Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.
The NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. And, of course, it’s all being done in secret.
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It’s not just that the police cannot protect you. They don’t even have to come when you call. In most states the government and police owe no legal duty to protect individual citizens from criminal attack. The District of Columbia’s highest court spelled out plainly the “fundamental principle that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular individual citizen.”
The law is similar in most states. A Kansas statute precludes citizens from suing the government or the police for negligently failing to enforce the law or for failing to provide police or fire protection. A California law states that “neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for failure to establish a police department or otherwise provide police protection service.” As one California appellate court wrote, “police officers have no affirmative statutory duty to do anything.”The state legislatures and courts protect government entities and police departments from civil liability for failing to provide adequate police protection. Some states invoke the “sovereign immunity” defense, a throwback to the days when the subjects were forbidden to sue the king. Other states have statutes that prevent legal challenges to police “discretionary” functions. Courts preclude lawsuits in those states by holding that answering emergency calls or providing police protection are “discretionary” functions.
Many states evade liability by relying on the ironically named “public duty” doctrine. Like a George Orwell slogan, that doctrine says: police owe a duty to protect the public in general, but not to protect any particular individual.
A ten year old Virginia boy who was arrested earlier this month for taking a plastic toy gun to school is facing a potentially permanent criminal record over the incident.
The boy, who remains unnamed by the media, hit headlines after Douglas MacArthur Elementary School officials searched his bag and found an orange tipped plastic toy gun, following complaints from parents who said their children had seen the boy playing with the fake firearm on the school bus.
Instead of exercising common sense, the school officials called the police, and the boy was taken into custody.
Although this seems to be one of the most extreme cases of children being disciplined over toy guns and gun gestures, it is far from isolated. As we have seen over the past few weeks, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, it is now a daily occurrence.
Ealier this month, a student in Florence, Arizona was suspended because he had a picture of a gun on his computer.
At the beginning of the month, it was reported that a six-year-old kindergartner in South Carolina was suspended for taking a small transparent plastic toy gun to school for a show and tell.
A day before that incident we reported on the five-year-old in Massachusetts who faced suspension for building a small toy gun out of lego bricks and play-shooting his classmates.
We also reported on an incident that erupted when a discussion between two children about a toy nerf gun caused a lockdown and a massive armed police response at two elementary schools in the Bronx.
In another incident, a Long Island high school was also placed on lock down for 6 hours in response to a student carrying a toy nerf gun.
In yet another recent incident, a five-year-old girl was suspended after a three hour grilling, and described as a “terroristic threat” when she brought a pink bubble gun to school.
A South Philadelphia elementary student was searched in front of classmates and threatened with arrest after she mistakenly brought a “paper gun” to school.
A 6-year-old boy was suspended from his elementary school in Maryland for making a gun gesture with his hand and saying “pow”.
Days after that incident, another two 6-year-olds in Maryland were suspended for pointing their fingers into gun shapes while playing “cops and robbers” with each other.
In Oklahoma, a five-year-old boy was also recently suspended for making a gun gesture with his hand.
And finally, a 13-year-old Middle School seventh grade student in Pennsylvania was also suspended for the same hand gesture.