Top 5 stories of 2015: a year in review

As 2015 comes to a close, it’s time to look back at some of the biggest stories of the year.

#5 Asset forfeiture halted!?
At the beginning of the year, Eric Holder made headlines when he announced a new policy prohibiting state and local governments from using federal civil asset forfeiture laws for most cases. The DOJ’s Equitable Sharing program has allowed thousands of local and state police agencies to have seized nearly $3 billion in cash and property since 2008. Using Equitable Sharing, a state or local police department or drug task force would seize property and then have that property adopted by a federal agency. The agency making the seizure would then be allowed to keep up to 80 percent of the value of the items confiscated.

While every state has either civil or criminal asset forfeiture laws, many police departments preferred the federal adoption program because they received a higher percentage of the value than they would have received under state law. Holder even mentioned the presence of state laws as a reason the federal program is “less necessary.”

Chip Mellor, the President and General Counsel of the Institute for Justice, said, “Civil forfeiture should not exist in a country that values the principles of private property rights and due process.”

#4 Silk Road conviction
On May 29, Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for having created and operated the Silk Road online marketplace. The Silk Road was a revolutionary website because it was a truly free market, where people could buy and sell almost anything; however, there was a prohibition on anything that was meant to harm innocent people.

After Ulbricht’s conviction, two of the federal agents involved in the investigation were charged with corruption. Former DEA agent Carl Force was sentenced to 78 months in prison, and former Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges was sentenced to 71 months in prison. Though during the trial, Ulbricht’s lawyer was prevented from even mentioning the corrupt agents involved in the investigation.

Ulbricht’s conviction and life sentence serve to set a dangerous precedent! Ross Ulbricht created a website. People used the website to sell things that other people wanted to buy. Ross Ulbricht was sent to prison for the rest of his life.

Hopefully, the next court to hear the case, realizes the dangerous precedent set by the judge and jury in the initial case, and kills the precedent!

#3 NSA spying
In August, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a departure from other federal courts, ruled that governments must have a warrant in order to obtain cellphone data. The Court, in a 2-1 split decision, ruled that “the government’s warrantless procurement of the [cell site location information] was an unreasonable search in violation of Appellants’ Fourth Amendment rights.”

An attorney for the ACLU called the ruling “a full-throated defense of Fourth Amendment privacy rights in the digital age.”

In addition to this ruling, the surveillance state which was dealt a symbolic blow when the NSA mass surveillance program was transformed with the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act. However, the mass surveillance has not ended, only the manner of data collection has shifted.

#2 Marriage equality recognized
In June, the US Supreme Court ruled, “The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. Same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.”

Supporters of freedom believe that no person or group has more rights than any other person or group. Meaning that if I have a fundamental right to do a certain thing, everyone else has that same right. There is, however a difference between someone being able to exercise a right – which governments often prevent – and the person actually having the right.

The Supreme Court ruling which allows same-sex couples to legally marry may be a small step forward in equal protection under the law for a small group, though it is two steps back in removing government interference in people’s lives and relationships. One can only hope that at some point, governments begin removing licensing and regulations over personal matters.

#1 War Crimes in Kunduz
On October 3, a trauma hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Kunduz, Afghanistan “was hit by a series of aerial bombing raids at approximately 15 minute intervals.” MSF reported, “The main central hospital building, housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, and physiotherapy ward, was repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.” later reported, the official narrative “rests on the idea that the attacking warplane had taken off without a no-strike list, then had to dodge a non-existant missile, never corrected its targeting systems, and when ordered to attack a target at empty coordinates, chose to attack the ‘closest large building’ even though it was out of view of the troops who claimed to be under attack.” Adding, “[the targeting system problem] could’ve been mitigated except for a ‘technical failure’ that left the plane without electronic communications, another in a long line of unlikely problems that, according to the Pentagon, aligned and led to them attacking a site they were explicitly forbidden from attacking.”

The bombing of this hospital is just the latest example of a violation of the law of war by the US military. There have been countless civilians killed in targeted drone strikes and other bombings, including 14 people in a wedding party who were killed in 2013, and another incident in which troops attacked a hospital in 2009. Unfortunately these violations of the law of war (i.e. war crimes) will likely never be punished.

Much like years past, 2015 has seen it’s share of ups and downs, natural and unnatural disasters, more freedoms were taken away than gained & governments at all levels expanded their authority. Here’s to a more freedom in 2016 & beyond!