Privacy Invasions or DC Scandal: Which Threatens Us More?

A privacy expert and a scandal-oriented satirist will describe on my April 5 radio show how to balance lost privacy for the average person against such other threats to democracy as secret scandal by government leadersHenry Scott London Comfort -- or terrorism threats.

William EyreIn the first interview segment 17 minutes past noon (EDT), government surveillance expert Dr. William Eyre will join the weekly public affairs show, MTL Washington Update, co-hosted with Scott Draughon, founder of the radio network. Eyre authored The Real ID Act, a first-of-its-kind book describing government surveillance in the United States. Eyre, left, and his book -- available here -- warn that federal laws and procedures disguised as anti-terrorism measures have far-reaching implications for ordinary citizens and for the nation’s democratic process.

Next up will be Henry Scott, author of the new satirical novel, London Comfort: An American Idol's Dangerous Real World Adventure. The thinly disguised fiction portrays celebutante London Comfort, a seemingly brainless Hollywood celebrity who finds herself in the midst of intrigue, scandal and surveillance in Washington after a judge sentences her to community service as a White House tour guide. The country is being led in Scott's novel by an ego-centric President, John Edsel, who balances his responsibiities with a distinctly selfish agenda that becomes better known to his tour guide than to his wife.

As separately reported in a previous column, our other guest will be Utah attorney Brett Tolman, who is active in the extraordinary petition drive on behalf of Iowa businessman Sholom Rubashkin. The defendant has been sentenced to 27 years in prison as a first-offender on fraud charges. Tolman is former legal counsel to Republicans leading the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and was the U.S. attorney for Utah, nominated in 2006 by President Bush. He is a widely published author, including a 2010 law review article, That Ain't Kosher, about this case. In it and on the April 5 show, he describes why irregularities have prompted six former U.S. attorneys general, three from each major party, along with such other volutneers as him to join legal brief on the defendant's behalf that was submitted to the Supreme Court this week.

Click here to listen to the noon (EST) interviews live nationwide on the My Technology Lawyer (MTL) radio network or later by archive. 

Brett Tollman

The government initiated the Rubashkin prosecution originally for massive immigration violations. Then the prosecution developed a financial fraud case. The aggressive tactics -- including involvement by the judge in secret planning for a massive raid has drawn wide, bipartisan concern in legal circles. But authorities and the court so far insist the defendant has been tried and sentenced in fair fashion. Tolman, at left, is among the experts disputing that contention, as indicated in our column earlier this week, Coalition Protests Iowa Judge’s 27-Year Prison Term for Rabbi-Businessman.

Somewhat similarly, Eyre is a law enforcement expert raising questions regarding his field of international terrorism, cryptography, biometrics, cybersecurity, and computer forensics. He was the first interdisciplinary doctoral graduate in Information Security from Purdue University’s Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS). This was the world's first and most respected such center. He is lecturing in Washington on the balance of terror-fighting and privacy at 7 p.m. April 13 at 1524 35th Street NW.

Henry Scott Len PrinceScott's background is impressive also. It includes high-ranking jobs in the newspaper and magazine business. The former journalist worked at newspapers in North Carolina (the Raleigh Times and Charlotte Observer) and Connecticut (the Hartford Courant), and moved on to become a business executive at the New York Times (Vice President, New Media/New Products), Out Publishing (President) and Metro New York (Publisher). In 2009, he published his first book, Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential, 'America's Scandalous Scandal Magazine'. Since then, he has focused heavily on novels, with London Comfort available at Scott is at right in a photo by Len Prince.

"The book," Scott says, "is about the intersection of sex and politics, which, in the Western world, had seemed a uniquely American obsession until Silvio Berlusconi came along. And even then, it's interesting that his sexual misadventures were the least of Berlusconi's problems. Publicity about all of them might well have forced the resignation of a U.S. President." Scott continues:

The book also is, in part, a look at Americans' fascination with celebrity to the exclusion of competence. As it turns out, there was more to London Comfort than her fans first imagined. An interesting question is why do we always want to elect inexperienced celebrities (Barack Obama would fit in that camp) instead of sober and experienced public officials?

We've fallen for the "outside the Beltway" argument, which makes sense to some degree, but not totally. I'd rather see Americans focus on reforming Washington so there's less influence-peddling and corruption in DC and so that we can comfortably re-elect competent and experienced politicians.

Scott's novel reflects both reported and rumored tendencies among public officials and is part of a wider debate on reform. Our project has addressed components of this repeatedly including a recent column, Let's Listen To Reformers Buddy Roemer and, Yes, Jack Abramoff.

As always, we invite listener questions and commentsfor the show. Call (866) 685-7469 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Mac users need “Parallels.”

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Related News Coverage

Washington Post, Immigration officials arrest more than 3,100, Annie Gowen and Jerry Markon, April 2, 2012. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Monday that they had arrested more than 3,100 criminals and others living in the country illegally, the largest such effort in the agency’s history, adding fuel to the national debate over the Obama administration’s stepped-up deportation policies. The six-day operation — dubbed “Cross Check” — nabbed 3,168 offenders across the nation, including in all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia. Of those, 1,477 taken into custody had felony convictions such as murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, child abuse, assault and other offenses.

Yeshiva World, Sholom Rubashkin Legal Team Files Petition for Certiorari, Staff report, April 2, 2012. Lawyers for Sholom Rubashkin today filed a petition for writ of certiorari for the United States Supreme Court. Rubashkin, who is serving a 27-year sentence for bank fraud, is seeking relief from the Supreme Court because the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to consider evidence that Rubashkin first discovered after the trial that made the trial fundamentally unfair. The newly discovered evidence showed that the trial judge had participated for seven months before the immigration raid on Rubashkin’s meat-packing plant in planning for the raid. She and the prosecutors failed to disclose these meetings to Rubashkin’s trial lawyers. Rubashkin is also seeking relief from the Supreme Court because the Eighth Circuit upheld his extraordinary 27-year sentence as “reasonable” even though the trial court did not consider whether that sentence would result in unwarranted disparities among similarly situated defendants, as required by federal sentencing law.

New York Times, Supreme Court Ruling Allows Strip-Searches for Any Offense, Adam Liptak, April 2, 2012. The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, joined by the court’s conservative wing, wrote that courts are in no position to second-guess the judgments of correctional officials who must consider not only the possibility of smuggled weapons and drugs, but also public health and information about gang affiliations. “Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” Justice Kennedy wrote, adding that about 13 million people are admitted each year to the nation’s jails.

Washington Post, Britain weighs proposal to allow greatly increased Internet ‘snooping,’ Anthony Faiola and Ellen Nakashima, April 2, 2012. Under daily observation from thousands of surveillance cameras mounted everywhere from street corners to taxicabs to public parks, Britons rank among the most-watched people on Earth. But a new government plan is poised to take the gaze of this nation’s security services dramatically deeper: letting them examine the text messages, phone calls, e-mails and Web browsing habits of every person in the country. The “snooping” proposal set to be presented in Parliament later this year is sparking an uproar over privacy in Britain, fueling a debate over the lengths to which intelligence agencies should go in monitoring citizens — a debate that has resonance on both sides of the Atlantic.

Other News Catching Our Attention

Supreme  CourtSCOTUS Blog / Bloomberg, Holder reaffirms Marbury, Lyle Denniston, April 5, 2012. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. told a federal appeals court Thursday that President Obama and his administration do not quarrel with the authority of the federal courts to strike down an act of Congress, but argued that a court should not do so lightly. The letter was filed with a Fifth Circuit Court panel in response to a request on Tuesday for the government’s views. The highly unusual exchange between the three-judge panel and the head of the Justice Department was apparently set off by remarks the President made on Monday, seemingly questioning the authority of the Supreme Court to strike down some or all of the new federal health care law. One of the judges on the panel, Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith, apparently took offense at what the President had said and used a hearing on a pending case as a vehicle for challenging the Chief Executive and his administration. The Circuit Court panel is considering a constitutional challenge by a group of Texas hospitals to a part of the new Affordable Care Act.

Salon, The Obama DOJ and strip searches, Glenn Greenwald,  April 4, 2012. Numerous progressive commentators are lambasting the Supreme Court for its 5-4 ruling yesterday in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, and rightfully so. The 5-judge conservative faction held that prison officials may strip-search anyone arrested even for the most minor offenses before admitting them to the general population of a jail or prison, even in the absence of a shred of suspicion that they are carrying weapons or contraband. The plaintiff in this case had been erroneously arrested for outstanding bench warrants for an unpaid fine that he had actually paid, and was twice subjected to forced strip searches. What virtually none of this anti-Florence commentary mentioned, though, was that the Obama DOJ formally urged the Court to reach the conclusion it reached. While the Obama administration and court conservatives have been at odds in a handful of high-profile cases (most notably Citizens United and the health care law), this is yet another case, in a long line, where the Obama administration was able to have its preferred policies judicially endorsed by getting right-wing judges to embrace them:

Huffington Post, Wisconsin Planned Parenthood Bombing Draws FBI Vow To Protect Public Access To Abortion Clinics, Laura Bassett, April 4, 2012. In the wake of the Planned Parenthood bombing in Grand Chute, Wisc., the Federal Bureau of Investigation has reaffirmed its commitment to protecting women's access to reproductive health facilities. Teresa Carlson, special agent-in-charge of the FBI's Milwaukee office, announced the arrest of 50-year-old Francis Grady for "arson of a building used in interstate commerce" and "intentionally damaging the property of a facility that provides reproductive health services" on Tuesday. She said in a statement, "The FBI will always investigate and bring to justice anyone who resorts to violence as a means to harm, intimidate, or prevent the public's right to access reproductive health services."

FireDogLake, Woodward and Bernstein Join Rich Tradition of Blaming the Internet for Everything, David Dayen, April 4, 2012. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein sat for an interview at the American Society of News Editors yesterday, and they were asked about how a Watergate-type scandal would play out in the Internet age. They mocked a set of papers from a Yale journalism class, which they claimed said that the Watergate scandal would pop up on the Internet, and that Nixon would have had to resign much more quickly. The reason that big, complex scandals cannot flourish in America and bring with it justice has nothing to do with “the Internet,” the only segment of the media-scape actually paying attention to such matters. It’s because we don’t have a media willing to challenge power anymore.

National Public Radio, Online Voting 'Premature,' Warns Government Cybersecurity Expert, Pam Fessler, April 3, 2012.  Warnings about the dangers of Internet voting have been growing as the 2012 election nears, and an especially noteworthy one came Thursday from a top cybersecurity official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Bruce McConnell told a group of election officials, academics and advocacy groups meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., that he believes "it's premature to deploy Internet voting in real elections at this time." McConnell said voting systems are vulnerable and, "when you connect them to the Internet, that vulnerability increases." He called security around Internet voting "immature and underresourced." McConnell's comments echo those of a number of computer scientists who say there's no way to protect votes cast over the Internet from outside manipulation.  But right now a growing number of states are allowing overseas and military voters to return their marked ballots by digital fax or email, which experts say raises the same threat. It's part of a recent push to make voting easier for millions of Americans overseas, who often are prevented from voting because of slow ballot delivery and missed deadlines. The Federal Voting Assistance Program at the Pentagon and other groups have been working recently to make it easier for overseas Americans and those in the military to register to vote online and to download their ballots.

Legal Times, Citing Lack of Funding, Media Access Project Closing Its Doors, April 3, 2012. After nearly 39 years, the Washington public interest law firm Media Access Project announced Tuesday it will suspend operations beginning in May because of funding shortfalls. Describing the advocacy group as "principally foundation funded," MAP Senior Vice President and Policy Director Andrew Schwartzman said the closure is largely due to the impact of the economic downturn on already strained revenue sources. "It's always been tough for the public interest community," Schwartzman, who has been with MAP since 1978, said in an interview. He added that "the foundation community hasn't really recovered" from the recession. He said that while the development of the Internet is under constant scrutiny by a variety of sources, no one outlet is fully engaged in MAP's more specific interests in the ownership of media outlets and the ability of the FCC to successfully enforce its regulations. "I think MAP serves an important purpose – one that won't be fully filled," he said.