A recent student article recommended the supposed fact-checking website Snopes. Before you believe everything Snopes tells you, here are some things you ought to know:
And Snopes is one of the organizations Facebook uses to sniff out fake news? Wow.
Like George Orwell said, ‘everybody is lying to you.’
The UC-Davis student senate is removing the American flag from its meetings because “the concept of United States of America and patriotism is different for every individual.” This is a not-so-subtle invitation to believe that the foundational and commonly understood idea of America isn’t important anymore.
Don’t be a dope. Before you let them march you off a cliff, ask some hard questions first:
The people who want you to forget America’s founding principles are up to no good. Don’t be a robot. Think for yourself.
Trump’s Department of Homeland Security made a bad mistake this past week. It demanded that Twitter reveal the identity of the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service employee who has been sending out tweets criticizing Trump’s immigration policies. Twitter filed suit on Thursday to block the demand which the government withdrew the very next day, Friday. Going after a critic’s free speech rights, wow – what were they thinking?
This is not a small matter. There are 22 million public employees in the country. A number of Twitter accounts critical of Trump have sprung up that appear to be run by employees or former employees of the National Park Service, the Labor Department and other agencies.
The Supreme Court has held that government employees generally have free speech rights if they are expressing themselves as citizens on matters of public concern. That was decided in 1968 in a case called Pickering v. Board of Education. The government employee in that case was a high school teacher who got fired for writing a letter to the newspaper criticizing the local school board. That kind of speech is protected, the Court ruled, but the Court later carved out an exception for government employees speaking in the course of their duties. This is the scope of employment exception, but it does not apply to the accounts on Twitter. So it’s pretty clear those employees have free speech rights as citizens and the government can’t shut them up.
A couple of other things about this situation are interesting. First, Twitter argued in its court filing that political speech is more important than other kinds of speech. That theory comes from a 1948 book Free Speech and its Relation to Self-Government by Alexander Meiklejohn. The theory sounds good, but I worry that elevating political speech can be used as an excuse to minimize the importance of other types of speech, like commercial speech. It could lead to the government being able to quash advertising more easily just because it’s not political speech. That doesn’t sound so great to me.
The other interesting thing is that the ACLU was all set to defend the Twitter user had the case gone forward. This puts the ACLU on the side of the angels in this matter. Isn’t the ACLU part of the fringe Progressive Left? Yes, but it’s also true that Ken Cuccinelli, former Attorney General of Virginia who is a well-respected conservative figure, worked with the ACLU to promote civil liberties issues in Virginia a few years ago. The thing about civil liberties is that they are what political scientists call ‘cross-cutting cleavages’. You’ll find support for free speech and other civil liberties all across the political spectrum. That makes for strange political bedfellows, sometimes, as people on the Left and Right join forces to defend the Bill of Rights. Like the time Tea Party Patriots teamed up with the ACLU to fight unlawful data collection by the government. As Tea Party Patriots said at the time, we have our differences with the ACLU, but there are some issues everyone can agree on.
Here’s how high schoolers in Kansas used their First Amendment freedom to force their principal to resign. Something didn’t smell right to them and they started digging….
Story at Kansas City Star
We have a precious right, protected by the Fourth Amendment, to be secure in our “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” If the police want to search our stuff, they have to get a warrant based on probable cause first, in most instances.
But the right is not absolute. There are exceptions – consent searches, motor vehicle searches, and exigent circumstances, to name a few. Border searches are also an exception, which brings us to the case of a Turkish man, Hamza Kolsuz, who was stopped at Dulles International Airport before boarding a plane to Turkey. His luggage was found to contain handgun barrels and other weapons parts. Kolsuz was already known to Homeland security from a previous arms smuggling incident.
He was convicted on three counts, including conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act, but has appealed on Fourth Amendment grounds that his cellphone was unlawfully searched. Border agents searched his text messages and call logs at the airport. After Kolsuz was arrested, a month-long forensic search of the phone went into his browser history, photos, emails, and GPS coordinates of where he had been – all without a warrant. The information ran to almost 900 pages.
Ironically, the Fourth Amendment came about because of abuses by border agents. English customs agents in colonial America were given general search warrants called ‘writs of assistance’ empowering them to search for smuggled goods anytime, anyplace, without probable cause. These writs were permanent – they did not expire – and were even transferrable to anyone the agent chose. Abuses of these writs angered Americans and inspired the Fourth Amendment.
Back to Kolsuz: his appeal may turn on whether this is deemed to be a continuing border search – fitting within an established exception to the Fourth Amendment – or a search incident to arrest – which would have required a court to issue a warrant based on probable cause. Not an easy call. The facts seem to cut against the government – remember, the forensic search took place after Kolsuz was arrested. Also, there is a 2014 Supreme Court decision (Riley v. California) generally requiring a warrant to search a cellphone taken from someone incident to arrest not at the border. On the other hand, no court has ever required a warrant for a border search of a cellphone and the government has a strong interest in preventing the movement of certain materials across the border.
Border agents conducted almost 24,000 warrantless searches of electronic devices last year, five times as many as the year before. Privacy advocates including the ACLU and the Muslim Brotherhood front group CAIR argue that the treasure trove of information devices contain make cellphone searches fundamentally different from vehicle or luggage searches. I’m not sure I buy that. You can put a whole lot more than 900 pages of conspiracy information in a vehicle or a suitcase. I don’t know what’s magic about cellphones in that regard. But certainly the situation is ripe for more guidance from the courts as to what the Fourth Amendment means in the digital age. The Kolsuz case is on appeal to the 4th Circuit and the government’s brief is expected April 24th.