say or how convincingly they say it, the reality Americans must contend with is that the world is no better the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address than it was the day before. Indeed, if the following rundown on the actual state of our freedoms is anything to go by, the world is a far more dangerous place.

Americans have no protection against police abuse. It is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, such as the 16-year-old teenager who skipped school only to be shot by police after they mistook him for a fleeing burglar. Then there was the unarmed black man in Texas “who was pursued and shot in the back of the neck by Austin Police… after failing to properly identify himself and leaving the scene of an unrelated incident.” And who could forget the 19-year-old Seattle woman who was accidentally shot in the leg by police after she refused to show her hands? What is increasingly common, however, is the news that the officers involved in these incidents get off with little more than a slap on the hands.

Americans are little more than pocketbooks to fund the police state. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. This is true, whether you’re talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Rubbing salt in the wound, even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.

Americans are no longer innocent until proven guilty. We once operated under the assumption that you were innocent until proven guilty. Due in large part to rapid advances in technology and a heightened surveillance culture, the burden of proof has been shifted so that the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects. This is exemplified by police practices of stopping and frisking people who are merely walking down the street and where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Likewise, by subjecting Americans to full-body scans and license-plate readers without their knowledge or compliance and then storing the scans for later use, the government—in cahoots with the corporate state—has erected the ultimate suspect society. In such an environment, we are all potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other.

Americans no longer have a right to self-defense. In the wake of various shootings in recent years, “gun control” has become a resounding theme for government officials, with President Obama even going so far as to pledge to reduce gun violence “with or without Congress.” Those advocating gun reform see the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms as applying only to government officials. As a result, even Americans who legally own firearms are being treated with suspicion and, in some cases, undue violence. In one case, a Texas man had his home subjected to a no-knock raid and was shot in his bed after police, attempting to deliver a routine search warrant, learned that he was in legal possession of a firearm. In another incident, a Florida man who was licensed to carry a concealed firearm found himself detained for two hours during a routine traffic stop in Maryland while the arresting officer searched his vehicle in vain for the man’s gun, which he had left at home.

Americans no longer have a right to private property. If government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family, your property is no longer private and secure—it belongs to the government. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property.

Americans no longer have a say about what their children are exposed to in school. Incredibly, the government continues to insist that parents essentially forfeit their rights when they send their children to a public school. This growing tension over whether young people, especially those in the public schools, are essentially wards of the state, to do with as government officials deem appropriate, in defiance of the children’s constitutional rights and those of their parents, is reflected in the debate over sex education programs that expose young people to all manner of sexual practices and terminology, zero tolerance policies that strip students of any due process rights, let alone parental involvement in school discipline, and Common Core programs that teach students to be test-takers rather than critical thinkers.

Americans are powerless in the face of militarized police. In early America, citizens were considered equals with law enforcement officials. Authorities were rarely permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And it was not uncommon for police officers to be held personally liable for trespass when they wrongfully invaded a citizen’s home. Unlike today, early Americans could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant—which the police had to allow citizens to read before arresting them. (Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons and tasers would be nothing short of suicidal.) As police forces across the country continue to be transformed into outposts of the military, with police agencies acquiring military-grade hardware in droves, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield.

Americans no longer have a right to bodily integrity. Court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops. Most recently, a New Mexico man was subjected to a 12-hour ordeal of anal probes, X-rays, enemas, and finally a colonoscopy because he allegedly rolled through a stop sign.

Americans no longer have a right to the expectation of privacy. Despite the staggering number of revelations about government spying on Americans’ phone calls, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Google searches, emails, bookstore and grocery purchases, bank statements, commuter toll records, etc., Congress, the president and the courts have done little to nothing to counteract these abuses. Instead, they seem determined to accustom us to life in this electronic concentration camp.

Americans no longer have a representative government. We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age, let’s call it the age of authoritarianism. History may show that from this point forward, we will have left behind any semblance of constitutional government and entered into a militaristic state where all citizens are suspects and security trumps freedom. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal. It is not overstating matters to say that Congress, which has done its best to keep their unhappy constituents at a distance, may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America.

Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. The U.S. Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency, the justices of the Supreme Court have become the architects of the American police state in which we now live, while the lower courts have appointed themselves courts of order, concerned primarily with advancing the government’s agenda, no matter how unjust or illegal.

Yes, the world is a far more dangerous place than it was a year ago. What the president failed to mention in his State of the Union address, however (and what I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State), is the fact that it’s the government that poses the gravest threat to our freedoms and way of life, and no amount of politicking, parsing or pandering will change that. — John W. Whitehead

“All governments are run by liars.”—Independent journalist I.F. “Izzy” Stone

President Obama has managed, with singular assistance from Congress and the courts, to mangle the Constitution through repeated abuses, attacks and evasions.

This is nothing new, as I’ve documented in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. However, with his recent speech on the National Security Agency—a heady cocktail of lies, obfuscations, contradictions and Orwellian doublespeak—Obama has also managed to pervert and propagandize our nation’s history, starting with Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty, likening their efforts to secure our freedoms to NSA phone surveillance. Frankly, George Orwell’s Winston Smith, rewriting news stories for Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth, couldn’t have done a better job of revising history to suit the party line.

While it didn’t bode well for what was to follow, here’s how Obama opened his speech:

At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the ‘The Sons of Liberty’ was established in Boston. And the group’s members included Paul Revere. At night, they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots. Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms.

Obama’s inference is clear: rather than condemning the NSA for encroaching on our privacy rights, we should be commending them for helping to “secure our country and our freedoms.” Never mind that the Sons of Liberty were actually working against the British government, to undermine what they perceived as a repressive regime guilty of perpetrating a host of abuses against the colonists.

After such a 1984-esque send-up, it doesn’t even really matter what else Obama had to say in his speech about NSA reforms and the like. Rest assured, it was largely a pack of lies. Mind you, Obama said it eloquently enough and interspersed it with all the appropriately glib patriotic remarks about individual freedom and the need to defend the Constitution and securing the life of our nation while preserving our liberties. After all, Obama has proven to be very good at saying one thing and doing another, whether it’s insisting that “you can keep your health care plan,” that he’ll close Guantanamo, or that his administration’s controversial drone strikes only target terrorists and not civilians.

When it comes to the NSA, Obama has been lying to the American people for quite some time now. There was the time he claimed the secret FISA court is “transparent.” Then he insisted that “we don’t have a domestic spying program.” And then, to top it all off, he actually insisted there was no evidence the NSA was “actually abusing” its power. As David Sirota writes for Salon: “it has now become almost silly to insinuate or assume that the president hasn’t also been lying. Why? Because if that’s true — if indeed he hasn’t been deliberately lying — then it means he has been dangerously, irresponsibly and negligently ignorant of not only the government he runs, but also of the news breaking around him.”

Sirota continues:

I, of course, don’t buy that at all. I don’t buy that a constitutional lawyer and legal scholar didn’t know that the FISA court is secret — aka the opposite of “transparent.” I don’t buy that he simply didn’t see any of the news showing that spying is happening in the United States. And I don’t buy that he didn’t know that there is evidence — both public and inside his own administration — of the NSA “actually abusing” its power.

I don’t buy any of that because, to say the least, it makes no sense. I just don’t buy that he’s so unaware of the world around him that he made such statements from a position of pure ignorance. On top of that, he has a motive. Yes, Obama has an obvious political interest in trying to hide as much of his administration’s potentially illegal behavior as possible, which means he has an incentive to calculatedly lie. For all of these reasons, it seems safe to suggest that when it comes to the NSA situation, the president seems to be lying.

So in terms of Obama’s latest speech on the NSA, if you read between the lines—or just ignore the president’s words and pay attention to his actions—it’s clear that nothing is going to change. The NSA will continue to abuse its power by spying on Americans’ phone calls and emails. They will continue to collect metadata on our various communications and activities. And they will continue to carry out their surveillance in secret, with no attempts at transparency or accountability.

The NSA will do so, no matter what Obama claims to the contrary, because this black ops-funded agency whose very existence is abhorrent to the Constitution has become a power unto itself. They no longer work for us or for the president, for that matter. He works for them.

Remember, Obama is the chief executive of a super secretive surveillance state whose overarching purpose is to remain in power by any means available. As such, he and his surveillance state cohorts have far more in common with King George and the British government of his day than with the American colonists who worked hard to foment a rebellion and overthrow a despotic regime.

Indeed, Obama and his speechwriters would do well to brush up on their history. In doing so, they will find that the Sons of Liberty, the “small, secret surveillance committee” they conveniently liken to the NSA, was in fact an underground, revolutionary movement that fought the established government of its day, whose members were considered agitators, traitors and terrorists not unlike Edward Snowden.

In much the same way that the U.S. government under the leadership of Barack Obama is today going after whistleblowers and activists who oppose their tactics, the British government went after the Sons of Liberty. These people were neither career politicians nor government bureaucrats. Instead, they were mechanics, merchants, artisans and the like—ordinary people groaning under the weight of Britain’s oppressive rule—who, having reached a breaking point, had decided that enough was enough. Through the use of Committees of Correspondence, they alerted the colonists to the abuses being meted out by the British crown by way of pamphlets, speeches and resolutions, inciting them to actively resist the acts of oppression, and conspiring with them to revolt.

The colonists’ treatment at the hands of the British was not much different from the abuses meted out to the American people today: they too were taxed on everything from food to labor without any real say in the matter, in addition to which they had their homes invaded, their property seized and searched, their families terrorized, their communications, associations and activities monitored, and their attempts to defend themselves and challenge the government’s abuses dismissed as belligerence, treachery, and sedition.

Unlike most Americans today, who remain ignorant of the government’s abuses, cheerfully distracted by the entertainment spectacles trotted out before them by a complicit media, readily persuaded that the government has their best interests at heart, and easily cowed by the slightest show of force, the colonists responded to the government’s abuses with outrage, activism and rebellion. They staged boycotts of British goods and organized public protests, mass meetings, parades, bonfires and other demonstrations, culminating with their most famous act of resistance, the Boston Tea Party.

On the night of December 16, 1773, a group of men dressed as Indians boarded three ships that were carrying tea. Cheered on by a crowd along the shore, they threw 342 chests of tea overboard in protest of a tax on the tea. Many American merchants were aghast at the wanton destruction of property. A town meeting in Bristol, Massachusetts, condemned the action. Ben Franklin even called on his native city to pay for the tea and apologize. But as historian Pauline Maier notes, the Boston Tea Party was a last resort for a group of people who had stated their peaceful demands but were rebuffed by the British: “The tea resistance constituted a model of justified forceful resistance upon traditional criteria.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Yet it’s a history we cannot afford to forget or allow to be rewritten. The colonists suffered under the weight of countless tyrannies before they finally were emboldened to stand their ground. They attempted to reason with the British crown, to plea their cause, even to negotiate. It was only when these means proved futile that they resorted to outright resistance, civil disobedience and eventually rebellion.

More than 200 years later, we are once again suffering under a long train of abuses and usurpations. What Americans today must decide is how committed they are to the cause of freedom and how far they’re willing to go to restore what has been lost. Nat Hentoff, one of my dearest friends and a formidable champion of the Constitution, has long advocated for the resurgence of Committees of Correspondence. As Nat noted:

This resistance to arrant tyranny first became part of our heritage when Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty formed the original Committees of Correspondence, a unifying source of news of British tyranny throughout the colonies that became a precipitating cause of the American Revolution. Where are the Sons of Liberty, the Committees of Correspondence and the insistently courageous city councils now, when they are crucially needed to bring back the Bill of Rights that protect every American against government tyranny worse than King George III’s? Where are the citizens demanding that these doorways to liberty be opened … What are we waiting for?

What are we waiting for, indeed? As Thomas Jefferson said, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

“[E]verywhere, “time is winding up,” in the words of one of our spirituals, “corruption in the land, people take a stand, time is winding up.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

We now live in a two-tiered system of governance. There are two sets of laws: one set for the government and its corporate allies, and another set for you and me.

The laws which apply to the majority of the population allow the government to do things like sending SWAT teams crashing through your door in the middle of the night, rectally probing you during a roadside stop, or listening in on your phone calls and reading all of your email messages, confiscating your property, or indefinitely detaining you in a military holding cell. These are the laws which are executed every single day against a population which has up until now been blissfully ignorant of the radical shift taking place in American government.

Then there are the laws constructed for the elite, which allow bankers who crash the economy to walk free. They’re the laws which allow police officers to avoid prosecution when they shoot unarmed citizens, strip search non-violent criminals, or taser pregnant women on the side of the road, or pepper spray peaceful protestors. These are the laws of the new age we are entering, an age of neo-feudalism, in which corporate-state rulers dominate the rest of us, where the elite create the laws which can result in a person being jailed for possessing a small amount of marijuana while bankers that launder money for drug cartels walk free. In other words, we have moved into an age where we are the slaves and they are the rulers.

Unfortunately, this two-tiered system of government has been a long time coming. As I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the march toward an imperial presidency, to congressional intransigence and impotence, to a corporate takeover of the mechanisms of government, and the division of America into haves and have nots has been building for years.

Thus we now find ourselves at a point where, for the first time in history, Congress is dominated by a majority of millionaires who are, on average, 14 times wealthier than the average American. Making matters worse, as the Center for Responsive Politics reports, “at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code,” our so-called representatives are completely out of touch with the daily struggles of most Americans–those who live from paycheck to paycheck and are caught in the exhausting struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis.

Indeed, although America is supposed to be a representative republic, these people– who earn six-figure salaries and inhabit a world exempt from parking tickets, where gym membership is free and health care is second-to-none, where you only have to work two, maybe three days a week and get 32 fully reimbursed road trips home a year, travel to foreign lands, discounts in Capitol Hill tax-free shops and restaurants, free reserved parking at Washington National Airport, free fresh-cut flowers from the Botanic Gardens, and free assistance in the preparation of income taxes–neither represent nor serve the American people. They have instead appointed themselves our masters.

While Congress should be America’s representative body, too many of its members bear little resemblance to those they have been elected to represent. As Dan Eggen reports for The Washington Post: “The new figures underscore a long-standing trend of wealth accumulation in Congress, which is populated overwhelmingly with millionaires and near-millionaires who often own multiple homes and other assets out of reach for most of the voters they represent.”

Many of our politicians live like kings. Chauffeured around in limousines, flying in private jets and eating gourmet meals, all paid for by the American taxpayer, they are far removed from those they are supposed to represent. Such a luxurious lifestyle makes it difficult to identify with the “little guy”–the roofers, plumbers and blue-collar workers who live from paycheck to paycheck and keep the country running with their hard-earned dollars and the sweat of their brows.

The unfortunate but simple fact is that the rich sit perched at the top of the government. As Joseph Stiglitz writes for Vanity Fair:

Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift–through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price–it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

Sadly, electoral politics have been so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that there is little chance, even for a well-meaning person, to affect any real change through Congress. Whether it be the Oval Office or the halls of Congress, the road to the ballot box is an expensive one, and only the wealthy, or those supported by the wealthy, are even able to get to the starting line.

Just consider the 2012 presidential election cycle. Both parties spent $1 billion each attempting to get their candidate elected to the presidency. This money came from rich donors and corporate sponsors, intent on getting their candidate in office. Once in office, these already privileged wealthy bureaucrats enter into a life of even greater privilege, unfortunately at the expense of the American taxpayer. It doesn’t even seem to matter whether they’re Democrats or Republicans–they all take full advantage of what one news report described as “a mountain of perks that most Fortune 500 companies couldn’t begin to rival.”

Even President Obama’s closest advisers are millionaires, including those on his 15-member cabinet. It is not unusual for some of them to own vacation homes, such as Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, who owns a “summer home worth more than a million dollars.

And then there are the lobbyists, the source of much corruption and exchanging of money in Washington. With an estimated 26 lobbyists per congressman, it should come as no surprise that once elected, even those with the best of intentions seem to find it hard to resist the lure of lobbyist dollars, of which there are plenty to go around.

This lobbying is in turn buoyed by a congressional lifestyle which demands that our representatives spend the majority of their time fund raising for campaigns, rather than responding to the needs of their constituents. In November 2012, the Democratic House leadership offered a model daily schedule to newly elected Democrats which suggests a ten-hour day, five hours of which are dominated by “call time” and “strategic outreach,” including fund raisers and correspondence with potential donors. Three or four hours are for actually doing the job they were elected to do, such as attending committee meetings, voting on legislation, and interacting with constituents.

When half of one’s time is devoted to asking for money from rich individuals and special interests, there is no way that he can respond to the problems which pervade the country. Even well-meaning Congressmen face a Catch-22 where they are pushed to fundraise to secure their seats, but then once in office, it is basically impossible for them to do their jobs. The full ramifications of this are laid out by Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC):

Any member who follows that schedule will be completely controlled by their staff, handed statements that their staff prepared, speaking from talking points they get emailed from leadership… It really does affect how members of Congress behave if the most important thing they think about is fundraising. You end up being nice to people that probably somebody needs to be questioning skeptically… You won’t ask tough questions in hearings that might displease potential contributors, won’t support amendments that might anger them, will tend to vote the way contributors want you to vote.

What we are faced with is a government by oligarchy–in other words, one that is of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Yet the Constitution’s Preamble states that it is “we the people” who are supposed to be running things. If our so-called “representative government” is to survive, we must first wrest control of our government from the wealthy elite who run it. That is a problem with no easy solutions, and voting is the least of what we should be doing.

“What they don’t want,” noted comedian George Carlin, is “a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests.”

A population of citizens capable of critical thinking? That’s a good place to start, and it’s a sure-fire way to jumpstart a revolution. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Wise men established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity should look up again at the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began.”

Inspiring words, but what do they really mean for those of us laboring under the weight of an overreaching, militarized, corrupt government that grows increasingly so with each passing day?

How can we change this state of affairs? The government is too big, too powerful, and its overlords too entrenched to willingly give up any of its power or wealth. The wisest option is to employ the tactics of past protest movements such as the Bonus Army, the Civil Rights Movement, and the 1960s anti-war movement, all of which used sleep-ins, sit-ins and marches to oppose government policies, counter injustice and bring about meaningful change.

For example, in May of 1932, more than 43,000 people, dubbed the Bonus Army—World War I veterans and their families—marched on Washington. Out of work, destitute and with families to feed, more than 10,000 veterans set up tent cities in the nation’s capital and refused to leave until the government agreed to pay the bonuses they had been promised as a reward for their services. The Senate voted against paying them immediately, but the protesters didn’t budge. Congress adjourned for the summer, and still the protesters remained encamped. Finally, on July 28, under orders from President Herbert Hoover, the military descended with tanks and cavalry, beating some protesters senseless and setting their makeshift camps on fire. Still, the protesters returned the following year, and eventually their efforts not only succeeded in securing payment of the bonuses but contributed to the passage of the G.I. Bill of Rights.

Similarly, the Civil Rights Movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to strike at the core of an unjust and discriminatory society. Likewise, while the 1960s anti-war movement began with a few thousand perceived radicals, it ended with hundreds of thousands of protesters, spanning all walks of life, demanding the end of American military aggression abroad.

What these movements had was a coherent message, the mass mobilization of a large cross section of American society, what Martin Luther King Jr. called a philosophy of “militant nonviolent resistance” and an eventual convergence on the nation’s seat of power—Washington, DC—the staging ground for the corporate coup, where the shady deals are cut, where lobbyists and politicians meet, and where corporate interests are considered above all else.

It is no coincidence that just prior to his assassination in April 1968, King was plotting “to build a shantytown in Washington, patterned after the bonus marches of the thirties, to dramatize how many people have to live in slums in our nation.”

King’s advice still rings true: “We need to put pressure on Congress to get things done. We will do this with First Amendment activity. If Congress is unresponsive, we’ll have to escalate in order to keep the issue alive and before it. This action may take on disruptive dimensions, but not violent in the sense of destroying life or property: it will be militant nonviolence.”

The balance of power that was once a hallmark of our republic no longer exists. James Madison’s warning that “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elected, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny” has, regrettably come to pass.

Clearly, it’s time for a mass movement dedicated to change through “militant nonviolence.” If not, the shadow of tyranny that now hangs over us will eventually destroy every last semblance of freedom.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,” Martin Luther King Jr. warned in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” “It must be demanded by the oppressed.” — John W. Whitehead

Declaring a federal ban on expressive activity on the U.S. Supreme Court plaza to be “repugnant” to the Constitution, a District of Columbia federal court has struck down a 60-year-old statute which broadly prohibits speech and expression in front of the United States Supreme Court.

The court’s ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute on behalf of Harold Hodge, a 46-year-old African-American man who was arrested in January 2011 while standing silently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building wearing a sign voicing his concerns about the government’s disparate treatment of African-Americans and Hispanics. In a ruling issued in Hodge v. Talkin, et al., District Court Judge Beryl L. Howell struck down a federal law that makes it unlawful to display any flag, banner or device designed to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement while on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court, declaring that the “the absolute prohibition on expressive activity [on the Supreme Court plaza] in the statute is unreasonable, substantially overbroad, and irreconcilable with the First Amendment.”

Judge Howell’s frank, no-holds-barred ruling affirming the Supreme Court plaza as a free speech zone throws a lifeline to the First Amendment at a time when government officials are doing their best to censor, silence and restrict free speech activities. There are a good many things that are repugnant to the Constitution right now—mass surveillance of Americans, roadside strip searches, forcible DNA extractions, SWAT team raids, civil commitments for criticizing the government, etc.—but this ruling at least sends a message that all is not lost as long as we still have some members of the judiciary who understand and abide by both the letter and the spirit of the rule of law, our U.S. Constitution.

The case began on January 28, 2011, Harold Hodge quietly and peacefully stood in the plaza area near the steps leading to the United States Supreme Court Building, wearing a 3’ X 2’ sign around his neck that proclaimed: “The U.S. Gov. Allows Police To Illegally Murder And Brutalize African Americans And Hispanic People.” The plaza is a place where the public is allowed to gather and converse and is in all relevant respects like a public square or park where citizens have traditionally met to express their views on matters of public interest. However, Hodge was approached by a police officer who informed him that he was violating the law and issued him three warnings to leave the plaza. Hodge refused, was handcuffed, placed under arrest for violating 40 U.S.C. § 6135, moved to a holding cell, and then was transported to U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters where he was booked and given a citation. The charge was dismissed in September 2011 after Hodge complied with an agreement to stay away from the Supreme Court building and grounds for six months.

In asking the U.S. District Court to declare 40 U.S.C. § 6135 unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in violation of the First Amendment, Rutherford Institute attorneys argued that absolute prohibition on speech and expression on the Supreme Court plaza is unreasonable and unnecessary to protect any legitimate governmental interest with respect to the Court or its proceedings. Affiliate attorney Jeffrey Light assisted The Rutherford Institute in securing the victory for Hodge.

“Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”—A senior intelligence official previously involved with the Utah Data Center

The recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers, with the complete blessing of the Obama administration, should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention over the past decade.

As I document in my new book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (available now at Amazon.com), what we are witnessing, in the so-called name of security and efficiency, is the creation of a new class system comprised of the watched (average Americans such as you and me) and the watchers (government bureaucrats, technicians and private corporations). What too many fail to realize, consumed as they are with partisan politics and blinded by their own political loyalties, is that the massive bureaucracies—now computerized—that administer governmental policy transcend which party occupies the White House.

This explains why the civil liberties abuses carried out by the Bush Administration have not been corrected by the Obama Administration. Rather, they have been expanded upon. Take, for instance, the warrantless wiretapping program conducted during the Bush years, which resulted in the NSA monitoring the private communications of millions of Americans—a program that continues unabated today, with help from private telecommunications companies such as AT&T. The program recorded 320 million phone calls a day when it first started. It is estimated that the NSA has intercepted 15 to 20 trillion communications of American citizens since 9/11.

To our misfortune, the Obama White House has proven to be even worse than the Bush White House when it comes to invading the privacy rights of Americans. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin notes, “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state. [Obama has] systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration.” Unfortunately, whereas those on the Left raised a hew and cry over the Bush administration’s constant encroachments on Americans’ privacy rights, it appears that the political leanings of those on the Left have held greater sway than their principles. Consequently, the Obama administration has faced much less criticism for its blatant efforts to reinforce the surveillance state.

Insisting that terrorists “will come after us if they can and the only thing that we have to deter this is good intelligence to understand that a plot has been hatched and to get there before they get to us,” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, is defending the NSA’s actions, as well as the secret court order requiring Verizon to turn over its phone records to government agents. It’s a tired, overused line that preys on Americans’ fear of another terrorist attack and offers phantom promises of security while ensuring neither safety nor greater freedom. Even the vague and unsupported claim put forth by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) that the NSA surveillance program “helped thwart ‘a significant case’ of terrorism in the United States ‘within the last few years’” fails to justify a program of this magnitude, which makes everyone a target and turns us all into a nation of suspects.

Clearly, the age of privacy in America is coming to a close. We have moved into a new paradigm in which surveillance technology which renders everyone a suspect is driving the bureaucratic ship that once was our democratic republic. It will not be long before no phone call, no email, no Tweet, no web search is safe from the prying eyes and ears of the government. People going about their daily business will no longer be assured that they are not being spied upon by federal agents and other government bureaucrats.

Thus, the question looms before us.  Can freedom in the United States continue to flourish and grow in an age when the physical movements, individual purchases, conversations, and meetings of every citizen are constantly under surveillance by private companies and government agencies?

Whether or not the surveillance is undertaken for so-called “worthy” (read: politically expedient) reasons such as preventing another terrorist attack, does not surveillance of all citizens gradually poison the soul of a nation and render us all data collected in government files? Does not such surveillance completely eviscerate our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as guaranteed by our Constitution?

For  more on this and other pressing issues relating to the emerging police state in America, read my new book  A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, available now at Amazon.com.– John W. Whitehead

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”—George Orwell,1984

Advanced technology now provides government agents and police officers with the ability to track our every move. The surveillance state is our new society. It is here, and it is spying on you, your family and your friends every day. Worse yet, those in control are using life’s little conveniences, namely cell phones, to do much of the spying. And worst of all, the corporations who produce these little conveniences are happy to hand your personal information over to the police so long as their profit margins increase. To put it simply, the corporate-surveillance state is in full effect, and there is nowhere to hide.

Using the data transferred from, received by, and stored in your cell phone, police are now able to track your every move. Your texts, web browsing, and geographic location are all up for grabs. Using “stingray” devices, often housed in mobile surveillance vans, federal agents track the cell phones of unsuspecting people. By triangulating the source of a cell phone signal, agents are able to track down the whereabouts of the person holding it. Just recently, the Washington Post reported that federal investigators in Northern California routinely used StingRays “to scoop up data from cellphones and other wireless devices in an effort to track criminal suspects — but failed to detail the practice to judges authorizing the probes.”

The issues, judges and activists say, are twofold: whether federal agents are informing courts when seeking permission to monitor suspects, and whether they are providing enough evidence to justify the use of a tool that sweeps up data not only from a suspect’s wireless device but also from those of bystanders in the vicinity…

The Justice Department has generally maintained that a warrant based on probable cause is not needed to use a “cell-site simulator” because the government is not employing them to intercept conversations, former officials said. But some judges around the country have disagreed and have insisted investigators first obtain a warrant…

Chris Soghoian, the ACLU’s principal technologist, said cell-site simulators are being used by local, state and federal authorities. “No matter how the StingRay is used — to identify, locate or intercept — they always send signals through the walls of homes,” which should trigger a warrant requirement, Soghoian said. “The signals always penetrate a space protected by the Fourth Amendment.”

These surveillance sweeps target all cell phone signals, not just those of criminal suspects. Examples of extralegal police surveillance in the years since 9/11 are numerous, from the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program to the NYPD’s spy network that targeted Muslims in the New York area.

Unfortunately, the now widespread tactic of spying on people via their cell phones resides in a legal grey area, which has allowed police agencies to take drastic steps to record the daily activity of all Americans. Whereas cell phone tracking once fell only in the purview of federal agents, local police departments, big and small, are beginning to engage in cell phone tracking with little to no oversight. Small police agencies are shelling out upwards of $244,000 to get the technology necessary to track cell phones. And as you might expect, most police departments have attempted to keep knowledge of their cell phone tracking programs secret, fearing (as they should) a public backlash.

Federal courts are divided on the issue, some saying that a warrant is necessary before executing a cell phone search. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently ruled that tracking the location of a cell phone without a warrant is legal and, thus, not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This lack of concern for the Fourth Amendment—which requires reasonable suspicion that you’re up to something illegal before the police conduct surveillance on you—is widely shared among the federal and state courts. In fact, courts issue tens of thousands of cell tracking orders a year, allowing police agencies to accurately pinpoint people’s locations within meters. Unless they’re charged with a crime, most people remain unaware that their cell data has been tracked.

Although government agencies are increasingly acquiring the technology to track cell phones themselves, most rely on cell phone companies to provide them with the user data. In July 2012, it was revealed that cell phone carriers had responded to an astonishing 1.3 million requests from police agencies for personal information taken from people’s cell phones. One of the larger carriers, AT&T, responds to roughly 700 requests a day, 230 of which are so-called “emergencies,” exempting them from standard court orders. This number has tripled since 2007. A relatively small carrier, C Spire Wireless, said that it received 12,500 requests in 2011. Sprint received the most requests, averaging 1,500 per day. The number of requests is almost certainly higher than 1.3 million, and the number of people affected much higher, because a single request often involves targeting multiple people.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the telecommunications companies which produce cell phone technology are more than happy to comply with government requests for personal information. They even make a handsome profit from selling the details of your private life to the government. Indeed, cell phone carriers are making a killing charging police agencies “surveillance fees”—from a few hundred to a few thousands dollars per request—to share information on a person’s location and activities. AT&T collected $8.3 million in 2011 for their surveillance activities, up from $2.8 million in 2007.

Telecommunications providers have also come up with price lists for easy reference for police agencies. For example, “Sprint charged $120 per target number for ‘Pictures and Video,’ $60 for ‘E-Mail,’ $60 for ‘Voicemail,’ and $30 for ‘SMS Content.’” Sprint actually has 110 employees who work solely on responding to information requests from the government. And government agents need not worry about maximizing resources by seeking only high priority targets. One agent can track 200 or 300 people at a time.

On the rare occasion that a telecom corporation resists a police effort to spy on a particular cell phone customer, there are methods by which companies are coerced to comply with the data requests. Telecoms are frequently harassed by the FBI with National Security Letters (NSL), which are demands for user information without warrant or judicial oversight. These include a gag order, which prevents the recipient from discussing the demand with others, including the media. Roughly 300,000 of these NSLs have been sent out since 2000, implying a massive spying effort on the part of the federal government. One telecom is currently in a battle with the federal government over an NSL demanding user data. The telecom refused to abide by the NSL, and in response the federal government has sued the telecom, insisting that their refusal jeopardizes national security. The end logic of this is that our private data is actually not private. The federal government claims that knowing our personal information is critical to preserving national security, and thus neither telecoms nor users may resist the sharing of that information.

Of course, corporations are just as interested in tracking people’s daily activities as the government. Cell phone companies and the software companies that create applications for their devices track your personal information so that they can market their services to you. Unfortunately, this leads to mass aggregation of user data which is then used by government agents to spy on and track all cell phone users. For example, Carrier IQ, a software company, and cell phone manufacturers HTC and Samsung are currently in the midst of a class-action lawsuit brought by Android phone users whose phone activities are recorded by a “rootkit,” a piece of software surreptitiously installed on cell phones that records the keystrokes of phone users. The FBI denied a December 2011 FOIA request to determine how the government was utilizing Carrier IQ’s software, as it could have an adverse impact on ongoing investigations. The agency’s refusal suggests that not only is Carrier IQ spying on cell phone users for their corporate purposes, but that federal agents are utilizing the software to conduct their own spying campaigns.

Unfortunately, with intelligence gathering and surveillance doing booming business, and corporations rolling out technologies capable of filtering through vast reams of data, tapping into underseas communication cables, and blocking websites for entire countries, life as we know it will only get worse. As journalist Pratap Chatterjee has noted, “[T]hese tools have the potential to make computer cables as dangerous as police batons.” Telecoms hold on to user data, including text messages and Internet browsing history, for months to years at a time. This, of course, has some ominous implications. For example, British researchers have created an algorithm that accurately predicts someone’s future whereabouts at a certain time based upon where she and her friends have been in the past.

So where does this leave us? As George Orwell warned, you have to live with the assumption that everything you do, say and see is being tracked by those who run the corporate surveillance state.

Random, suspicionless lockdown raids against children teach our children a horrific lesson—one that goes against every fundamental principle this country was founded upon—that we have no rights at all against the police state. Americans should be outraged over the fact that school officials are not only defending such clearly unconstitutional practices but are actually going so far as to insist that these raids are a “standard drill” that will continue. Making matters worse, the courts are actually affirming this dangerous mindset.

For example, in a ruling issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Burlison vSpringfield Public Schools, the court deemed a Missouri school district’s policy of imposing a “lockdown” of the school for the purpose of allowing the local sheriff’s department, aided by drug-sniffing dogs, to perform mass inspections of students’ belongings to be a “reasonable procedure to maintain the safety and security of students at the school,” and not a violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of students.

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had challenged the school district’s practice of conducting random lockdowns and mass searches of students. Institute attorneys had asked the appeals court to reverse a federal district court’s January 2012 ruling that Springfield Public Schools and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of students when they executed the April 2010 lockdown at Central High School.

On April 22, 2010, the principal of Central High School announced over the public address system that the school was going into “lockdown” and that students were prohibited from leaving their classrooms. School officials and agents of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department thereafter ordered students to leave all personal belongings behind and exit the classrooms. Dogs were also brought in to assist in the raid. Upon re-entering the classrooms, students allegedly discovered that their belongings had been rummaged through. Mellony and Doug Burlison, who had two children attending Central High School, complained to school officials that the lockdown and search were a violation of their children’s rights. School officials allegedly responded by insisting that the search was a “standard drill” and policy of the school district which would continue.

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute sued the school district in September 2010 on behalf of the Burlisons and their two children, asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to declare that the practice of effecting a lockdown of the school and conducting random, suspicionless seizures and searches violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the similar provision of the Missouri Constitution. In its January 2012 decision, the district court declared that the random lockdown and mass searches did not violate students’ rights. In its ruling issued March 4, 2013, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, holding that the school’s interest in combatting drug use outweighed the privacy rights of students.

More info on Burlison vSpringfield Public Schools at The Rutherford Institute’s website.

“The unspoken power dynamics in a police/civilian encounter will generally favor the police, unless the civilian is a local sports hero, the mayor, or a giant who is impervious to bullets.”—Journalist Justin Peters

From time to time throughout history, individuals have been subjected to charges (and eventual punishment) by accusers whose testimony was treated as infallible and inerrant. Once again, we find ourselves repeating history, only this time, it’s the police whose testimony is too often considered beyond reproach and whose accusations have the power to render one’s life over.

In the police state being erected around us, the police can probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts. Making matters worse, however, police dogs—cute, furry, tail-wagging mascots with a badge—have now been elevated to the ranks of inerrant, infallible sanctimonious accusers with the power of the state behind them. This is largely due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Florida v. Harris, in which a unanimous Court declared roadside stops to be Constitution-free zones where police may search our vehicles based upon a hunch and the presence of a frisky canine.

This is what one would call a slow death by a thousand cuts, only it’s the Fourth Amendment being inexorably bled to death. This latest wound, in which a unanimous Supreme Court determined that police officers may use drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless searches of cars during routine traffic stops, comes on the heels of recent decisions by the Court that give police the green light to taser defenseless motorists, strip search non-violent suspects arrested for minor incidents, and break down people’s front doors without evidence that they have done anything wrong.

These are the hallmarks of the emerging American police state, where police officers, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace, are part of an elite ruling class dependent on keeping the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens. Whether it’s police officers breaking through people’s front doors and shooting them dead in their homes or strip searching innocent motorists on the side of the road, in a police state such as ours, these instances of abuse are not condemned by the government. Rather, they are continually validated by a judicial system that kowtows to every police demand, no matter how unjust, no matter how in opposition to the Constitution.

The justices of the United States Supreme Court through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency have become the architects of the American police state.

The justices of the United States Supreme Court through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency have become the architects of the American police state.

In Florida v. Harris, for example, the Court was presented with the case of Clayton Harris who, in 2006, was pulled over by Officer William Wheetley for having an expired license tag. During the stop, Wheetley decided that Harris was acting suspicious and requested to search his vehicle. Harris refused, so Wheetley brought out his drug-sniffing dog, Aldo, to walk around Harris’ car. Aldo allegedly alerted to the door handle of Harris’ car, leading Wheetley to search the vehicle.

Although the search of Harris’ car did not turn up any of the drugs which Aldo was actually trained to detect, such as marijuana, Wheetley found pseudophedrine, a common ingredient in cold medicine, and other materials allegedly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Harris was arrested and released on bail, during which time he was again stopped by Officer Wheetley and again subjected to a warrantless search of his vehicle based upon Aldo’s alert, but this time Wheetley found nothing.

Harris challenged the search, arguing that the police had not provided sufficient evidence that Aldo was a reliable drug-sniffing dog, thus his supposed alert on Harris’ door did not give the officer probable cause to search the vehicle. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, ruling that police should be able to prove that the dog actually has a track record of finding drugs while in the field before it is used as an excuse for a warrantless search.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court did not see it that way. In reversing the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with police by claiming that all that the police need to do to prove probable cause for a search is simply assert that a drug detection dog has received proper training. As such, the Court has now given the police free reign to use dogs as “search warrants on leashes,” justifying any and all police searches of vehicles stopped on the roadside. The ruling turns man’s best friend into an extension of the police state.

The Supreme Court’s decision is particularly alarming when one considers that drug sniffing dogs, even expertly trained dogs with reliable handlers, are rarely accurate. One study demonstrated that dogs were incorrect in drug identification up to 60% of the time. A 2011 study published in Animal Cognition involved a series of tests, some designed to fool the dog and some designed to fool the handler. The dogs in these tests falsely alerted 123 out of a total of 144 times. When a test was designed to fool the handler rather than the dog, the dog was twice as likely to falsely alert.

As the Animal Cognition study shows, dogs are heavily influenced by the behavior and biases of their handlers. If an officer thinks he is likely to find something, whether due to personal bias or because he finds the suspect suspicious, he often cues his dog—consciously or unconsciously—to alert on the area to be searched.

The Supreme Court has now given the police free reign to use dogs as “search warrants on leashes,” justifying any and all police searches of vehicles stopped on the roadside. The Court’s ruling in Florida v. Harris turns man’s best friend into an extension of the police state.

Despite being presented with numerous reports documenting flaws in the use of drug-detection dogs, the U.S. Supreme Court opted to ignore plentiful evidence that drug dog alerts are specious at best. Moreover, the justices also chose to interpret Aldo’s failure to detect any of the drugs he was trained to find during the two sniff searches around Harris’ car as proof of Aldo’s superior sniffing skills rather than glaring proof that drug-sniffing dogs do make mistakes. Incredibly, the Court suggested that the dog alert was due to Aldo having smelled an odor that was transferred to the car door after the defendant used methamphetamine—a supposition that is nearly impossible to prove.

Law enforcement officials have come up with a slew of clever excuses to “explain” the not uncommon phenomenon of dogs that alert but fail to uncover drugs. For example, in 2008, U.S. border patrol agent Christopher Jbara claimed that a dog alerted to a car containing no drugs because the car’s window “had been washed by a window washer on the street… and the water used to clean it could have been contaminated with bong water.” The real reason may be that the odors which dogs are trained to detect are simply chemical compositions found in a number of common products. For example, to a dog, perfume may smell like cocaine, glue may smell like heroin, and mosquito repellant may smell like the drug ecstasy.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision is merely the latest in a long line of abuses justified by an institution concerned more with establishing order and protecting government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution. For example, in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Kentucky v. King that police may smash down doors of homes or apartments without a warrant when in search of illegal drugs which they suspect might be destroyed.  Despite the fact that police busted in on the wrong suspect in the wrong apartment, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, saying that police had acted lawfully and that was all that mattered.

In April 2012, a divided Supreme Court ruled in Florence v. Burlington that any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, regardless of the severity of his or her offense (i.e., they can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense), can be subjected to a strip search by police or jail officials, which involves exposing the genitals and the buttocks.

This “license to probe” is being extended to roadside stops, as police officers throughout the country have begun performing roadside strip searches without any evidence of wrongdoing and without a warrant. For example, Angel Dobbs and her niece, who were pulled over by a Texas state trooper on July 13, 2012, allegedly for flicking cigarette butts out of the car window, were subjected to roadside cavity searches of their anus and vagina. The officer claimed to be searching for marijuana. No marijuana was found.

With case after case stacking up in which the courts empower the police to run roughshod over citizens’ rights, the Constitution be damned, the outlook is decidedly grim. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court still has to rule on another drug-sniffing, dog-related case, Florida v. Jardines, which challenges warrantless searches of individuals’ homes based on questionable dog alerts. For those hoping that our rights will be restored or at least protected, you could have a long wait.

Indeed, the next decision from the Supreme Court might just take the Fourth Amendment down for the count. — John W. Whitehead

Talk about freedom going to the dogs…

In a 9-0 decision in Florida v. Harris, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that police may use drug-sniffing dogs to carry out warrantless searches during routine traffic stops, despite the fact that published scientific studies show that drug dog alerts are wrong as much as 56% of the time, and are heavily influenced by the biases of the dog’s handler.

This ruling undercuts the entire basis of the Fourth Amendment, which was designed to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures. When dog sniffs, which have proven to be unreliable, are considered probable cause for police to search your property without a warrant—whether it’s your home, your car or your person—then none of our rights are secure.

As CBS News points out, “The irony in this case, Florida v. Harris, is that the trained narcotics dog (named Aldo) did not find the drugs he was trained to find when he prompted an officer to search Clayton Harris’ truck.”

The case began in June 2006, when a Florida county sheriff stopped a vehicle driven by Clayton Harris for an expired license tag. When Harris refused the sheriff’s request for consent to search his vehicle, a drug-detection dog was deployed and conducted a “free air sniff” of the exterior of the vehicle. When the dog alerted to the door handle on the driver’s side, the officer conducted a warrantless search of the interior of the vehicle. Although the search didn’t turn up anything the dog was trained to find, the officer reportedly found pseudoephedrine and materials used for making methamphetamine.

Harris was arrested and charged.

Two months later, Harris was once again pulled over in his vehicle by the same police officer and drug-sniffing dog. Once again the dog “alerted,” and once again the search failed to turn up anything for which the dog was trained to find. Only this time, nothing of interest was found whatsoever.

In court, Harris’ attorneys moved to suppress the evidence found as a result of the search of his vehicle, asserting that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. The Florida Supreme Court granted the motion on appeal, however, ruling that the state’s claim that the dog was trained and certified to detect narcotics, standing alone, is not sufficient to establish the dog’s reliability for purposes of determining probable cause. The court held that the state has the burden of showing the officer had a reasonable basis for believing the dog was reliable by presenting evidence on matters such as training field performance records.

In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the lower court’s ruling, The Rutherford Institute documented empirical research showing dog alerts are not inherently reliable. One recent study at the University of California—Davis, showed that in a test where handlers were told drugs might be found at the test site, but no drugs were present, dogs gave false positive alerts an astonishing 85% of the time. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on a related case, Florida v. Jardines, which challenges the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police to carry out warrantless searches of private homes. The Rutherford Institute also filed an amicus brief in Florida v. Jardines. — John W. Whitehead