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Dystopia Now

"What are we gonna do now?"
–The Clash, "Clampdown"
"Free people write books
Free people publish books
Free people sell books
Free people buy books
Free people read books"
--from a T-shirt produced by the American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression (ABFFE)
Brave New World The daily news reads like a science fiction novel. A very scary dystopia. It was just over a year ago that I wrote:
You want to know what really scares me? An administration that seems bent on ignoring the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights by crushing any vocal opposition to what is quickly becoming an authoritarian regime. Men like George W. Bush and John Ashcroft have forgotten the very document upon which our government is founded.
Things have gotten worse. Our present administration has used the smokescreen of terrorism and the War on Terror to ignore our guaranteed rights. They've rolled up the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and smoked them. eBay helped to light the match.

According to the Ha'aretz Daily1, an Israeli newspaper, director of the "law enforcement and compliance" department at eBay Joseph Sullivan announced at a closed door meeting during the Cyber Crime 2003 conference in Connecticut that eBay is willing to hand over everything it knows about visitors to its web site to any investigator. "There is no need for a court order," Sullivan said. Apparently all you have to do is ask.

"We don't make you show a subpoena, except in exceptional cases," Sullivan told his listeners. "When someone uses our site and clicks on the 'I Agree' button, it is as if he agrees to let us submit all of his data to the legal authorities. Which means that if you are a law-enforcement officer, all you have to do is send us a fax with a request for information, and ask about the person behind the seller's identity number, and we will provide you with his name, address, sales history and other details -- all without having to produce a court order. We want law enforcement people to spend time on our site," he adds. He says he receives about 200 such requests a month, most of them unofficial requests in the form of an email or fax.
Anyone with some law enforcement stationery2 and a fax machine can get any information that eBay has about a particular person. Their address, phone numbers, what they've sold, what they've bought. If that weren't bad enough, eBay has records of everything that any registered user has browsed. It's not enough to profile you by what you've purchased, but now the feds can use everything you've looked at, too! We've all browsed things out of prurient interest and/or idle curiosity. Just because you find Nazi paraphernalia of interest doesn't make you a fascist. Nor does a fascination with counter-culture make you an insurrectionist. If this were true then each time I look at a beautiful woman, I would be adulterer, or every time I see someone killed on a TV show, I would be a murder. eBay has kept every bit of data since it opened in 1995, and all of it is available to law enforcement officials in the name of patriotism.

ACLU To make matters worse, eBay owns both PayPal and Half.com. These sites makes tracking individuals even easier. More from Sullivan: "Every book or CD comes with a bar code. So we know who bought what. The acquisition of PayPal helps us to locate people more precisely. In the old days, we had to trace IP addresses [unique address given to computers linked to the Internet], to locate the buyer, but now Paypal supplies us with the money trail. PayPal has about 20 million customers, which means that we have 20 millions (sic) files on its users." Just the way John Ashcroft likes it. So much for secure personal information.

"The new Ashcroft proposal threatens to fundamentally alter the Constitutional protections that allow us to be both safe and free."
-- Timothy H. Edgar, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Legislative Counsel.
Soon after 9-11, Bush signed the USA Patriot3 Act into law. This hurriedly passed law -- many in Congress later admitted to not even reading it -- granted the justice department broad powers to prosecute persons for "domestic terrorism"4. It tramples over Amendments I5, IV6, V7, VI8, and VII9 all in the name of security. Basically, if you aren't white and rich, you are guilty. (Perhaps that's a bit of hyperbole, but not by much.)

As if this weren't bad enough, along comes Patriot Act II. Like all sequels, this one is louder with more explosions, and is much worse. This new legislation, drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft and his staff, was leaked sometime between January 9, 2003 (the date of the draft) and February 7, 2003, when the first press reports began to appear. The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, the official name of Patriot II, has yet to be introduced to Congress, but its implications are frightening. According to the ACLU, if this were to become law:

It would allow the government to strip citizenship from any American who provides support for a group designated by the federal government as a "terrorist organization."10 There is no official public list of these groups.
If the Executive Branch has decided that an attack has created an emergency, wiretapping would be permitted for fifteen days -- at the sole discretion of the Attorney General and does not require a court order.
It would restrict access to crucial information about environmental health risks posed by facilities that use dangerous chemicals. After all, terrorists might get ideas.
It would allow the cataloging of Americans' genetic information.
It would provide additional incentive for citizens to squeal on fellow Americans by lessening or removing penalties for reporting false information.
It would deport lawful permanent residents, regardless of evidence, if the Attorney General deems them a threat to national security.
1984 These are but the tip of the iceberg. This was just a sampling of the atrocities mentioned in the draft. This legislation is the greatest attack on U.S. liberties, ever. McCarthy has nothing on Ashcroft. If Patriot II becomes law, we're looking at 1984 Part 2: Things Get Worse.

Bush claims were are going to war to liberate the people of Iraq from an evil tyrant. But who will liberate us? As always, it's up to us. Speak out. Write your representatives and senators, march in a protest (or participate in online protests), and VOTE. Prevent profiling wherever and whenever you can. Many bookstores are offering to erase customer records. If your local stores refuses, shop elsewhere. (Be sure to tell them why.) Stop doing business with eBay, Half.com, and PayPal until they change their business practices. Don't trust the mainstream media. Read between the lines. Compare a variety of news sources. If we, as Americans, do not exercise our rights then we don't deserve to have them.


1 Thanks to Pat Holt and her informative column Holt Uncensored for alerting me to this. Anyone who wishes to get the inside scoop on the book biz, should really subscribe.

2 Seems like forging such documents would be a breeze for anyone with a photocopier.

3 Acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism"

4 So broadly defined that civil disobedience could be construed as domestic terrorism. The recent anti-war protesters could be considered terrorists.

5 "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

6 "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

7 "No person shall be held to answer for a... crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury..., nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

8 "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed... and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

9 "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

10 You know "dangerous" groups such as Greenpeace, Operation Rescue or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Copyright © 2003 Rick Klaw

Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw decided to collect his columns, essays, reviews, and other things Klaw in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century (available September 2003 from Monkey Brains, Inc). As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business. He will be at AggieCon, March 22-24. Rick will try to calm down by then, but don't bet on it.


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