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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: U.S. | Police State and Prisons
Should U.S. Government Use Illegal Wiretaps Against Americans Not Involved In Terrorism?
Neither Congress nor the courts—determined what NSA electronic surveillance could be used by police or introduced into court by the government to prosecute Citizens.
In 2008 Telecoms were granted government immunity after they helped U.S. Government spy on millions of Americans’ electronic communications. Since, Government has not disclosed what happened to NSA’s millions of collected emails, faxes and phone call information that belong to U.S. Citizens. Could those wiretaps perhaps illegal, become a problem for some Americans? Neither Congress nor the courts—determined what NSA electronic surveillance could be used by police or introduced into court by the government to prosecute Citizens.
Perhaps the only thing that stopped U.S. Government using “illegal telecom assisted wiretap evidence” against ordinary Americans and Businesses before the presidency of George Bush II, was Telecoms didn’t have immunity from being sued by charged criminal and civil asset forfeiture defendants.
In 2004, former Attorney General John Ashcroft asked government prosecutors to review thousands of old intelligence files including wiretaps to retrieve information prosecutors could use in “ordinary” criminal prosecutions. That was shortly after a court case lowered a barrier that blocked prosecutors from using illegal-wire tap evidence in Justice Dept. “Intelligence Files” to prosecute ordinary crimes. It would appear this information, may also be used by government to prosecute civil asset forfeitures.
Considering this court case, it might be possible for NSA to share its “recent” electronic-domestic-spying with countless U.S. police agencies; including government contracted--companies and private individuals that have security clearances to facilitate seizing Americans’ property—-to keep part of the bounty. Police too easily can take an innocent person’s hastily written email, fax or phone call out of context to allege a crime or violation was committed to cause an arrest or asset forfeiture.
There are over 200 U.S. laws and violations mentioned in the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 and the Patriot Act that can subject property to civil asset forfeiture.” Under federal civil forfeiture laws, a person or business need not be charged with a crime for government to forfeit their property.
In the U.S., increasing numbers of Private Contractors work on asset forfeitures to make commissions that are split with law enforcement agencies. Private Contractors work so closely with law enforcement to forfeit Citizens' property-providing and sharing intelligence, they appear to merge with police: that close working relationship lends itself to corruption. A dishonest Asset Forfeiture Bounty Hunter may too easily kick back part of his or her forfeiture commission to corrupt police and informants to ensure their testimony damages or frames a defendant to cause asset forfeiture.
Rep. Henry Hyde’s bill HR 1658 passed, the “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000” and effectively eliminated the “statue of limitations” for Government Civil Asset Forfeiture. The statute now runs five years from when police allege they “learned” that an asset became subject to forfeiture. With such a weak statute of limitations and the low standard of civil proof needed for government to forfeit property “A preponderance of Evidence”, it is problematic law enforcement and private government contractors will want access to telecom-NSA and other government wiretaps perhaps illegal, to secure evidence to arrest Americans and or civilly forfeit their homes, inheritances and businesses under Title 18USC and other laws. Of obvious concern, what happens to fair justice in America if police become dependent on “Asset Forfeiture” to help pay their salaries and operating costs?
Under the USA Patriot Act, witnesses can be kept hidden while being paid part of the assets they cause to be forfeited. The Patriot Act specifically mentions using Title 18USC asset forfeiture laws: those laws include a provision in Rep. Henry Hyde’s 2000 bill HR 1658—for “retroactive civil asset forfeiture” of “assets already subject to government forfeiture”, meaning "property already tainted by crime" provided “the property” was already part of or “later connected” to a criminal investigation in progress" when HR.1658 passed. That can apply to more than two hundred federal laws and violations.
To help protect Americans from police forfeiture abuse, Congress should pass legislation that raises the standard of evidence Government uses for Civil Asset Forfeiture from a mere “Preponderance of Evidence” to “Clear and Convincing Evidence.