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November 21, 2003 - 8:14 p.m.

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Here are two stories I found reported separately on Yahoo news. They are much more enlightening when read together.

The first involves the expansion of the Patriot Act, which increases the Big Brother power of the executive branch of government. The expansion allows the F.B.I. to seize records about anyone, for any or no reason, from any source. Normally, law enforcement is required to get subpoenas through courts to seize such information, to prevent law enforcement from abusing their powers. The law is purportedly limited to counter-terrorism investigations. But who gets to decide what a counter-terrorism investigation? The F.B.I., without any oversight. (And, in fact, there is already evidence that the F.B.I. routinely uses existing counter-terrorism laws in cases that have nothing to do with terrorism.) When the F.B.I. is given the exclusive right to regulate its own power, that means it has unregulated power. Also, the law purportedly limits the F.B.I. from gathering information from sources "high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters." Who gets to decide whether the source fits that definition? Again, the F.B.I. Do you get to appeal any F.B.I. decisions to an independent source? No, because the law also forbids the businesses whose records about you are seized from telling you. You won't even know it's happened.

Why can't we trust the F.B.I. to use its power wisely? Well let's look at the second story.

The National Academy of Sciences has determined that many of the F.B.I.'s current methods of bullet-matching to be imprecise and flawed. One of the specific methods found imprecise is called data chaining. In short, if bullet A matches bullet B, and bullet B matches bullet C, then bullet A must match bullet C. All sounds very logical, until you understand that the word "match" is not a precise term. "Match" doesn't mean an exact, 100% match between two data; match means that they are close enough to call the same thing. So really if A is sorta like B, and B is sorta like C, then A and C are a match. Not terribly precise- and you don't need to be a scientist to realize it. You just need your common sense.

And it's nothing new to F.B.I. scientists that data chaining is that imprecise. They use is because they may not have a means of analysis as cheap but more precise. All the National Academy of Sciences has done has taken the technique that common sense tells you is imprecise and provided evidence of exactly how imprecise it is.

But the fact that the F.B.I. has used bad science isn't in itself sinister. What is sinister is the justification. To quote from the Yahoo article, one of the F.B.I.'s expert witnesses (the people the F.B.I. sends to court to explain the scientific evidence) says: "I'm a fan of chaining. If we had great precision, really good precision ... and we didn't do something like chaining, or something like that, nothing would ever match." Read that carefully. He is saying that it is alright to invent evidence in a criminal case when the F.B.I. doesn't have truthful evidence to present. From his perspective, the F.B.I.'s job is to win and put people in jail, not to find justice, and the F.B.I. feels justified in lying to pursue that goal.

You cannot trust your government, or any branch of it. That is not idle paranoia. It is the driving principle of the Constitution. It's why power was split up between three branches rather than concentrated in one, and it's why checks and balances were established between those branches. It's why the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures by the executive. It's why we fought the American Revolution in the first place- to escape the oppression by the a monarchy that had complete authority and was not subject to checks and balances. The list of grievances against the King of England, set forth in the Declaration of Independence, includes that King's interference with the judiciary and usurping the power of the judiciary, the King's military being above civil law, and the King's taking of the colonists' stuff. The whole reason that any American child has learned American history in school is so that they can recognize a dangerous seizure of power, like the Patriot Act, and take action against it (and that action: telling your Congresspersons that you are opposed to the Patriot Act, and either they can oppose it or lose their seats in Congress to someone who will). If you just ignore this, or let it pass as not too harmful, or maybe not affecting you immediately, then you are an accessory to the tyranny that is passing right before our eyes.

This really is serious, so I hope you're paying attention and doing something about it.

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