Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good Girls! - Bad Boy!!

During the protests and demonstrations in the wake of the fixed Iranian election this past summer, demonstrators shared information via twitter and other instant messaging tools. The U.S. State Department not only applauded these efforts of democracy advocates, they pressured twitter to delay scheduled maintenance on the system to help the activists keep in communication there:

Media across the globe have been focusing on a "Twitter Revolution" in Iran as hundreds of thousands of street protestors purportedly mobilized their demonstrations using the microblogging service. So great has the notion of Twitter's role in the Iranian protests become that the U.S. State Dept. reportedly asked the company to defer some maintenance. Twitter says it rescheduled maintenance work from June 15 to later the next day, or about 1:30 a.m. in Iran. "It made sense for Twitter…to keep services active during this highly visible global event," the San Francisco company said on its blog.

Twitter has been used by citizen activists demonstrating for democracy in other countries besides Iran - Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cuba, Palestine and Moldova, to name a few. So what happens when demonstrators use twitter in the USA under the Obama administration?

An anarchist social worker raided by the feds wants his computers, manuscripts and pick axes back. He argues that authorities violated the U.S. Constitution and the rights of his mentally ill clients while searching for evidence that he broke an anti-rioting law on Twitter.

In a guns-drawn raid on October 1, FBI agents and police seized boxes of dubious "evidence" from the Queens, New York, home of Elliott Madison. A U.S. District Judge in Brooklyn has set a Monday deadline to rule on the legality of the search, and in the meantime has ordered the government to refrain from examining the material taken in the 6 a.m. search.

Madison, who counsels more than 100 severely mentally ill patients in New York, seems to have first drawn attention from the authorities at September's G-20 gathering of world leaders in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There he was arrested on September 24 at a motel room for allegedly listening to a police scanner and relaying information on Twitter to help protesters avoid heavily-armed cops -- an activity the State Department lauded when it happened in Iran.

A week later, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, armed with a search warrant and backed by a federal grand jury investigation, raided Madison's house, which he shares with his wife of 13 years and several roommates. The squad seized his computers, camera memory cards, books, air-filtration masks, bumper stickers and political posters -- all purportedly evidence that the 41-year old social worker had broken a federal anti-rioting law that carries up to five years in prison.

But a closer look at the court documents leaves the unmistakable impression that Elliott Madison is yet another casualty of the government's nasty, post-9/11 habit of considering political dissidents as threats to national security.

Elliot Madison's attorney, Martin Stolar notes:

In this day and age, federally authorized agents entered the private home of a writer and urban planner and seized their books and writings. The warrant's vagueness and lack of specificity encouraged the agents to use their own discretion and their own views of the political universe to seize, or not to seize, items which they thought were evidence of a violation of the federal anti-riot statute. The law and the Constitution do not allow this. If there really is a grand jury investigation with possible future prosecution under [a federal anti-rioting law], the use of this statute as applied to demonstrations, demonstrators, and their supporters has profound 1st Amendment implications.

The Patriot Act was hastily created, and is, in most part, extremely ill-advised. Every time functionaries of the Obama administration act as has happened in the case of Elliot Madison, larger and larger doubts are raised in the minds of those who care about our freedom.

Here is a segment of Democracy Now from October 6th, that featured an interview with Elliot Madison:

image - composite of Iranian women demonstrating and Elliot Madison


Anonymous said...

Ok Phil, I agree with you on this issue.

99% of the time you are wrong, but you are right on the patriot act. It restricts freedom...

Anonymous said...

If Elliot has adequate representation it should not be a problem. Now IF those channels were not open then he has a problem. Scanners are legal. Protests are legal. Strike down the law.

Anonymous said...

Please keep us up on the developments of this case.
I hope it is thrown out BUT I fear there will be some effort by the govt to twist things to save face.
The Patriot Act is considered by many in the federal law enforcement to be an overly heavy hand, but they are forced to use it.
It needs to be trimmed and gotten rid of in many ways!!