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Can Government Use Your Thoughts Against You?

Gilberto Valle

image credit kgab.com

The federal government can now use what you say or write online against you in court and convict you, even if you didn’t commit a crime. At least that’s what attorneys for Gilberto Valle, the notorious cannibal cop from New York City, are saying.

Valle was convicted in a federal court in Manhattan in March of plotting to kidnap and eat women. Almost all of the testimony used against him came from online conversations he had. Valle, an NYPD officer, never went out and actually kidnapped anybody, although he did stalk a woman.

Federal Thought Police Online

This is a dangerous precedent because Valle was convicted for thoughts he expressed online rather than for actual actions, defense attorney Robert Baum told the Associated Press. Valle’s lawyer made an even more explicit and frightening remark about the case. Julia Gatto said the federal government was “prosecuting what’s in our brains and not what’s in the real world.”

The prosecutors were able to get a conviction against Valle by showing the jury his chat room posts and pictures of porn he viewed online. The pictures included trussed up women.

Obviously, Gilberto Valle is a reprehensible person, but his attorneys are right here. The case creates a frightening precedent that sounds like something out of a communist country. A man has been convicted and will be sent to prison based on what he posted or said online.

One has to wonder if federal prosecutors were not trying to establish a precedent that would enable them to go after others online. For example, anti-abortionists who had an online discussion about shutting down a clinic or gun owners online who mentioned methods of getting around gun control laws could be convicted and jailed if this sticks.

Basically anybody who mentioned or discussed criminal behavior could be prosecuted using these standards. This includes protestors planning civil disobedience and perhaps others. What about an accountant who simply mentioned a means of evading federal income taxes? Could she be prosecuted for conspiracy to evade taxes even if she didn’t actually take that action?

This is getting dangerously close to violation of freedom of speech. It sounds almost as if federal prosecutors are going to start acting as thought police and start prosecuting those who simply express opinions or mention certain actions.

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Valle might have been targeted because he is a particularly loathsome individual who would elicit little or no sympathy. Few people would take his case or his side, even if the federal government was clearly in the wrong. The prosecutors might have wanted to test the strategy with an easy target, which Valle, who is something of a numbskull, certainly is.

Cannibal Cop Used Federal Database to Find Potential Victims

Another reason that the federal prosecutors might have used Valle for a test case is that the sensationalism about his alleged cannibalism made it easy to hide the facts of the case. The media concentrated on the gory testimony about cooking women while ignoring what was going on in the court room.

Another frightening aspect of this case that was kept out of most media accounts was that Valle used information about average citizens from a law enforcement database to track down his potential victims. Valle located the home addresses of the women he wanted to victimize through this law-enforcement database.

A particularly bothersome detail of this case is that we don’t know what law-enforcement database Valle used to track down his victims. Nor do we know exactly how he got into the database, although he presumably accessed it through the precinct house where he worked. The database Valle accessed was presumably federal because he was able to track and stalk women in other states.

One possibility is that Valle might have stumbled onto some sort of secret or possibly illegal database containing information about law-abiding citizens. Another is that he somehow got into the Department of Homeland Security’s computer network. If that occurred, that’s really frightening because it indicates Homeland Security is storing data on average people’s homes and addresses. It also indicates that Homeland Security might be sharing such data with local police agencies like the NYPD and that local police might be sharing data with Homeland Security.

What’s even worse is that Valle was only caught when his wife discovered his savage scheme on his computer. Nobody at the NYPD or the federal government seemed to notice that this rogue cop was abusing federal data until after his computer was searched by the FBI. That indicates lax security on the part of law enforcement agencies that are gathering and storing data about average citizens.

Details of Case Being Suppressed and Ignored

The federal prosecutors went out of their way to keep those details of the case secret, possibly because they didn’t want the public to know how easy it was for corrupt or perverted officials to use such information against average citizens. The real story was that a crazed and potentially mentally ill officer was able to use information from a police database in an attempt to harm average citizens.

He wasn’t the smartest officer, but Valle had little trouble abusing police resources to track down the women he wanted to get. This should be a wakeup call for everybody who cares about privacy, especially those who entertain the idea of federal registries for guns and mental illnesses.

Corrupt and disturbed members of law enforcement could easily use those databases to locate potential victims or people that they didn’t like. One way that such databases could be abused would be for a crooked cop to locate the owner of a particular kind of gun he wanted to steal. The information could also be used for blackmail.

An even worse nightmare would occur if hackers were able to crack the databases and steal that information. We already had a case in which the Westchester Journal News newspaper in the New York suburbs published the names and addresses of gun owners. The information about the gun owners came from a state database about gun permits. The paper’s journalists even created an interactive map that showed where the permit holders lived.

It looks as if federal authorities went out of their way to cover up this aspect of the case, possibly because they didn’t want to face the backlash from the public that would occur if it became known that it was so easy for individuals in the system to access all the information in federal law enforcement databases.

More to the News Than the Headline

The Valle case is a perfect example of why you should read the whole news story rather than the headlines. The headlines about cannibalism are gory and disturbing, but the frightening aspects of this case are in the details buried in the news copy.

The media ignored a bothersome legal precedent that could become a serious threat to some of our most basic freedoms. Do we really want federal prosecutors to have the ability to use whatever we say online against us? Many of the things we write could be used to turn a jury against us.

For example, the IRS could use writing in favor of a national sales tax or an attack on the 16th amendment as “evidence” that somebody was planning tax evasion. This could be a serious threat to freedom of speech.

Even worse, there is evidence of secret and possibly illegal federal databases containing information about average citizens that are easy to access. If such databases exist, that could be an even worse scandal than the recent IRS abuses.

Somebody needs to investigate the Gilberto Valle case and find out what’s really going on here. There’s more to this than meets the eye and it could expose some serious threats to individual freedom on the part of the federal government.

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