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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Free Speech and the Internet

I. Bush = Big Brother


The Bush administration's assault on privacy rights never ends. In one of the most chilling news stories I have read in some time, the Bush team has subpoenaed Google to find out details on what users type into the search engine.

This specific subpoena isn't terribily controversial. It concerns whether laws regarding child pornography work to prevent access. The problem is that if Google releases search engine details now, a terrible precedent will be established for future privacy intrusions.

Worse, the Bush legal team is predictably asking for much more information than needed for the case. The Attorney General has requested 1 million randomly selected Web addresses from various Google databases. This information will provide a massive amount of data that the government can study for various purposes. The discovery of popular search terms, for instance, could be used to increase the visibility of right-wing propaganda on the internet. Searches for anti-Republican party news could lead to the creation on FBI files on law-abiding Americans. (This website has likely led to the creation of a file on me.)

If Google must release these records, where does it end? Once it is established that the government may discover Google's records relating to criminal prosecutions, anything and everything on Google becomes fair game for government intrusion.



II. Self-Censorship


I mention self-censorship in order to highlight the challenges that people already face when it comes to free speech on the internet. Allowing the government intimate access to minute details of web surfing provides another, but totally unavoidable, barrier to free speech.

The biggest challenge that I face in blogging is that everything I post here will remain viewable to the public for the rest of my life. My goal is to become a Public Defender, hopefully here in San Francisco. This goal creates problems for me because I, on several occassions, have refrained from criticism of those in San Francisco politics for fear of repercussions down the road. Further, organizations that I am currently affiliated with could punish me for criticism I hurl towards them on this blog.

I don't think these limits that I've placed on my blogging are a good thing. My freedom of speech has already been slightly muted for fear of personal loss. To be fair and honest, I must at least inform my readers of this quandry. When it comes to national politics, I never hold anything back. I have no desire of attaining any national prominence nor do I have any fear or regrets about anything I've ever said. When it comes to local politics, I have held back on occassion. The scope of this blog is much larger than issues in little old San Francisco, so I don't think this is a huge harm. Still, I think it's more important to write the truth than withhold criticism for personal fear. As such, I have decided to stop self-censorship of local politics.

The only self-censorship I impose is with regards to organizations that I am a member. But let me get my message out on a particular issue, even if I cannot divulge the full scope of the facts. I attend law school at night as part of a larger evening program. Many of the students in this program with me attend school at night because we have to work during the day to support ourselves. Government loans don't even pay our entire tuition, so the system has been gamed in such a way as to make it virtually impossible for the poor to attain Master's Degrees of any sort. This is one of the key methods of entrenched privilege holding others out so that they can benefit for themselves. If the government would allow greater amounts for loans, I could quit my day job and devote myself to law school in the way that my comparatively wealthy peers can.

Most law schools do not offer night classes. This is another way of furthering the goal of keeping the rich wealthy and the poor in their place. Because of this disgusting reality, I am grateful to USF for providing a night program. However, our school does a poor job of meeting the needs of night students. Few classes are provided at night so our quality of education pales in comparison to that offered to day students. Nearly all groups at school hold all meetings in the middle of the day. As such, poor working students like me are excluded from these groups while rich trust fund kids get the experience and the access. The school takes no effort whatsoever to pressure these groups into ending the exclusion of working students from these groups. Grants for public interest work are only issued to those who are a member of a group that steadfastly refuses to meet in the evening. Another group carelessly scheduled an important event on a Friday without any consideration of the effect of such a change on working students. Our Student Bar Association exclusively holds massive student get-togethers during the working day. As a result of this disregard for poor students, I have less chance of getting a job as students with worse grades but more time to participate in extra curricular activities.

I doubt much of this interests many of you, but I decided to end part of my self-censorship and none of this really warrants its own post. I think it's worthwhile to remember that there is a concerted effort in America to create enough hurdles so as to make the "rags to riches" dream a myth. The rich stay rich because they have all the advantages; the poor stay poor because we get screwed every step of the way. I believe it's a crime against humanity to artificially limit the amount of loans people receive for education. Rich kids don't need loans so this doesn't change their situation, but it's helping keep poor people like me down. Loans are just that -- loans. If I want to get into more debt so that I can improve my education, the government should let me. The government, however, feels that it's more important to give massive tax cuts to the mega-rich and give corporate welfare to Halliburton than it is to temporarily lend me some money to improve my standing as a citizen.

America is no meritocracy and my law school experience is a case in point. People with wealth and access rise to the top; intelligence and hard work isn't nearly as important.

Comments on ""

 

Blogger Tran said ... (1:43 PM) : 

Preach on my friend! I agree whole heartedly.

 

Anonymous Tom said ... (8:19 PM) : 

This is an excellent post. I wish our society were a pure meritocracy. Privilege, wealth, connection, and nepotism should never be more important than talent and hard work when it comes to achieving success (but this is also why I think affirmative action is a bad policy - not based on merit).

But (as usual) I do have some critical comments which I'd like to respectfully make:

1) LOANS; you never once mentioned private loans (which our financial aid office promotes). We are only limited in the amount of financial aid we can get up to the cost of attendance (tuition + living expenses) which is much more than just the government loans and allows you to get by without working, and incidently, I have both, and the interest rates on the private loans is currently lower. Perhaps not everyone qualifies for a private loan, but you don't have to be a rich, white trustfund baby to get a private loan, or even be comparatively rich to yourself. So I disagree that anyone is limiting your ability to get financial aid or forcing you to work. Although loans piled on top of loans is not an attractive option, it's the reality for those of us who aren't rich.

2) STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS; I used to feel exactly the same way you did about the exclusive lunch time meetings of these organizations last year when I was working full time and going to night classes. But now I have the perspective of someone who is organizing these meetings, and I see why they aren't at 5:30pm. I've planned both, and the attendance at meetings at night is MUCH lower than during the lunch hour. So perhaps the purpose of lunch time meetings is not to keep the poor poor, but just a pracitcal reality.

Also, I hope the FBI has not created a file on you, and that your future career is not in jeopardy by anything you write here. Overall you're a nice guy with slightly mislead political beliefs (j/k).

 

Blogger Michael Alexander said ... (10:29 AM) : 

Loans - Unless you have near perfect credit, the majority of people do not qualify for private loans without a co-signer. If you don't have anyone in your family wealthy enough to co-sign for you, you can't get private loans. This is the boat I am in. I've tried and failed to obtain them. The government should offer me low interest, guaranteed loans.

Student Groups - I understand the concerns, and I'm sure the leaders of the groups are mostly doing this for practical reasons. Still, the groups still shouldn't conduct 100% of their activities during the middle of the day. A certain group whose requires attendance at these meetings in order to get summer grants steadfastly refuses to ever hold a meeting at any time other than 12 noon. They would be able to get people there at 5:00 as well with no problem. I reiterate: if you are going to have a night school, then the larger school has to give equal benefits and access to night students. We pay the same money and deserve the same access.


We can duke it out on affirmative action another time. Thanks for the FBI comment, but on the other hand it might be an honor to get a file.

 

Blogger Tran said ... (6:30 PM) : 

I must agree with Mike, as I have also been rejected from all major private lenders, although I have a decent credit rating.

As to the Student Organizations, I yield that the leaders of these organizations must be practical in scheduling to achieve the highest attendance possible. However, it is not the student run organizations that are truly troubling, it is the student-faculty and school events that most exclude night students for the least practical reasons.

USF almost inevitably holds its various events at mid-day. Recruitment events and the like certainly would not suffer reduced attendance if held in the early evening, as day students have no other commitments at this time and certainly would not CHOOSE to pass up the opportunity. Whereas, night students don't have a choice - we work and simply cannot make it to daytime events.

The greatest example was the special "complain to the dean" session held last semester. In light of the myriad of administrative problems plaguing USF, the deans agreed to hold a meeting where the students could voice their concerns. They scheduled it for noon, thus, precluding night students from stating the most pungent complaints - being repeatedly overlooked and excluded from school events, treated as second-class citizens, or the unique challenges we face in attempting to take advantage of the career assistance programs (of which Mike speaks).

 

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