By Dan Gifford
First published in Firing Line magazine
It's a scenario the late Rod Serling could have written.
Imagine, if you will, a world so thick with laws that ordinary
people routinely break statutes they do not know exist as the book
"Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent" attests.
Imagine further, a world in which your every utterance is recorded sans a warrant, analyzed for indications you have either broken or plan to break some law and that that information is then used to arrest or coerce you into becoming an informer against your closest friends in exchange for prosecution immunity.
Imagine still further, a world in which ideologically driven police
officials, district attorneys and attorney generals eschew their
respective powers of enforcement and prosecutorial discretion for the sake of their political fetishes. In that world, "good cop" officers are turned into tools of the state against honest citizens when sent to serve warrants that are too often obtained by partial truths or outright lies to a judge.
Kahn and Wiener
That world was conjecture when I interviewed Hudson Institute futurists Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener and (the main model for the fictional Dr. Strangelove) in 1968. They imagined and predicted the electronic surveillance world just described in their 400 page book, "The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty Years," as a good thing that would allow authorities to discover the malcontents who were "putting sand in the gears of society."
Well, imagination is no longer necessary. That world is here in the form of TVs, cell phones, appliances and locations with eyes and ears like bus stops, lamp posts, parking lots or one's own car. That's not paranoia. "The walls have ears" is no longer simply an idiom, notes Applied Materials marketing chief Mike Rosa, it is often literally true.
* The FBI has trolled public and private spaces with planted listening bugs for years sans a judge's approval in hopes of overhearing something illegal. Agents did, however, get a thumbs up from the San Mateo, California sheriff in one exposed case.
* Reuters found the National Security Administration (NSA) and a secret U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration branch have been collecting information outside of their jurisdictions from “intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records” and then illegally handing that data to local police to "help them launch criminal investigations of Americans." Those local authorities must then lie to judges about the true source of their illegally gotten probable cause information to obtain search warrants.
* Shopping Centers in California owned by the Irvine Company, among others, are spying on customers for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contractor. The company uses automated license plate readers (ALPRs) from Vigilant Solutions. The information, including the plate number, time and GPS location, is sent in real time to ICE where computers cross reference it in police data bases. When a plate of interest is spotted, ICE either acts on the information or shares it with other federal and local police who must then lie to a judge about the true source of their probable cause information for arrests and warrants.
* "Are smart phones listening and targeting us with ads?" asks a CBS
story. The answer is yes. Way too many people report receiving online ads for things they mentioned in private conversation but never searched for online. "They [search engines and sites] know a tremendous amount about you and that enables them to make guesses about what to advertise to you that can be uncannily accurate," says former Facebook operations manager Sandy Parakilas.
The "guess" part of what Parakilas said is thin baloney. They're listening. And "they" can even include sex toys as the maker of the internet connected We-Vibe 4 Plus admitted.
It sends intimate information back to designers for “market research.”
But the problem isn't that what one says or where one travels or who one associates with or what TV shows are watched, etc is used to make logical deductions to target advertising. It is that one's words and activity can be used to make deductions about possible law breakage. And there's where the Big Brother horror really gets dicey. That sort of information is known to have been given to police agencies with flags about possible crimes that people have committed or are planning to commit inferred from what one said or did or implied from their profile.
As I write this, the Boston Globe reports it has found Transportation
Safety Administration (TSA) Air Marshals have been ordered to profile and monitor all passengers for signs they may be terrorists. What signs those are isn't known but they could conceivably apply to most anyone. That has shocked those same people at the Globe and places like the Southern Poverty Law Center who cheered the 1990s FBI profiling of "militia members" that could have applied to most anyone.
"The militia" was the national narrative bogeyman then and the FBI said its typical member drove a certain type of vehicle, dressed in certain ways and was a middle aged white male. Today, the FBI has profiles for others in sovereign citizen groups and anti abortion groups in play with the suffix "extremist" often added to spike complaints about civil rights violations. After all, can extremism in the pursuit of extremists be unconstitutional?
It's a Kafkaesque convolution of justice that can snare anyone. But no one is more at risk today of being trapped in California than the
firearm owner who is faced with a bureaucratic jungle of laws that are all but impossible to understand let alone comply with. Worse, some of those who have tried to comply have been raided by rank and file officers who probably know it's a misuse of their time.
Those raids are made on the order of upper echelon police officials and district attorneys who are more than willing to ruin the life of good citizens with perp walks, as columnist David Codrea noted, for their own political gain and ideology furtherance by enforcing the literal letter of specious political agenda laws against a constitutional Right.
That's what happened to prominent Bakersfield farm owner Jeffrey Scott Kirschenmann, according to the Bakersfield Californian and KGET-TV News.
He found himself raided and arrested by Kern County sheriff deputies after trying to register a gun, as the law required, on the egregiously malfunctioning California Department of Justice web site. According to court documents, the weapon was “illegally modified,” and served as grounds for the Department of Justice to raid Kirschenmann’s home and charge him with 12 felonies. It's not immediately clear what the illegal modification was, but the rifle Kirschenmann tried to register and others he owned were presumably not in compliance with the recent bans.
Retired Kern County Sheriff Commander Joe Pilkington, the department's court recognized firearms expert, could not speak directly to Kirschenmann's case but he does understand the problem Sacramento lawmakers have heinously created: "The laws are changing so frequently, it's often hard to keep up with the latest regulations"
Pilkington is a master of understatement.
In the meantime, both the California Department of Justice and Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green have assured Bakersfied residents they are now able to sleep as peacefully with Kirschenmann and his rifles off the farm and in jail as they did during the 1980s when Green's predecessor, Edward R. Jagels, seemed to be insanely prosecuting half of Bakersfield for consorting with the devil in satanic child abuse rings.
Pilkington did express sympathy for Kirschenmann's plight: "Making an effort, a good faith effort to comply with these really complicated laws, should count for something."
Not in Kalifornia.
That's because one of the goals of those and other picayune firearm
laws, as I have heard numerous times from fellow ACLU board members, political activists and police officials at meetings and over adult beverages is to decrease gun ownership by increasing the number of felons who then cannot legally own a gun or vote. It is part of the political Left's vaunted "long march through the institutions" that is disguised as an earnest public safety measure.
Knowing that, the Ventura County Crime Stopper program titled “Break the Silence! Stop Gun Violence!” looks a bit different. It's a tip reward program that asks people to anonymously report the felonious possession of firearms. Signs like this one offer $1,000 for useful anonymous information in a state where "felonious possession" can mean almost anything or anyone.
Ventura snitch encouragement sign
Who among your friends or acquaintances may need $1,000 and knows or thinks he knows, based on what you have said, what is stashed in your closet or safe? Who do you know who may want revenge for some imagined slight or because he thinks you're eyeing his wife? Who among those you associate with at ranges or NRA meetings or gun shows is a snitch or undercover police officer? The ranges, gun stores, gun shows and Second Amendment organization meetings are infiltrated as I can personally attest from the "honey trap" tried on me after my attendance at NRA meetings in Sacramento and Culver City during the early 1990s.
The infiltrator was a good looking, non practicing Los Angeles attorney with an office in a law firm I found acted as a federal police front. In the course of much flattery and offers of sex, she insisted I should have my home office swept for listening devices because of my investigative reporting activity and introduced me to Los Angeles Police Department Lieutenant Gary Rogers, a man with dual local and federal authority who would make certain my office was "clean."
Almost thirty years later, "clean" or "bug free" is almost impossible to achieve, or so it appears. We’re now in a world where everything
with a plug or battery can listen or watch and report what we say or do.
In a room with an iPhone, an Apple Watch and a smart assistant like
Amazon Echo or Google Home, tech reviewer CNET notes we are surrounded by a dozen microphones. If smart wireless headphones or talking microwave ovens or TVs are present, they can also be listening and possibly telling.
Are you comfortable with that?
Dan Gifford is a national Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated film producer and former reporter for CNN, The MacNeil Lehrer News Hour and ABC News.