Category Archives: Foreign Policy

The Private Sector Reigns Supreme…Again

Good news for Apple fans: the company’s mobile operating system, iOS, as well as its new iPhone 6 devices, feature beefed-up levels of default encryption and–to the horror of our federal government’s “Justice” department–no “back door.” Zack Whittaker of ZDNet argues that the “feds only have themselves to blame” for Apple (and also Google) beefing up their smartphone encryption, because the federal government has failed to scale back the NSA’s bulk metadata collection in any significant fashion. I agree, and I also agree with Whittaker’s (and others’) disappointment in the Washington Post editorials echoing “Justice”‘s call for a “back door” and arguing for a “compromise” on encryption.

Yes, government should be able to compel the production of evidence when it has probable cause and particularized suspicion (and follows procedures appropriate for the context). But government should not be able to compel manufacturers of devices to do its job, to make it unnecessary for the government to approach the device owner directly with the warrant. As Yaron Brook alluded to on Facebook yesterday, it is great to see the profit motive encouraging companies to cater to customers’ privacy preferences.

[Also notable: this story about Twitter suing the U.S. government over limits on its ability to disclose surveillance orders, something about which Apple has also complained.]

Now, if only Apple could figure out a simple and elegant solution to the threats posed by ISIS and Ebola…

The news on Ebola is getting worse, as we learn that a nurse in Spain–who presumably knows what precautions to take and has the materials necessary to take them–contracted the disease while treating two patients who had been brought to Spain for treatment. The nurse’s husband and two others have reportedly now also been placed in quarantine. The Los Angeles Times published a speculative piece, in which one expert opined that “We just don’t have the data to exclude [the possibility of Ebola spreading by air in close quarters].” While it’s natural to worry about a disease that seems to be killing more than half of those who contract it, we need to keep in mind that the assertion about the possibility of airborne Ebola is arbitrary–there is no evidence to support it and therefore it should be dismissed–unless and until such evidence materializes.

While we wait for more information on the transmission of Ebola, it is heartening to read of the Firestone plantation in Liberia, where the tire manufacturer has applied determination and common sense to the task of containing the Ebola outbreak, with great success. “[E]ven as the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded rages all around them, Firestone appears to have blocked the virus from spreading inside its territory.”

It is not surprising to me that a private company has outperformed governments in containing Ebola. In fact, while our own government should likely be doing more–temporary travel restrictions or enhanced screening–to combat the current outbreak, preventing the spread of disease is not a routine government function. Firestone realizes that it is crucial for the success of their plantation in Liberia effectively to contain the virus, and they have acted accordingly. (HT Rick Wilmes, who brought the Firestone story to my attention.)

What is a proper government function, however, is defending citizens against threats of physical force from enemies foreign and domestic. And it is here that the Obama administration’s default is most concerning. ISIS continues to behead western journalists and threaten the beheading of veterans and active members of the military. They are harassing military members and their families via social media. ISIS supporters have even managed to place their graffiti in Washington, D.C. And yet our President and his Secretary of State continue to evade the nature of the threat, or its origin, saying it has nothing to do with Islam and, apparently, everything to do with Syrian rebels needing our assistance.

Thankfully we have some Americans who are willing to speak the truth about the nature of the threat we face. The most unapologetic and outspoken critic of ISIS and Islam of late is, surprisingly, a liberal who most likely would not want to be included in a post praising the private sector: Bill Maher. Here’s the latest in a long series of Maher’s excellent commentary on Islam and the danger it poses:

Check the Real Time account on YouTube for more commentary by Maher, and join me in thanking him for speaking out and telling the truth when no one in our government seems to be able to.

You might also enjoy this from a few years ago: Maher’s “Muslim Dior” fashion show:


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Because You Need It: A Foreign Policy News Sandwich

As I start writing this post this evening, I have only one good foreign policy news story: in a short story posted on the Wall Street Journal’s web page, we are told that, “Egypt’s administrative court on Saturday dissolved the political party of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and ordered its assets liquidated….” Yes, despite our government’s attempt to put the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt, the better people in that country continue to marginalize their “Freedom and Justice Party,” whose leaders, we are told, “had already been accused, and in some cases convicted, of murder and inciting violence.”

Apparently, while our former President, Jimmy Carter, is calling for the recognition of a terrorist organization, Hamas, as a legitimate political entity, Egypt is declaring their former president, Mohammad Morsi, to have been himself part of a terrorist organization. And while their former President sits in a jail cell facing charges that include “conspiring with foreign groups to destabilize Egypt,” our former President, who has done quite a bit to destabilize–in fact, destroy–our country, goes around getting free air time and, no doubt, large speaking fees, to spread utter bile and help finish the job.

Egypt is pretty much a news oasis in the Middle East at the moment. In Iraq, a group of savages known as “Islamic State” (also ISIS or ISIL) “has captured large swaths of Iraqi territory” in just a couple of months, engaging in brutal executions of innocents and, according to reports, threatening to bring death and destruction all the way to the White House. President Obama, who this week authorized air strikes and other aid to Iraqis in the fight against ISIS, has indicated a “likelihood of an enduring U.S. military involvement in Iraq.” Because it worked out so well the last time we had an enduring military involvement there. The combination of Bush’s and Obama’s policies in Iraq have helped produce ISIS. I can only imagine what a purely Obama orchestrated military involvement will produce there.

I was hoping that I’d read something in Israeli Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest interview, or in news reports about his visit to the United States, that amounts to good news. But unfortunately Netanyahu–whose main concern should be the defense of his country–is apparently having to spend time pleading with U.S. lawmakers to help make sure Israel is not hauled before an international body for “war crimes.” As I’ve said many times, I agree with Yaron Brook, who reiterated the point on my show last night: insofar as there are deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza, those deaths are the fault of Hamas, the aggressor in this conflict. I wish Netanyahu, who is defending his military operation as “proportionate,” would speak more like Joan Rivers.

For more good news this evening, we must leave foreign policy. My usual go-to subject for good news is the world of technology and innovation, but tonight this story from Copenhagen caught my eye. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with pedestrian bridges and the like. In Copenhagen, according to Wired, they have just made it easier for those who commute on bicycle–over half the population!–to traverse a portion of their route near a waterfront shopping area. The “Cycle Snake,” as it is being called, is an attractive, spacious, elevated cyclist roadway. In terms of functionality, safety and aesthetics, it would be enough to get even me, a lover of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, to try commuting by bicycle.


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An NSA News Sandwich

According to The Guardian, German Chancellor Angela Merkel compared the NSA’s snooping practices “with those of the Stasi, the ubiquitous and all-powerful secret police of the communist dictatorship in East Germany, where she grew up.” She is said to have done this during “an angry exchange with Barack Obama” on the phone in October. Edward Snowden had apparently revealed that the NSA was listening in on Merkel’s private cell phone conversations. She also is reported to have said that the NSA cannot be trusted with private information, as evidenced by the fact that Snowden was able to escape with so much of it.

My question for Merkel is: what if Snowden hadn’t been able to escape with that data? Would she say that ignorance is bliss? Even if Merkel is a little confused about whether to cheer the Snowden leaks, I am glad to be able to live vicariously through her having “an angry exchange” with our president.

Those who, like me, disapprove of the NSA’s spying activities will be dismayed to learn that a recent White House-sponsored review of the NSA’s activities has resulted in a recommendation that the NSA continue its programs essentially unchanged. For example, the report is said to recommend continuing the bulk data collection of Americans’ telephone metadata, without probable cause or particularized suspicion, with the only changes being (1) the level of suspicion required to conduct a search on the ginormous database, and (2) the nominal collector and storer of the data would be the telephone companies. I agree with Jim Harper of Cato that requiring the phone companies collect and store the data makes no substantial difference and, in fact, may be worse than the existing program. “Is secretly violating Americans’ communications privacy really rewarded by a policy requiring the violation of Americans’ communications privacy?” he asked.

Harper and other privacy advocates were heartened this week by a federal district judge who ruled that the NSA spying programs were likely unconstitutional. The Guardian provides access to the full text of the ruling, which is long and addresses issues of jurisdiction and standing, but I focused on the part that most interested me: the section pertaining to the third-party doctrine. The judge was conservative, as is appropriate for a district court ruling. He did not say we should get rid of the third-party doctrine, much less the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test, as I do in my recent PJ Media piece and forthcoming law review article. But he did say that he doubted whether the 1978 Supreme Court decision, Smith v. Maryland, a staple of third-party doctrine jurisprudence, could sanction the legality of the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata. Cell phone use today isn’t comparable to the use of the telephone in the 1970s, and so the fact that one might not have had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in phone metadata in the 1970s doesn’t say anything about whether one has such an expectation today.

While I wish the judge had gone further, it’s a great start and it invites judges on appeal to take a closer look at the third-party doctrine.


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