Can the police use GPS to spy on you? Supreme Court leaves big questions unanswered

The Supreme Court issued a landmark decision Monday regarding warantless surveillance that could have vast implications for privacy and technology in the years to come. In a unanimous ruling, the justices said the police violated the Constitution when they placed a GPS device on the underside of a suspect’s car and used the device to track and record his movements for a month. The court, however, was closely divided on its reasoning for the decision, and the split could leave several important privacy-related questions unresolved.

The question in the case was whether Washington, D.C. police violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the defendant, Antoine Jones, when they placed a GPS tracking device on his car to gather evidence for a potential drug trafficking case. The government argued that Jones had no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in either the location of the device — the underside of his car — or in the places where he drove the car, such as public roads. The police failed to obtain a warrant before attaching the device to Jones’s car.

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Voters don’t trust Gingrich on the economy, but he’s still beating Romney. Why?

Photo: AP/Matt Rourke

Analysts are still scouring the results from Saturday’s South Carolina primary for clues as to why Newt Gingrich — the 68-year-old, thrice-married former House speaker who left professional politics in 1999 — is suddenly the front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Gingrich, whose campaign has already been declared dead at least twice, is surging in national polls and leading Mitt Romney in the next primary state, Florida, by nine points.

The most surprising finding from the polls so far is that voters still prefer Romney on economic issues over Gingrich. In Florida, 45 percent of voters said they trusted Romney to manage the economy. Only 30 percent said the same of Gingrich. That fact is puzzling, given that voters across the political spectrum have consistently listed the economy as their highest priority. If this election is about the economy, then, how could Gingrich possibly be winning?

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It’s the Chinese, stupid

Generally, campaign rhetoric in the recent past has not been very favorable to the idea of China. In a struggling economy, China is often painted as the beneficiary of a trend that has put millions of Americans into financial insecurity. Jon Huntsman, who announced his withdrawal from the presidential race earlier this week, often found his former role as U.S. Ambassador to China a liability in his campaign, with attack ads labeling him a “Manchurian candidate” and “China Jon,” and questioning whether he “shares our values.”

Mitt Romney’s supporters have also been attempting to link rival Newt Gingrich to some of China’s controversial social policies, with one ad accusing Gingrich of co-sponsoring a bill with House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi giving funds to a “U.N. program supporting China’s brutal one-child policy.” (Fact-checking organization Politifact found the statement to be false.)

But attitudes toward China are decidedly more complicated in South Carolina, where the next stage of the race toward the GOP nomination takes place in this weekend’s primary. Evan Osnos puts the reality of the state’s relationship with China into perspective:

If summoning the Red Menace makes sense in Ohio and Michigan, in South Carolina it’s preposterous. The state has been one of the most energetic places in the union in extracting benefits from trade with the People’s Republic. In 2005, it opened its own office in Shanghai, alongside offices from Austria and Sweden. The South Carolina Department of Commerce says Chinese companies have invested $307.8 million in the state. South Carolina, in fact, was the site of the first Chinese company to build a factory in the United States, when Haier Group, the appliance manufacturer, arrived in 1999. At last count, it has two hundred and fifty employees making refrigerators and freezers, and it has attracted other Chinese factories.

Many other parts of the state, however, also struggle with the closure of factories often blamed on China’s currency manipulation that allows for cheaper and more attractive exports. In October, Politico described the conundrum faced by Republican state lawmakers conflicted by the conservative ideology of free trade and the state’s manufacturers “hemorrhaging jobs to Asia’s largest economy.”

This year’s jabs are certainly not the first political ads to invoke anti-China sentiment, nor are they the most outrageous. During the midterm elections of 2010, a slew of Congressional candidates summoned the image of a sinister China to attack their rivals in a variety of television spots, complete with mandolin music and fortune cookie clichés. But political ads are attracting much broader audiences in a national presidential election. In the meantime, anti-China rhetoric on the campaign trail remains under close watch by those concerned with upsetting U.S-China relations, as well as Asian-American communities, who often become collateral damage in an atmosphere of “yellow peril.” At the Daily Beast, Dan Levin writes that while Chinese political analysts assure that the rhetoric will pass after November’s election, the “barrage of criticism” against China has continued to feed a general mistrust of the U.S.:

[T]o many Chinese, the constant barrage of criticism, whether over human rights, hacking, military policy, or intellectual property, feeds a sense of paranoia that there is a broad American plan to undermine China.

“A conspiracy theory has taken root in China,” says Liu Yawei, director of the China program at the Carter Center in Atlanta. “Some very influential scholars see the whole currency manipulation as a ploy, along with the dollar devaluation and war with Iraq and Afghanistan, as all meant to make China disintegrate.”

Is Congress putting online freedom at risk? How SOPA would change the Internet

Popular websites Reddit, Wikipedia and Google participated in an Internet-wide day of action against SOPA Wednesday by staging a series of blackouts.

Prominent lawmakers are already backing away from the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) after major sites like Wikipedia and Reddit staged “blackouts” Wednesday to protest the bill’s draconian measures, which they say would severely restrict the free flow of information online.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas both said Wednesday that they would no longer support the bill in its current form, after a wide coalition of websites, social media companies and other start-ups warned that the legislation would have grave consequences for innovation and freedom of expression of the Internet.

Lobby groups pushing the bill — the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others — say online piracy is metastasizing, eating away at their businesses and, in turn, the livelihoods of artists and other content producers. Those groups have campaigned aggressively for SOPA and its sister bill, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which would vest in the government unprecedented powers to stop piracy by overseas websites.

The unintended consequences, however, could be far-reaching, fundamentally altering the infrastructure of the open Internet.

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An original Freedom Rider remembers his last hours with Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Rev. Bernard Lafayette, right, with Dr. Martin Luther King at a news conference in Atlanta on January 16, 1968. (AP Photo/Charles Kelly)

In honor Martin Luther King Day, Need to Know spoke with Bernard Lafayette, an original Freedom Rider and one of the organizers of the Selma march protesting voter discrimination during the civil rights movement, about his last hours with King before King’s assassination on April 4, 1968:

Martin Luther King said if you haven’t found something in life that you’re willing to die for, you’ve not yet lived. I spoke with him in Memphis on April 4th. I was there, because I was national coordinator for the poor people’s campaign. And I remember my last words with him. He said to me, “Bernard, the next thing we’re gonna do is to institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence.” Five hours later, when I landed in Washington, that’s when I learned he’d been assassinated.

Tune in this week on Need to Know for the full interview with Lafayette, on whether new laws making it harder for Americans to vote are a step back for racial equality.

A portrait of the intellectual as a young woman

A scene from "Sontag: Reborn," running January 4-15 at The Public Theater as part of the Under the Radar Festival. Photo: James Gibbs.

Being called an intellectual in the U.S. is tricky business. In recent years, the word has become akin to a slur – just ask “Professor” Barack Obama. So it’s remarkable that such an undeniably esoteric thinker and writer like Susan Sontag achieved the celebrity status that she did in her lifetime. For many, Sontag’s role as a public intellectual advanced the conversation about taboo topics like AIDS, homosexuality and war. In her seminal “AIDS and Its Metaphors,” Sontag examined how military metaphors distorted the experiences of people suffering from the disease.

This month, her life and work take center stage in “Sontag: Reborn,” which is one of the star attractions of this year’s Under the Radar theater festival in New York City. Adapted and performed by Moe Angelos and directed by Marianne Weems, “Sontag: Reborn is a portrait of the intellectual as a young woman. The play is adapted from the first volume of Sontag’s recently published private journals, which were edited by her son David Reiff. The play spans the years of 1947 to 1963, and opens when Sontag is just 16 years old.
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Does it matter that Mitt Romney fired people? Buyout past becomes focus of campaign

There are, perhaps, a number of reasons why Republican voters seem to lack enthusiasm for Mitt Romney. For one thing, he’s not only fired people in his career, but seems, by his own admission, to have enjoyed it. When a candidate makes a gaffe like that — especially a candidate who comes from a moneyed background and lives a privileged life — the image that comes to mind is one of the imperious CEO, dressed in suspenders and Italian loafers, feet up on the desk, chomping on a cigar as minions rain $100 bills down on his head (it doesn’t help that there exists a damning photo of Romney not too far from this caricature). Nobody votes for that guy for president.

Romney has tried to anticipate this attack, projecting the image of the All-American Businessman, patriarch of the All-American Family, defender of the All-American Way of Life. Until now, that strategy has, if not succeeded, gone relatively unchallenged throughout the months-long Invisible Primary and the first two nominating contests. However, now that Romney seems to be headed toward a convincing win, with his unmatched campaign machinery and heaps of cash, his rivals are getting desperate, and making his past as the head of a Wall Street buyout firm a major liability that could tarnish him throughout the rest of the campaign.

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Fight moves to South Carolina after Romney’s New Hampshire win

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney traveled to South Carolina today after winning the New Hampshire primary election yesterday. Photo: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The results of last night’s New Hampshire primary offered few surprises. As far as election observers were concerned, the bigger question was not whether Mitt Romney would win in New Hampshire, but by how much. The former Massachusetts governor ended up with 39 percent of the vote, giving him an unprecedented win in both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Ron Paul followed behind in second place with 23 percent of the vote.

The wins in two of the nation’s most important Republican primaries solidifies Romney’s path to the GOP nomination and to November’s fight against President Obama for the presidency. For many observers, however, these recent wins have not changed the race. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine summed up the night simply:

Mitt Romney has always been the inevitable nominee. After Iowa, he continued to be the inevitable nominee. After tonight, he is, still, the inevitable nominee. In other words, nothing happened.

In his victory speech, Romney positioned himself as the primary alternative to President Obama in the upcoming presidential election. “The path I lay out is not one paved with ever increasing government checks and cradle-to-grave assurances that government will always be the solution,” he said. “If this election is a bidding war for who can promise more benefits, then I’m not your president. You have that president today. But if you want to make this election about restoring American greatness, then I hope you will join us.”

At Patchwork Nation, Dante Chinni points out that Romney’s win was bolstered by votes from the wealthy suburbs, which will be key areas for the 2012 presidential vote. “Obama won the Monied Burbs by double digits in 2008, and any GOP candidate who wants to unseat him doesn’t need to win the Burbs outright, but needs to cut into that margin mightily,” Chinni writes. “After two nomination fights, Romney is clearly in the best position to make that case.”

Nevertheless, it’s clear that the remaining Republican candidates will continue to fight for the nomination as the South Carolina primary looms ahead. On CNN today, Texas governor Rick Perry stated that “If Mitt’s thinking he’s got it in the bag, he’s in for a surprise.”

Newt Gingrich, the anti-capitalist

Photo: Gage Skidmore

When the Republican presidential primary first began to take shape in early 2011, the candidates set out by training their sights squarely on President Obama. Over the course of the first 12 months of the campaign, they called him a “socialist,” accused him of waging “class warfare,” denounced him for being a “job killer,” for demonizing “job creators” and seeking to impose a “European-style welfare state” that would “redistribute” Americans’ hard-earned money.

Now that they’ve reached the pivotal New Hampshire primary, however, the candidates are singing a very different tune, and have found a new villain to focus on: Mitt Romney.

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