This is a reprint (with some edits; a dead link to fix, and some clarifications in light of time providing more information) of a piece written when the NSA Scandal first broke, back in May… 2006. This has been known to be going on for 7 years (and the evidence is it’s been going on, in some form, since at least 2001)
The NSA. They say they aren’t tapping our phones, merely seeing whom we call, so they can decide if they need to tap our phones.
Gee, I feel so much better now that they’ve explained that.
First off they admitted to Qwest that they weren’t going to provide a warrant because they didn’t think the Court set up to deal with such matters would give them one. Since the FISA Court has been one of the most accommodating courts it the nation (and since the proceedings of that court are generally under seal we don’t really have a good baseline to know how rigorous their demands for support of the allegation of probable cause are).
Why might the NSA think the FISA Court would balk at such a warrant?
How about that pesky little Fourth Amendment.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Just in case that wasn’t enough to make the case there is a significant history of the abuse of such, “general warrants” ( like the Writs of Assistance used by the Crown in the run up to the US Revolution) were no small part of the abuses mentioned in our lists of grievances when we revolted against Britain.
But why, people ask, should those of us who have nothing to hide be afraid of those who poke about in our private affairs?
Because power tends to corrupt. The fact of the matter is the present system has no oversight, and lacking oversight it has no restraint.
Lets take a hypothetical.
Someone decides, in the course of programming the computer which is mining the data to set up an algorithm which causes a phone to be tapped, and the government decides that what it hears it doesn’t like.
What can it do?
These days it can do anything it likes. It can knock down your door in the middle of the night, spirit you away to a Navy Brig and declare you an enemy combatant, hold you incommunicado for three years and not actually charge you in all that time.
If that sounds farfetched, one has only to think of Jose Padilla.
Or, should it decide you are a “terrorist” on some more solid ground it might just abduct you when you hail a cab, spirit you away to some foreign locale, have you questioned (vigorously, but not tortured, all your bones and organs will still be intact and working when they let you go, or if they aren’t it won’t have been painful when they failed; because that’s how the Justice Dept. now defines torture). After awhile they may decide you are actually innocent. If you are lucky they will then leave you on a hillside in a different foreign country, to make your way home. If you’ve been particularly co-operative you might even get cabfare to someplace. If that seems farfetched, Khaled el-Masri is probably willing to tell you all about it.
If they aren’t feeling so magnanimous they might just decide that even though you are innocent of the charge for which they abducted you the situation now (what with you being pissed off at being so pissed on) that you are now a threat, and so they keep you in detention… until such time as they feel you have come to see the light (and understand how kind and gentle the treatment has been, after all you could have been tortured, if they were feeling peevish, but they didn’t, they stopped short of pain equivalent to organ failure or death. You weren’t really going to die when they were waterboarding you, it just seemed that way; so it was all in good fun). You don’t really need a trial, and things like Habeas Corpus won’t apply to you because they can keep you in Gitmo, where Justice Scalia says you have no rights at all [<b>this is the flip side of his argument about DNA… he doesn’t really think the Constitution applies to everyone the Gov’t might want to imprison. It’s not clear what he would say if a citizen were to end up in Gitmo</b>].
I wish this was all as farfetched as it sounds. I wish the absolute incredulity with which most Americans would have reacted to such ideas six years ago was still the case, instead of hearing pundits on both sides debating whether torture is actually warranted, and defending things like shooting to kill, and random searches of peoples’ bags when they enter the subway, and the idea that we ought to round up Arab Muslims and hold them in camps; all as if these were policy issues of real merit, instead of the insane thoughts of deranged whackos.
Because there is nothing, at present, which leads me to believe that this administration (nor any… how would this feel if it were President Delay, or Sharpton, or Clinton(H), or Feinstein, Dole, Frist, Harris, Pataki, Romney, Schweitzer, etc. (insert the bête noire of your darkest fears here). [I wrote this when Bush II was in office, as time goes on only the names will change]
This shit matters because the slope to which it leads is serious, and steep. The laws we have are what protect us from each other, and from the basest aspects of our darker natures. Few of us would refrain from doing what we have to do to protect ourselves, and fear of those things against which there is no protection is a powerful appeal to the base natures of our little lizard brain.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, not because being afraid is bad, but because it bansishes reason and causes us to act on mere impulse. I would rather live in a world where I was afraid of some random act of terrorism (much as I am afraid of earthquakes, fires and tornadoes) which is beyond my ability to prevent, but with which I can plan to deal with should it arise, than I would live in a world where I am afraid of my shadow, from which I cannot escape; and have to watch my every word, act and even thought, lest I be seen as an enemy of the state and denounced, leading to my arrest (or disappearance) because of something, someone, somewhere, thought I might be thinking of doing.
That way lies madness.