John Kerry: Civil Libertarian

Flying from a conference in Chicago back home to San Jose, California yesterday was a good opportunity to catch up on some reading. So, I read the October print edition of Reason cover-to-cover that had been sitting on my desk at home untouched for several weeks. By now, they have the October online edition up (they always delay the free online edition, for obvious reasons).

I’d bet that the article titled John Kerry’s Dark Record on Civil Liberties would be a little bit of a surprise to a lot of people. Most people tend to think of liberal 60s hippie war protesters as pretty “solid” in terms of civil liberties, but that’s only because they don’t stop to think about it very much. When you stop to think about it, you realize they’re statist collectivists, and so civil liberties is absolutely the farthest thing from their mind.

So, they should not be at all surprised to learn that:

This isn’t the first time Kerry and Ashcroft have been at odds over civil liberties. In the 1990s, government proposals to restrict encryption inspired a national debate. Then as now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and electronic privacy groups locked horns with the DOJ and law enforcement agencies. Then as now, Kerry and Ashcroft were on opposite sides.

And in what now seems like a bizarre parallel universe, it was John Kerry who was on the side of the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the DOJ.

And Ashcroft argued with the ACLU, on the side of individual privacy.

said then-Sen. Ashcroft in a 1997 speech to the Computer and Communications Industry Association. “While we need to revise our laws to reflect the digital age, one thing that does not need revision is the Fourth Amendment….Now, more than ever, we must protect citizens’ privacy from the excesses of an arrogant, overly powerful government.”

But John Kerry would have none of this. He had just written The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America’s Security, a book about the threat of transnational criminal organizations, and he was singing a different tune on civil liberties. Responding directly to a column in Wired on encryption that said “trusting the government with your privacy is like having a Peeping Tom install your window blinds,” Kerry invoked the Americans killed in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. “[O]ne would be hard-pressed,” he wrote, “to find a single grieving relative of those killed in the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York or the federal building in Oklahoma City who would not have gladly sacrificed a measure of personal privacy if it could have saved a loved one.”

So, it’s the old safety for freedom and rights exchange. Then, we come to asset forfeiture, where local, state and the federal government can seize, sell and pocket the proceeds from your assets, such as your house or car, even if only peripherally involved in “illegal” drug activities, and even if you had no knowledge of the activities and had acted in complete good faith:

In the mid-1990s, a bipartisan movement arose to reform the forfeiture laws, with conservative Republican Reps. Henry Hyde of Illinois and Bob Barr of Georgia joining with such liberal Democrats as Reps. John Conyers of Michigan and Barney Frank of Massachusetts. They wanted to increase the burden of proof on the government when it seized property. As with encryption, there was stiff opposition to reform from Janet Reno’s Justice Department.

What was Kerry’s position? He thought U.S. asset forfeiture laws were working so well that he wanted to export them. “We absolutely must push for asset forfeiture laws all over the planet,” Kerry wrote in The New War. “In the words of one plainspoken lawman, ‘Get their ass and get their assets.’” There was, tellingly, no discussion at all of civil liberties issues.

Kerry added that we can’t reasonably expect another country “to assist us in our struggle with crime if it does not see direct benefit for itself, especially if it is among the countries with highly limited funds for law enforcement.” It didn’t seem to occur to Kerry that, without safeguards, countries “with highly limited funds” might go after the assets of innocent people or third parties with only a tangential relationship to the criminal.

And, when it comes to your personal affairs, Kerry does not think you should have any privacy there, either:

he wrote in The New War. “But too many bankers pretend they are doing all they can to know what money crosses their threshold and pretend they are not as key as they are to law-enforcement efforts.”

Kerry then expressed his belief that bank customers are entitled to essentially zero privacy. “The technology is already available to monitor all electronic money transfers,” he wrote (emphasis added). “We need the will to make sure it is put in place.”

Kerry continues to support intrusive efforts to stamp out money laundering. His campaign statement points out that Kerry “authored most of the money laundering provisions” in PATRIOT. Those provisions were largely based on an old money laundering bill that Kerry had introduced and which was opposed by economic conservatives and the ACLU.

The money laundering provisions, which became Title III of the PATRIOT Act, are some of the most privacy-threatening aspects of the bill. (See “Show Us Your Money,” November 2003.) They go beyond the “Know Your Customer” rules of the late 1990s, bringing real estate brokers, travel agents, auto dealers, and various other businesses under the rubric of “financial institutions” that must monitor their customers and file “suspicious activity reports” on deviations from customers’ normal patterns.

It was the Title III money-laundering provisions that the FBI used in the much-criticized Operation G-String, an investigation of a strip club owner in Las Vegas accused of bribing local officials. The case had nothing to do with terrorism. Kerry — whose provisions allowed it to happen — has not cited this operation as one of Ashcroft’s abuses, even though other Democrats have.

Conventional wisdom has long offered that the left will steal your money to support and further the values they profess, like creating social programs (which are really more about parasitic, no-value, full-employment schemes for them and their cronies, but I digress), but will otherwise let you live in peace and harmony with your fellows. Yea, right.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Follow by Email8k