Alex Marthews, Digital Fourth President, and Jamie O’Keefe of the Mass Pirates, on Two Hotheads Radio discussing the Mass. electronic wiretapping bill

by Alex Marthews on February 5, 2013

Transcript runs from around 11-20 minutes:

HEATHER MACK (host): We have some guests in the studio. We have Jamie from the Mass Pirates Party, whom we’ve had on before. We also have a new guest, Alex Marthews, from the Campaign for [Digital] Fourth Amendment Rights, also from the Pirate Party [sic], here to talk a little bit about Massachusetts and the new Coakley bill, “An Act Updating the Electronic Wiretapping Laws”, and generally about Fourth Amendment rights, particularly online. So tell us a little about that, about this new Coakley bill, and why we should be very afraid!

ALEX: The main thing to understand about this bill is that this is not a new thing. This is something that the Attorney-General’s office in Massachusetts and law enforcement in Massachusetts tries to do very regularly. Every two-year session, they try to what they call “update” the electronic wiretapping law. And, by “update”, they mean, “remove all reasonable constraints on” electronic wiretapping in Massachusetts. They’ve been trying to do this for a long time. Every time it comes back, it comes back a little different. Last session, it was all about financial crime. This time, because of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, it’s all about gun crime…

HEATHER: Oh, yep.

ALEX: …and keeping us safe from school shootings. It’s exactly the same ideas. So what they want is removal of all constraints on electronic wiretapping, but they’ll hang it on whatever the controversy of the day is, in order to get it done.

HEATHER: Absolutely.

ALEX: So what the law involves, what they’re proposing, is that it won’t just be that they can do electronic wiretapping when it’s in connection with organized crime or other very serious crimes. It could be in connection to things that are not really terribly serious. Simple marijuana possession is one. Manufacturing…

HEATHER: You know how much of a threat that is. [laughs]

ALEX: It’s an incredible threat, and anyone who possesses marijuana is a terrorist by definition.

HEATHER: [Laughs] We all know that.

ALEX: I know, I know.

HEATHER: It’s quite the terrorist bunker we’re operating out of here.

ALEX: I, for one, welcome our new attorney-general overlords, and I hope they’ll be doing something about that. The…if you manufacture arrowheads in the Commonwealth, then that will count as a weapon, and therefore make you subject to an electronic wiretapping warrant…

HEATHER: What is the point? What is the point? [Laughs]

ALEX: The point? Well, they like to say…

MIKE CANN [host]: Unlimited government power.

ALEX: Yeah, that is exactly it. It is not about reducing crime. Crime is about as low in the Commonwealth as it has ever been.

MIKE: Record lows.

ALEX: It’s lower than at any time since before 1968. And so, you gotta ask yourself, it’s gotta be about the power. It’s not the case – they try to argue that criminals have “got the upper hand” here in Massachusetts. Well first, if they have the upper hand, doesn’t that reflect poorly on them? Isn’t that their job?

JAMIE: But they don’t have the tools, is what they’ll say.

ALEX: Ach. But they do not need these tools!

HEATHER: Where’s the evidence of these far-reaching underground criminal syndicates that are…

MIKE: Well, now it’s about the guns. Now they’re saying that because of the school shootings and the gun violence…

HEATHER: Oh, because Adam Lanza needed the Internet…

ALEX: Adam Lanza basically didn’t use the Internet.

HEATHER, MIKE: No.

ALEX: He didn’t even have a Facebook profile. Electronic wiretapping would not have done a thing.

HEATHER: Exactly.

ALEX: But let me tell you one thing that is in this law that is very interesting that I’ve come across. They’ve introduced specific language trying to legalize electronic wiretaps in “switching stations”. Switching stations are phone company facilities.

MIKE: Wow.

ALEX: What they wanna do, it appears, is to be able to put a wiretap in your local AT&T facility which will then tap everything coming through that facility. We are a long way here from the protections of the Constitution.

HEATHER: Yeah, it’s true.

MIKE: And that means no oversight by a judge, right? You see, that’s what –

ALEX: Well –

MIKE: – a warrant is, having a judge having some reasoned suspicion to look through your papers, right?

ALEX: Well, let me be clear about this. The electronic wiretapping warrants would be reviewed by a judge. They’ve backed off from the stuff they were doing in previous sessions, where they were saying, no, no, it doesn’t really need to be done by a judge. But this is the first time they’ve introduced this idea of mass surveillance at phone company facilities, and I am very disturbed by this.

MIKE: And what rules would they have about how long they would keep those files, and the record-keeping, I mean…

ALEX: Well, I’m sure they will have rules…

MIKE: Right.

ALEX: but they’re not telling you what they are yet.

MIKE: I know.

JAMIE: Neither does the NSA, and they already do that.

MIKE: I know. Isn’t that a problem with a lot of this stuff, that there’s no…you know, to back into the TSA thing we’re doing today, it’s about the oversight. I mean, the fact that we had this protest, we found out more information on what they’re doing, because now they have to answer to the press, ’cause they’re being asked about it, and I think a lot of this activism is all about that – is to get them to give us information, ’cause we never – when the Feds do stuff, and now the states wanna be like the Feds, I mean, this is what it comes down to in a lot of respects, is these federal laws have been around for awhile now, and now states are doing civil practices, no warrant needed. They’re gonna be able to spy on us, on anyone they want. I mean, look at the marijuana movement that we – Heather and I have been, you know, championing and part of. You have medical marijuana in Massachusetts. How easy is it for them to claim that anyone involved in medical marijuana – supplying cannabis to patients – now I’m a money-launderer – they’re gonna trace all your phone calls, they’re gonna read all your emails, they’re gonna document everything about you with no warrant needed, in the State of Massachusetts. Is that what we want?

JAMIE: Well, it’s not what we want, but one of the things you have to remember of course is that the Attorney-General now, or even…

MIKE: Right now…

JAMIE: …can go, in different counties even, can go to Twitter, and say, “Give us all of your direct messages”, can go to Facebook and say, “Give us all this information”, and they don’t even – Facebook, or Google, or Twitter, doesn’t even need to tell you that all of this information is being gotten.

MIKE: Yeah, this is what’s so…you know, I’m glad you brought that up, Jamie, ’cause it seems like in so many of these cases, not only should we be saying no to the government, allowing them more of a reach, allowing them more power in this situation. We should be hassling them to help us and protect us, and come up with some laws to actually protect our privacy, protect our rights, from a lot of the – like, there’s no oversight on any of this, anywhere, and it’s just getting out of control.

JAMIE: But that makes their job harder, and they certainly don’t want their job to be harder.

MIKE: I know, it’s a Catch-22, isn’t it? [crosstalk]

ALEX: But we’ve gotta get…we’ve gotta develop the discussion. We gotta make it a more mature discussion. It can’t be simply the discussion that we’ve been having here in Massachusetts, where law enforcement comes up with something that will make their life easier, and we all go, oh, it makes life easier for law enforcement, therefore we must do it. No. The Fourth Amendment would not exist, and the Fifth and Sixth and Eighth Amendments would not exist, if all that mattered was making life easy for law enforcement. If…There are plenty of things that law enforcement wants to be able to do, there are plenty of things that would make life easier for them to do, that are not allowed because of the Constitution. And I’m sorry guys, it takes you longer, it costs you more money, but them’s the breaks. You’re in America, you’re not in North Korea, you have to put up with it.

HEATHER: [laughs] Not yet.

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