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A ballot proposition in California aimed at stopping trafficking has the same kind of open-ended wording that led to serious infringements in another area not too long ago.  And as with the PATRIOT act, civil libertarians have their work cut out for them in an emotionally charged issue.

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

UPDATE: A summary of the ballot language to Proposition 35 has been added as a footnote.

Civil liberties are more often than not difficult to stand up for in practice.  In theory everyone is in favor of them, but the only times they make it into national debate is when they are under attack.  When times are good policy makers and the public don't seem to give much thought to re-visiting prior restrictions.  If everything in fine why bother, right?  

But in times of uncertainty, when fear and anger are driving the discourse, the temptation is to go for the farthest reaching solutions.  Laws with vague provisions get rushed through, comforting assurances are announced to the public, and anyone who objects is immediately deemed suspicious.  

We went through all this after 9/11.  The PATRIOT Act was (and is) truly awful legislation, and led the way to all sorts of abuse.  A nation traumatized by the terrorist attacks wasn't very worried about unintended consequences, and politicians were happy to legislate accordingly.  That kind of post-attack dread is very slow to dissipate, too.  More than a decade on, there is still some political hay to be made in denouncing the awful practice of giving suspected terrorists a Miranda warning.  Letting the lizard brain go to the background takes a long time.

In the years after 9/11 civil libertarians fought the worst infringements being pushed for and basically lost.  The predicted abuses began pretty quickly, infringements expanded without any real push back, and by the time the FISA Amendments Act passed in 2008 it was obvious civil liberties were an afterthought to the federal government.  (It's a wryly amusing footnote that David Petraeus has had his career destroyed by exactly the kind of wide ranging data collection civil libertarians objected to at the time.)

Barring some extraordinary change in public opinion or political sentiment, that is where we stand.  The issue has been settled, badly, and there is not much use in covering it any more - which is one of the reasons I haven't written about it for the past few years.  Maybe if a few more Petraeus scandals happen lawmakers will be inspired to have another look, but as of right now it seems like a dead issue.

A new civil liberties fight has started, though, and the outcome of this one is still to be decided.  Like with terrorism, it starts grounded in truth.  No one argued terrorism was not a threat after 9/11, just that we needed a less expansive fight against it.  We could fight terrorism and still be true to our best traditions.  Those who said that were mocked even though they were right (it didn't do John Kerry much good, did it?)  Making the case for a rational approach meant being soft on terror.

The issue of human trafficking has similar contours.  Described by the government (via) as "the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude," it is a very real and urgent problem.  (It's also worth pointing out that the Marczak/New Yorker pieces describe America's involvement in trafficking as part of the subcontracting process for supporting our wars.)

This seems to be a case where an Inspector General report is called for, maybe also a hard look at how the military has outsourced so many of its functions.  And this is probably too much to ask, but perhaps we could also look at the degree to which our wars create the environment for these kinds of human rights abuses.

But the term "trafficking" is also being used in other ways, most recently in California's Proposition 35.  It was billed1 as an anti-trafficking law, passed overwhelmingly, and was immediately challenged the the ACLU and the EFF.  Because it, like terrorism, is an incredibly emotionally charged issue, anyone opposing it is almost immediately put on the defensive.  In the same way that opposing wholesale infringements on our privacy meant that you didn't want to help protect us from terrorism, opposing prop 35 now means taking a "stand against the safety and sanctity of children."

Those who have written against it, like Melissa Gira Grant, have taken on a hard and unpopular task.  One of the first responses will be to show wrenching pictures like the one that heads Marczak's article and demand "so are you in favor of this?"  The fact that no one with an ounce of empathy is, and that all decent people find trafficking abhorrent, quickly gets lost.  When debates enter that kind of territory there isn't much room for nuance.  Those who have taken positions like Grant's have probably learned that pretty quickly.  And if recent history is any guide, the odds against them persuading the larger public are pretty long.  It's a debate worth having though.


NOTES

1.  From the summary provided in the linked voting guide:

Increases prison sentences and fines for human trafficking convictions. Requires convicted human traffickers to register as sex offenders. Requires registered sex offenders to disclose Internet activities and identities. Fiscal Impact: Costs of a few million dollars annually to state and local governments for addressing human trafficking offenses. Potential increased annual fine revenue of a similar amount, dedicated primarily for human trafficking victims.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You might consider including... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    ...a description of exactly what Proposition 35 actually says, as well as providing the link.

    For various reasons, there are those who would prefer not to have to click on a link to an outside site to see what you are talking about, specifically.

    Yes, I often dress as a pirate. Your point?

    by theatre goon on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 04:11:58 AM PST

    •  I didn't want to characterize it (0+ / 0-)

      in my own words because I didn't want to be accused of spinning the issue one way or the other. So I decided to just link to the actual proposal as it appeared on the ballot and let people decide for themselves.

      I understand why you'd want a description in the body of the post.  Not sure how to do that and also avoid being open to accusations of coloring the debate, though.

      •  Just put in... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        danps

        ...a short copy/paste from the description, such as:

        "From the summary provided in the linked voting guide:

        Increases prison sentences and fines for human trafficking convictions. Requires convicted human traffickers to register as sex offenders. Requires registered sex offenders to disclose Internet activities and identities. Fiscal Impact: Costs of a few million dollars annually to state and local governments for addressing human trafficking offenses. Potential increased annual fine revenue of a similar amount, dedicated primarily for human trafficking victims.
        "

        It would just help those who, for whatever reason, don't like to click on links and aren't from the same area know what you're talking about.

        Yes, I often dress as a pirate. Your point?

        by theatre goon on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 04:36:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  This one isn't trying to educate (0+ / 0-)

      they are trying to persuade.

      Slavery is the subject this poster wants to have less scrutiny.

      "Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" John Lennon - Working Class Hero

      by Horace Boothroyd III on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 04:33:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Your last 2 paragraphs are a little hard to follow (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marykk

    and heavy with links but don't actually tell us what the civil liberties issues are in this case.  For those of us not familiar with Prop 35, can you give a little summary of what is proposed and one or two pros/cons?  

  •  It's a very long and complex piece of reading (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marykk

    Something this complex really shouldn't be voted on by the general public who merely have to go in and check a box.  This is a job for the legislature, and if they refuse to deal with the issue, a major public pressure campaign to do so.  I would imagine a majority of voters didn't even know what they were voting on or the full implications.  

    That said, I think we have been somewhat lax overall in this country in our treatment of sex offenders and human traffickers.  I actually favor harsher penalties for those crimes.

    What I am opposed to is the broad-based internet screening proposed in the bill.  Not because I oppose stricter monitoring of sex offenders/traffickers, but because I can easily envision it being used in reverse to silence free speech.  For example, Joe Citizen is online criticizing the wrong public official (or sponsoring corporation), possibly exposing something dangerous to said official's career or something criminal.  That public official would have powerful incentive to try and find anything that might stick as a sex offense or trafficking investigated on Joe Citizen because then the government has the full ability to monitor everything Joe Citizen says and does online.  In this case, good and innocent people could be really, really hurt by a corrupt person in the wrong office.  

    Just because a citizen says something upsetting about a local politician or government unit, there should be nothing about that which gives incentive to any person or government unit to go fishing for plausible sex offenses or human trafficking charges against that citizen.  Or laws giving us reason to fear this possibility.

  •  I had to read half this diary before (0+ / 0-)

    I had any idea what it was about. Ah "human" trafficking. FYI, if I were telepathic, I wouldn't have to read anything.

  •  it is a good law (0+ / 0-)

    we need to read the actual text of the law and not be taken in by the spin. (pdf)

    A couple of relevant excerpts:

    Evidence that a victim of human trafficking, as defined in Section 236.1 of the Penal Code, has engaged in any commercial sexual act as a result of being a victim of human trafficking is inadmissible to prove the victim’s criminal liability for any conduct related to that activity.
    Any person who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, is guilty of human trafficking
    •  It might be, though I disagree with the internet (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      danps

      provisions for reasons above.  However, it's complex enough that this should be handled by the legislature, not as a general ballot initiative.  

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