We like to think that our vote is the ultimate weapon of the people, but if the new rule is to get elected, raid the treasury and change the laws that hamper you, and then go away, then we are just voting in new thieves.
The FISA bill goes into compromise with Bush already promising his veto if the bill doesn’t include retroactive immunity for the telephone companies. Congress knows damn well the telco’s don’t need immunity because they should be able to produce an executive order for anything illegal they are accused of. If they can’t, then they should stand trial. Bush was willing to break the law in the first place because he saw the need as vital to national security, yet his willingness to suspend the same program over a provision in a bill pretty much destroys his claim of vital interest.
I want to show another way to shatter the claim that domestic spying is vital to national security, and point out the possible abuses that could happen if the apparatus is allowed to run without oversight.
The rule of law is mankind’s greatest triumph. It ensures that all actions and transactions are zero-sum endeavors. We agree on a value and trade if we are willing to pay the price. If we steal, or gain an unfair advantage in some other way, then justice puts up the capitol to balance the transaction. It forcibly extracts the balance from the perpetrator and charges interest. When an injustice is allowed to stand, the damage is greater than the original injustice. It undermines the system and fosters the notion of an entitled class that is above the law. Resentment is our internal justice system that works not by raising our own self worth, but by lowering the worth of the other class, seeding distrust and even hatred. Scooter Libby was within the arms of justice but was released by an entitled class that was above the law and let his roll in a dangerous and senseless crime against this country go unpunished. Joe Wilson, in my mind, would be justified in taking action against those that would place the life of his wife in danger.
The phone companies should be able to hold up a presidential order in court for any illegal act they perpetrated. I can understand that. What I can’t understand is not being able to find out if they followed the presidential order or went beyond it. Even more unbelievable is not being allowed total oversight over the scope of data mining and how that data is used in all cases. FISA was created by the abuse of the 4th amendment in the past. That abuse, as always, led to other abuses such as the burglary at Watergate.
The phone companies have a body of information so valuable that many specific laws have been enacted to safeguard it and the unfair advantage it creates if a privileged class has unfair access. It’s not just the possibility of being able to listen in on the content of a call; the telemetry of calling patterns is in itself of immense value and can be used for grossly unfair advantages.
Analyzing the calling patterns of an investment bank can greatly increase the chance of speculating correctly that a certain company might be in play for a takeover. Analyzing the calling patterns in and out of certain phones at the FBI or Justice department can be used as an early warning of an investigation. Congressional offices. Defense contractors. Law offices. Doctors offices. Local police. Party headquarters. Husbands/wives/paramours/competitors/personal enemies – all for the taking. All for sale. Unchecked.
Any and every time a telco complies with a request that is not public knowledge and might otherwise be illegal, the telco gains a bit too. They can begin to think of it as the norm and possible start helping themselves too because, after all, they can hold up examples for all the world to see if they felt pressured in any way. Leverage is a great way to unhinge justice.
The premise of the governments efforts to gather information is to thwart terrorism. They will use the argument that stopping even one attack makes it worth the violence being done to our liberties. That’s a false argument; more people die in car accidents than terrorist attacks, so why don’t they take our cars away too.
Even with low odds, if eavesdropping were certain to stop terrorism, then I might accept it with strict oversight. The fact is, it is unlikely a terrorist would communicate in the clear in a way that the automated collection apparatus would catch. Why talk openly when they can just post a picture of an ugly purple couch on Craigslist at an address in Walla Walla Washington as a signal to do something. The apparatus is useless to stop it.
Concentrating and analyzing the motherload of all data under the excuse of looking for terrorists is just an excuse. The power is too great to not abuse. The FBI has already admitting to abusing this information and has thoughtfully informed us that they are attempting to reduce the abuse. How will we know? We are not allowed full oversight.
Since congress very well might abdicate their responsibility to their constituents – us – then is there anything we the people can do for ourselves? It has to be done now because soon, it might be impossible to organize any kind of protest or action without the government being in on every detail.
One thought that I had would be to show how easy it is to undermine the premise of the system. If software was written to work on computers and cell phones that constantly emitted non-specific, non-localized, threatening-sounding, non-threats (can’t call it FOX News – already taken) then it would overwhelm the automated collection systems, causing them to flag billions of messages for review by human eyes every day. Harmless phrases such as “Flea bomb the white house at the end of the street,” might drive any system that is looking for terrorists crazy. Even worse would be to take specific sentences from Tom Clancy books and randomly emit them.
If any lawyers are reading this, do you know if voluntarily running such software would be illegal? What would be the government’s response in your estimation?
Unless that data is open to everyone, it should be open to no one. The government has not acknowledged any program of data mining. How can we know that? If they are not mining, then the program mentioned above should have no detrimental effect.
This in no way can be construed as sedition. I just want my 4th amendment rights honored. Since destroying the equipment that is listening to us is destruction of property, I wonder if there might not be another way around it by simply undermining the premise.