An absolutely insane move by the Department of “Homeland” Security

Not too long ago, The Independent reported on an audacious request by the US Department of Homeland Security. That request was for British airlines to submit the personal data of British citizens flying to Cuba, Mexico, and parts of Canada to the US DHS.

From the article:

New rules require British Airways and other airlines flying to certain airports outside America to submit passengers’ personal data to US authorities. The information is checked against a “No Fly” list containing tens of thousands of names. Even if the flight plan steers well clear of US territory, travellers whom the Americans regard as suspicious will be denied boarding.

Yes, you read that right: even when the flights don’t go over US airspace, much less land in the country.

And it’s this kind of meddling in the affairs of other countries that makes me give pause to being proud to be an American. I don’t see how it is the business of the US government what citizens of another country are flying to, say, Toronto or Mexico City.

To make matters worse (again quoting the article):

Those who do supply details may find their trip could be abruptly cancelled by the Department of Homeland Security, which says it will “[m]ake boarding pass determinations up until the time a flight leaves the gate … If a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass, his/her name is not on the No Fly list.” In other words, travellers cannot find out whether they will be accepted on board until they reach the airport.

So, a British citizen planning a vacation in Cancún could arrive at the airport, go through all the song and dance required by security, then find out at the gate that the US DHS has placed him on the “no fly list” and the vacation is off.

One also has to wonder how an American traveller in Europe would react if he were denied boarding on a flight from London to Rome because the German government had not received sufficient data from him.

And some still wonder why the rest of the world dislikes Americans and hates the US government. Well, things like this are why. This is a slap in the face to the rest of the world. This is, dare I say it, un-American. I don’t know what the DHS was thinking when they came up with this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this runs afoul of some international law somewhere.

Shame on you, DHS.

DHS takes a whack at the Mozilla Foundation

Harvey Anderson, a Mozilla employee in charge of legal and business affairs, recently blogged about a request by the Department of Homeland Security to take down the MafiaaFire add-on. The apparent issue DHS has with the plug-in is that it redirects the users from one domain to another automatically, which is usually not a big deal. Except that in this case, it’s a tool to circumvent domain name seizures.

[Mozilla’s] approach is to comply with valid court orders, warrants, and legal mandates, but in this case there was no such court order.  Thus, to evaluate Homeland Security’s request, we asked them several questions similar to those below to understand the legal justification:

  • Have any courts determined that the Mafiaafire add-on is unlawful or illegal in any way? If so, on what basis? (Please provide any relevant rulings)
  • Is Mozilla legally obligated to disable the add-on or is this request based on other reasons? If other reasons, can you please specify.
  • Can you please provide a copy of the relevant seizure order upon which your request to Mozilla to take down the Mafiaafire add-on is based?

The fact that DHS is requesting takedowns from third parties as far detached as Mozilla shows just how much the (losing) legal battle to stop copyright infringement has gotten out of hand. I’m glad we have people willing to step up and call the bluff of the DHS. Last I checked, there is nothing illegal about circumventing the seizure of a domain name, and in essence all MafiaaFire does is say “oh, here’s a request for, let’s redirect it to” (In some cases, maybe it’s just the old or a new IP address bound to the old name; I haven’t really looked at how this plugin works.)

I see no reason why the list of these domains, and the information how to get to the same site despite the domain being hijacked, is protected speech. MafiaaFire could just as easily be used by Chinese citizens to circumvent government blocking. It’s an anti-censorship tool, and I take a dim view of those who attempt to censor the publishers of an anti-censorship tool.

I can accept that the DHS doesn’t like being shown up in such a fashion. But telling Mozilla to take down this plugin won’t make it go away. It’s out there, and the plugin authors will undoubtedly find somewhere else to post it.

In the name of homeland security…

Apparently, if you work for the Department of Homeland Security, you’re above the law, and can do things with impunity that can easily result in ISP abuse complaints if done by an average citizen. Like this:

A recent Infowars post (warning: link contains profanity) details what some DHS employees do on company time. George Donnelly had his curiosity piqued by one of the few offensive comments posted to Infowars, and decided to see who the IP address belonged to. For those who don’t want to read the unedited copy, it goes something like this paraphrased version (misspellings in original):

Screw you, screw all you lower lifeforms, you wont change anything. ride the bus, TSA is here to stay there doing a great job keeping americia safe.

The answer shocked him as much as it shocked me, and it’ll probably shock you as well: the comment came from an IP address ( registered to the Department of Homeland Security. In plain English: it was most likely posted by a DHS employee on paid time; at minimum, it was posted from the DHS computer network. It would be one thing if it was just a flame with no profanity, but as posted, it goes way over the line.

George poses some interesting questions for the DHS worth quoting:

  • Is this an official statement?
  • If not, is it an accurate representation of the DHS position?
  • Was this person on the public dime when he or she posted this?
  • Who posted this and what is their position with DHS?

We know what the answers should be. I anxiously await whatever response George gets from the DHS. I’d also like to know who at the DHS thinks it is such a good idea to go trolling blogs that express negative opinions about the government, which are protected speech by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. To me, this is dangerously close to intimidation by the DHS, the type of thing which Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he uttered this quote:  “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

As a US taxpayer, I believe I’m entitled to know why the DHS is spending my tax dollars like this. While I would find it slightly repulsive if DHS employees did this on their own time, I find it positively abhorrent this is happening from an IP address registered to the DHS and quite possibly done by DHS employees on the clock.

And I am giving everyone advance notice: comments of the sort referenced by George in his post to Infowars linked above are, as a rule, unwelcome on this blog, particularly if they contain profanity. Even if such comments are not published on this blog, I reserve the right to forward such comments directly to news media if I determine such comments are posted from government networks, the corporate networks of known government contractors, or if otherwise connected to the government or corporations which contract for government business. As part of one of my jobs, I talk to news media on a regular basis, and I will not be shut up easily.

Let there be no mistake about it. I love my country, and I love the First Amendment, which gives us the freedom to criticize our government when it makes mistakes. In closing,  I’d like to refer to another, possibly lesser known, quote of Thomas Jefferson’s: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

I consider this a matter of principle. I stand like a rock.