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Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodies?

Who's watching the watchers?

There are many reasons that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Europeans immigrated to the United States after it was discovered and before it became a country; some of which were economic, religious, or political, everyone of those people had a story.

This, is one of those stories. And from this one, independence was born.

Over 240 years ago a group of merchants hired a cranky, iconoclastic lawyer named James Otis to defend their rights as free-born Englishmen, and in 1761 James Otis stood up in a Boston Mass. courtroom to speak against Writs of Assistance - which were a kind of general search warrant where the bearer could search anyone, anywhere, anytime which lasted for the lifetime of the sovereign (George II died in 1760); he spoke for five hours straight, and he said these words ...

"This writ is against the fundamental principles of law. The privilege of the house. A man who is quiet, is as secure in his house, as a prince in his castle ...

As to acts of the parliament. An act against the constitution is void; an act against natural equity is void; and if an act of parliament should be made, in the very words of this petition would be void. The executive courts must pass such acts into disuse.


It is a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.


Now one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of ones house. A man's house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it shall be declared legal, would totally annihilate. Custom house officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court, can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient...

Again, these writs are not returned. Writs in their nature are tempting things. When the purposes for which they are issued are answered they exist no more; but these live forever; no one can be called into account. Thus reason and the constitution are both against this writ. Let us see what authority there is for this writ. Not more than one instance can be found in all of our history books; and that is the zenith of arbitrary power, namely, in the reign of Charles the II, when Star Chamber Powers were pushed to extremity..."

He lost the case but ...

John Adams was at the trial and this is how he described the speech

"Otis was a flame of fire! ... Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there, the child of independence was born."

The fourth amendment to the US Constitution was an impediment to these types of general search warrants: Under USAPA - better known as the Patriot Act [pdf file] these general search warrants have been made law, specifically sec 218 and the ability to search your library records or any even any type of financial transaction is subject to Sec. 215.

Maybe you say they are only looking at terrorists. But remember Peace Fresno in F/911? Maybe you're just a normal church going American Christian and you don't have anything to worry about - think again.

Here is what Rep. Ron Paul R-Tx. says about the the definition of terrorism.

The ACLU has put together a page on Sec. 215 here.

Now, how does Sec. 218 pertain to Writs of Assistance?

The simple fact that under the Patriot Act they don't need a judges order to look into your records, or communications. All they need is something called a National Security Letter. Here is a copy of a letter sent from Assistant Attorney General Daniel J Bryant to Senator Patrick Leahy explaining NSL's [pdf file]. Notice where he says, "Under the old language, the FISA court would issue an order ... upon a showing of relevance and specific and articulable facts"

"Under the old language" How quaint? The Fourth and Fifth amendments are so antiquated aren't they?

Then the hammer drops, "The USA Patriot Act changed the standard to simple relevance."

But the NSL's have been totally benign, right?

Unless you're one of the people who has had your rights infringed. Here are examples of mistakes [pdf file].

Oh, and by the way. We had this imposed on us because of 9/11, right? Anyone remember Osama bin-Laden?

Did you know that the FBI under John Ashcroft and George Bush invoked Exemption 6 under FOIA law on behalf of Osama bin-Laden which permits them to withhold all information which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of bin-Laden's personal privacy? ... They're invading the privacy of normal everyday American citizens at the same time they're protecting the privacy of the accused mastermind of 9/11 ... Interesting, where their priorities lie.

Last year State Senator Liz Figueroa had a report put together by the Senate Office of Research on the Patriot Act here [pdf file]

Thom Hartmann did a very good report on an earlier Patriot Act here. I'm going to do a blog on this and other Patriot Acts in our history. Yes, there are more.

They can watch you, but who's watching them?