For decades, the American people have permitted the secretive nature of government to not just prevail, but exponentially grow, causing the public sector to adopt a sense of entitlement for operating beyond the reach of the public. It really isn't about left versus right anymore, because the obstructionists to transparency exist on both sides of the aisle and ideologies.
The real division is the American people versus the District of Columbia, including DC's long reach into state and local governments via administrative law. The corporate news media (broadcast and cable, radio, and most of newsprint) has a unilateral mandate to obscure the real culprits dividing-and-conquering the political hearts and minds of Americans by framing all socioeconomic issues through the political prism of liberals versus conservatives. It is a long-range ruse.
So: Time for all of us to snap out of it. Think, listen, share, question, read, consider other viewpoints, find commonalities, inform your understanding, clarify confusion, open your mind, and finally connect meaningful dots that lead to real solutions and peace.
And, of course, participate and vote.
Election day is fast approaching (Tuesday November 6), and arguably among the most important races afoot are for three seats on the next Scott County Board of Supervisors (SCBS). There are six candidates running: incumbent Brinson Kinzer-D, Ken Croken-D, Scott Webster-R, Carla Williams-R, Kirk Rogers-D, and John Maxwell-R.
One of the controversies that has plagued the SCBS (past and present) is whether to audio-record the Board's meetings. When the County's board room was remodeled, professional audio recording equipment was installed to ensure SCBS' compliance with Iowa Code that requires it to keep an audio recording of all closed sessions.
This essentially means that the equipment is available for recording all the meetings. It just needs a green light from the Board to turn the recorder on during regular and Committee of the Whole meetings. Because the equipment produces a digital recording, it can easily be uploaded to the county's Web site as an MP3 file for the public's listening pleasure. So why no green light? More importantly, why the years of ongoing resistance to recording meetings?
Upon realizing that it was perhaps one of the few hold-outs left in the public sector not recording meetings, the current Board of Supervisors approved a budget item of $50,000 to include video-recording equipment and more sophisticated options such as indexing, for recording its meetings in the future. While a generous gesture, it is no excuse for not turning on the audio recording equipment currently in place.
While the audio equipment may not have voice recognition to automatically identify who is speaking during meetings, the Chairman can up his game and run meetings more professionally by identifying each speaker as he/she participates.
Because transparency in government is so important for effective representation and public engagement, the candidates were asked the following question, along with the answers from those who responded: Do you support audio recording, and making available to the public, the Scott County Board of Supervisors' board meetings using the ample professional equipment already in place?
Brinson Kinzer: Yes. Diane Holst and I have been fighting for this policy in a bipartisan effort for nearly four years. It is very important. But we've been repeatedly told no by the current majority – the other three board members have consistently voted against recording the meetings. It was the same with the previous Board, too. Apparently, the recording equipment we have is good enough for the court, but not good enough for the public? This makes no sense to me, especially because it partially addresses another problem of public access to meetings. Many people can't make the Tuesday 8 a.m. COWs or Thursday 5 p.m. regular meetings, so access to recordings of our meetings would go a long way. It's the right thing to do.
Ken Croken: I advocate for complete transparency for county operations and board deliberations. I believe that the Board failure to make this information available is unacceptable. Other counties have found a way to provide information without months of delay and deliberation on the best way to accomplish this. Without specific knowledge of the recording system already in place, I must believe that it is adequate to address the public's right to know. However, I feel transparency demands more than minimal compliance with state law, and I would like to explore Web-casting all county meetings so that people could observe county meetings irrespective of time, travel, and transportation.
Scott Webster: I completely support recording meetings with the current equipment in place. Then if we decide to upgrade and incorporate video, all the better. But the public has a right to know what county business is on the table as we go, and how Supervisors are dealing with it. I can think of no rationale to restrict recording and posting the meetings online other than business that requires we go to closed sessions. Having an audio record of proceedings is common sense, and ultimately protects the Board, the staff, and the public. It is also an invaluable tool for referring back should clarification be needed on a matter. There just isn't a downside.
Carla Williams: I do support audio recording and making available to the public the Scott County Board of Supervisors board meetings using ample professional equipment already in place. Audio recordings of meetings could be made available to the Web site for easy access. Using existing equipment/resources shows responsibility and accountability to taxpayers. If it is determined that video taping the meetings is important to the public, we would do well to think outside the box. The city has video equipment and televises its meetings. Perhaps we could rent or share equipment. We could use the $50,000 set aside for video equipment to help fund the deficit in mental health. I believe we need to use our resources wisely.
Responses from Kirk Rogers and John Maxwell had not been received by the time this edition went to press. Should they respond, we will include it online in the digital edition. Thanks to the candidates who did respond, and to all the candidates for their willingness to serve.
The Good Censor is a Quintessential Oxymoron
In a recent leaked briefing produced by Google, “The Good Censor” (a title that tells you everything you need to know about Google's mindset), a fundamental question was posed: “Is it possible to have an open and inclusive Internet while simultaneously limiting political oppression, despotism, hate, violence, and harassment? Who should be responsible for censoring 'unwanted' conversation, anyway? Governments? Users? Google?” (rcreader.com/y/ntk9)
The Good Censor acknowledges its shift away from free speech, simultaneously admitting that a handful of tech giants “control the majority of online conversations.” And this should fundamentally alarm Americans.
The briefing further acknowledges that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are mired in the promise of providing “unmediated marketplace of ideas” (free speech and free markets) vs. “well-ordered spaces for safety and civility” (censorship), also referred to as “the American tradition, which prioritizes free speech for democracy, not civility … and the European tradition, which “favors dignity over liberty, and civility over freedom.” Google finally acknowledges that all tech platforms are now moving toward the European tradition, and its new role shall be the guarantor of civility within the categories of “editor” and “publisher.”
This begs the question whether Google and gang are willing to give up their special immunities under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which exempts them from consumer lawsuits because, as providers, they claim they are neutral platforms and not publishers.
Revisiting the definition of a monopoly would be useful at this juncture lest we forget the grave pitfalls that always ensue when an entire industry is controlled by only a handful of private corporations.
Monopoly is defined as “a company or group having exclusive control over a commodity or service.”
Anti-trust laws were enacted to prevent inevitable abuse with such concentrated market share in the hands of so few. While anti-trust laws were designed to curtail economic abuse by strictly regulating private sector behemoths (theoretically, since actual enforcement is required), what is often ignored is the substantial role government plays in the revenue side of these same monopolistic enterprises.
In nearly all cases, government contracts account for the largest percentage of revenues for industry monopolies, which results in excessive public sector influence, appointments, special dispensation in the form of exemptions from laws and regulations. Monopolies disguised as capitalism generate favorable rulings and unfair competitive advantages, while simultaneously putting up obstacles that prevent potential competitors from easily, or at least organically, entering the marketplace. The quid-pro-quo between industry monopolies and government is vast, belying a free market economy based on true capitalism, which requires fair competition to thrive.
Meanwhile, American consumers continue to ignore the increasing dangers accruing to themselves and society from big-tech's monopolistic profit-over-privacy business models that control most of the world's conversations. Bedazzled by modern convenience, perceived efficiencies, and social connectivity, we forfeit that which is uniquely ours – the right to be secure in our belongings without intrusion by government and/or monopoly corporations, both of which profit from our personal information, habits, purchases, and those with whom we associate.
It is vital to remember that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from collecting private data, secretly or otherwise, on its citizens. The continuous violation of this core protection of our inalienable rights renders politicians and bureaucrats vulnerable if Americans ever decide to hold them accountable for their breaches via daily warrantless mass collection of Americans' metadata, including e-mails, digital photos, Internet-browser history, phone calls (land and cell), texts, television viewing, smart meters, and Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat posts, all collected and repurposed for profit.
Add to all this the blanket surveillance occurring without Americans' express consent or even knowledge, including covert government-sanctioned programs such as ECHELON (1971) surveillance and data collection sharing among 'Five Eyes' – U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Stellar Wind (2001) – NSA's mass data mining of communications and banking/IRS databases, including e-mails, phone calls, financial transactions, and internet activities; Trailblazer/Thinthread (2002) – Trailblazer-Thinthread without the built-in protections – was NSA's covert and excessively expensive electronic surveillance program that was discontinued once exposed to the American people thanks to whistleblowers Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, Ed Loomis, and Kirk Wiebe. Turbulence (2005) is best know for NSA's cyber warfare tactics and remotely injecting malware into targeted computers. But this program was also allegedly discontinued for it's ineffectiveness. PRISM (2007) allows the NSA to search internet providers' user accounts (using Section 702 authority of the Foreign Intelligence Amendments Act or FISA Court) for FISA approved search terms.
DCSNet, the FBI's point-and-click surveillance system, can perform instant wiretaps on almost any telecommunications device in the U.S. It allows access and real-time interception, recording, and playback of all cell-phone, landline, and SMS communications via a fiber-optic network that's separate from the Internet – in other words, a virtual private network parallel to the public network.
Now comes the latest form of mass surveillance – license-plate tracking via Automatic License Plate Readers (APLRs). License plates now come with electronic chips that can be read by ALPRs – computer-controlled cameras installed on street poles, street lights, bridges, and highway overpasses, and often police vehicles.
The benefit of such technology (for which three companies – Vigilant Solutions, ELSAG, and Neology, Inc. – have the majority market share) was demonstrated this past week with the authorities quickly apprehending the individual suspected of sending 12 packages containing improvised devices to vocal Democrats. According to Electronic Freedom Frontier, “Law enforcement claims that ALPR data has been used to, for example, recover stolen cars or find abducted children.” (rcreader.com/y/ntk10)
However, these successful applications do not negate the considerable concern that “ALPRs are used to track and record the movements of millions of ordinary people, even though the overwhelming majority are not connected to a crime … . The ACLU estimates that less than 0.2 percent of plate scans are linked to criminal activity or vehicle-registration issues. Many law enforcement agencies store ALPR data for years, and share it with other law enforcement agencies and federal agencies.”
These agencies also collect and retain scans of millions of Americans' license plates and associated information for sale to third parties as a revenue stream to back-fill strained budgets. (rcreader.com/y/ntk11)
Additionally, “Police have also used ALPR data for mass enforcement of less serious offenses, such as searching for uninsured drivers or tracking down individuals with overdue court fees.” Law enforcement is routinely contracted to enforce civil fines, such as judgements for debt delinquencies, subpoena service, and wage-garnishment notifications, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue that back-stop local law enforcement budgets. ALPR technology could exponentially increase revenues like thousands of electronic blood hounds.
Most of these surveillance programs operate without public awareness of their existence, let alone how the collection of our most personal data, in the hands of law enforcement and private technology monopolies, can impact our lives. Free speech and due process are threatened in ways never imagined, especially considering that proper laws and constitutional protections have fallen far behind in appropriately adjudicating violations of our rights.
It is time for Americans to get ahead of the curve for once, and contemplate the ramifications and possible unintended consequences that accrue to society with game-changing technological advances. The benefits are clear, but whom do they mostly advantage? More capacity for secretive over-reach by government and/or vast profits for corporate monopolies, all dependent on ever-increasing intrusions to our privacy, is not a balanced win-win for consumers. We greatly benefit in terms of convenience, personal efficiencies, and connectivity, but at what cost? Such cost, now and in the future, has to be part of the equation, especially if it erodes systemic quality of life by corrupting our constitutionally protected rights.