Personal Liberties Issue Update: Love, Hate & Killing the Internet

It’s 2011, and the battle for personal liberties continues to rage harder than a late night set at Bonnaroo. Gay rights advocates got good news from the Obama administration and bad news from the Supreme Court; some Tea Partiers broke ranks with fellow Republicans and helped block provisions of The Patriot Act from getting extended; And, there’s an effort to create an Internet “Kill Switch” that would allow the President to do the same thing Hosni Mubarak did in Egypt. Plus, the DEA has set their sights (and your tax dollars) on banning “fake pot.”

  • The Obama administration announced that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that bans recognition of same-sex marriage. The Justice Department takes the position that the law is unconstitutional. Still, as a lesbian law professor points out, the President can’t just decide not to enforce a law he doesn’t like. The next and more difficult step is to actually try to get the law repealed, which would leave legalizing gay marriage up to the states. Interestingly, this would seem to be right up the alley of advocates for small government.
  • Many gay rights activists, along with veterans’ groups, are not so happy about the Supreme Court’s 8-1 ruling that hate protests outside of military funerals is a protected form of free speech. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church have been showing up outside funerals of fallen soldiers with signs that say, among other things, “God Hates Fags.” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that although the Westboro Baptist Church’s protests “inflict great pain,” they are still legal, because the Constitution “protect(s) even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.” Similarly, an appeals court recently ruled that a student was allowed to wear an anti-gay shirt to school.
  • Reauthorization of the Patriot Act hit a snag in early February when the House failed to reach a two-thirds majority needed to extend three provisions of the controversial anti-terrorism law. About half of the Tea-Party-endorsed Republicans joined with many Democrats to help block the reauthorization, citing concerns about personal liberty and underscoring how this controversy stretches across party lines. In the meantime, a three-month extension made it to President Obama’s desk, which he signed into law. So until late May at least, law enforcement can conduct surveillance without identifying the person or location to be wiretapped; they can check library records or “any tangible thing” during investigations; and they can conduct surveillance of non-U.S. persons who are not affiliated with a terrorist group. The left leaning American Civil Liberties Union claims that “All three provisions lack proper and fundamental privacy safeguards.” Some on the right share that concern: Check out my interview with Alex McCobin of Students for Liberty, a group funded by the primary backers of the Tea Party. Among other things, we discuss the trend of Republicans who vote in favor of legislation like the Patriot Act and federal gay-marriage bans while claiming to stand for limited government.
  • The DEA has recently placed an emergency ban on synthetic marijuana products known as Spice and K2. Using powers granted to them in the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, the DEA is banning 5 synthetic cannabinoids that were created in the 1990’s. Meanwhile, ever wonder how much revenue legalizing real marijuana would bring to your state? The “Just Say Now” Campaign has put together a chart providing rough estimates of the revenue that could be generated by taxing and regulating marijuana in ways similar to alcohol. Wisconsin alone could likely bring in between $140 and $210 million that way. That’s enough money to cover the state’s $137 million budget shortfall that Gov. Scott Walker plans to make up by cutting benefits for public sector unions.
  • Maybe you’ve noticed the little uprising going on in Egypt and spreading through Arab nations? Many consider the tipping pointof the revolution to be when Egypt’s government shut down the internet – but that wouldn’t happen here in the States, right? Well, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) says she will soon reintroduce legislation that would give the President the power to kill the internet. That’s right. Collins, the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee says that an “internet kill switch” is needed to “give our nation the best tools available to swiftly respond to a significant threat.” Sen. Joe Leiberman (I-CT) also supports the legislation.
  • If giving the U.S. government the power to stop your tweets pisses you off, check out HeadCount artist Bassnectars free download of his remix of The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” on the HeadCount Blog. Bassnectar has always been vocal about youth activism and net neutrality and is specifically encouraging folks to take action against the bill through the Save the Internet Coalition.

With all of these contentious issues on the docket, it’s no wonder the liberty movement is on the rise.