Monday, December 17, 2007

Give me Liberty or... whatever

Major telephone companies (telcos) have been collaborating with the Bush administration for years to spy on our personal communications. This goes back to well before 9/11. Yet now the Senate is considering a bill which will grant telcos retroactive immunity!

It's appalling, especially in light of this little bit of text...

"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."

That obscure bit of history is the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Even more outrageous, the Democratic Party appears to be in cahoots with this effort. Even though Democratic senator Chris Dodd has put a hold on the bill, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, has in an unprecedented move disregarded the hold and is bringing it to the floor! Dodd has said he will filibuster the bill. Senators Clinton, Obama and Biden have claimed to be against retroactive immunity but they have no plans to return to Washington to support Senator Chris Dodd in his filibuster. (They'll be too busy talking on the stump about 'leadership' to even follow, never mind lead!)

Patrick Henry said "give me liberty or give me death." He did not say "keep me safe, no matter the cost." The state motto of New Hampshire is "Live Free or Die," not "keep me alive by spying on me." Our government is sworn to protect us from all enemies, foreign or domestic. In this case the enemy is domestic. They're also subtle, manipulative and like to do their work in secrecy.

Don't let them! I urge you to contact your senators and tell them that the government should not be spying on us and that those who do so should be prosecuted and punished.

Read more here:


Dave said...

Intrusions of any sort into our lives by government are alarming and disturbing, but we live in a society today that was never envisioned by the drafters of the Constitution nor those men who passed the Bill of Rights in 1791.

The Fourth Amendment of the Bill provides protections against the unreasonable search and seizure of property and person. I believe this amendment still serves the function for which it was designed; namely, protecting citizens from the uncontrolled and abusive use of authority by law enforcement and government. However, we must now ask ourselves if these same protections should extend beyond person and property to include information. Not so much the information WE possess, but rather information ABOUT us. There can be no argument that in almost every aspect of life today, the gathering of timely and accurate information is paramount to the decision-making process. Ask those men and women who have been killed and injured in Iraq looking for WMDs.

Since the start of the “war on terror” by the present administration, we have been subject to having our phone tapped, our website visits monitored, or any one of many other forms of invasion of personal privacy. Despite the fact that government may be placing its large and unwelcome nose in our business, most folks I know have been unaffected in their day-to-day lives. Personally, I am much more concerned about how information gathered about me is being used rather than the fact that it is simply being gathered.

While it’s great to tout our freedoms and disparage any assault on them, we need to keep in mind that freedom always has a price. At this point in history, that price may well be sacrificing some anonymity. If that’s what’s required, so be it but woo to those who would use the information to do harm to innocents.

-Dave Gahagen

Bimplebean said...

I would have to disagree. This has nothing to do with anonymity and everything to do with privacy.

The fourth amendment includes 'our effects' in the prohibition against searches. We have a constitutional right to be left alone, a right to privacy, that has been stated and upheld by the Supreme Court. There is also ample precedent for requiring law enforcement authorities to obtain a warrant before tapping our phones. Yet that is exactly what the telephone companies, in cooperation with the government, have done.

It's illegal,it's wrong and those perpetrating it should be punished.

Dave said...

I see your point on the issue of anonymity vs. privacy, and I would tend to agree with your assertion that the phone companies should not receive any sort of retroactive immunity for illegal actions. However, once we are put on notice that some of our communications may be monitored, we no longer have the expectation of privacy and should act accordingly. At that point, we can bemoan and argue whether or not such intrusions are needed, but we really only have legal recourse when the information is misused by those gathering it and by voting out those who institute such policies if we deem them unwarranted.

No one likes the idea of having our own intelligence services “spying” on us. The values we place on personal privacy and freedom are ingrained in our country’s history. However, sometimes even the ideals and principles we hold dearest must be tempered with the reality of a situation. I ask you, have innocent US citizen’s actually been harmed physically or financially by actions initiated by the government as a result of these “unauthorized” wiretaps? Perhaps, but I don’t know of any. Even if some have, was the information gleaned by these actions more valuable than any incidental harm they may have caused? This is not a question we can easily answer since the government does not make a habit of announcing thwarted terrorist attacks. All we do know is that since 9/11, they have been no successful mass attacks on US soil. I can’t believe that those who wish us harm have not tried.

Ours is by no means a perfect society. We live with the knowledge that some innocent people go to prison because the alternative would be let all the criminals run free. We give up the right to yell, “Fire” in a crowded theatre to avoid injury to others; and yes, call me silly, but I am willing to run the risk of having the NSA monitor my emails and phone calls if it means there won’t be a bomb in the shopping mall my family and I frequent.

That said, I was never here and this message will self-destruct in 10 seconds…

-Dave Gahagen

Bimplebean said...

I have to take issue with your statement that most people 'have not been harmed' by this.

Privacy is a right, it's a concept. It is in and of itself inviolable and should not be breached without a specific justification. That's what the fourth amendment says. Whether or not someone has been 'harmed' by an action is irrelevant. One could argue that I have not been 'harmed' so far, but in the future I *could* be. I have been subject to *unreasonable* searches.

It's been documented that this wiretapping has gone on since before 9/11, that there has been no 'filtering' to exclude domestic communications, there has been no vetting to ensure only suspected terrorists have been wiretapped. It's all patently illegal. To add insult to injury, the Bush administration calls this program the 'Terrorist Surveillance Program.' Given these facts one must assume that the government assumes we're all terrorists until someone/something proves we're not. That violates yet another central clause of our government, that one is innocent until proven guilty.

Lastly, this 'war on terror' is overblown. We have lost nearly 3,000 people to terrorism since 9/11. Since then we have lost tens of thousands per year in car accidents and hundreds of thousands due to preventable diseases. Where's the national priority on that?

You say Freedom has a price. That's true. But the paying for freedom does not involve the abrogation of it. To say we have to give up freedom to preserve our freedoms is Orwellian in the extreme.

Dave said...

You seem to view the concepts of “freedom” and “privacy” in more definitive terms than I believe they truly exist. As people who come from big families are fond of saying, “Everything is relative.”

You say, “Privacy is a right, it's a concept. It is in and of itself inviolable and should not be breached without a specific justification. That's what the fourth amendment says.” OK then, what level of “justification” do you need before its OK with you to take whatever steps we can to protect our lives and our property? Do you think that listening to the conversations of suspicious characters is some sort of first step down a slippery slope to some other form of government? During the past wars and times of national crisis Americans routinely gave up a great deal of personal freedom as well as privacy in order to defend the precepts we hold dear. And, like it or not, we are in an ideological war.

Make no mistake. I love my privacy. I don’t like being searched before boarding an airplane. I don’t like having to pass through those anti-theft scanners located at the doors of department stores. I don’t like having to show the police my driver’s license. I don’t like asparagus. Yet I tolerate all these things because I know they are reasonable and necessary (except maybe asparagus.) The point here is that in order to function in society, we must give up certain freedoms and privacies so that we can properly function together. So let’s talk about privacy and wiretaps.

It would be wonderful if all the terrorists would send their names and addresses to the NSA so we could identify them and tap only their phones, but that’s not how it works. Sure, the government listens to a lot of conversations unrelated to terrorism but it does so out of necessity and not desire. Do they do “bad things” with this information they glean? I’ve seen no evidence of it. Does the government tap your phone and mine? I don’t think so. My understanding is that what the phone companies have done in terms of domestic calls is simply to track who is calling whom and no monitoring of the content of the calls is being done. While I would acknowledge that even this sort of “social networking” constitutes an invasion of privacy, it can hardly be compared to “listening in” on someone’s conversations. To the best of my knowledge, the number of illegal (only by virtue of not being authorized by the FISA court) wiretaps that have been conducted is in the dozens and not millions as some people would have you believe. Additionally, those have all been international calls.

However, your point about the lack of oversight of those agencies gathering information is a fair one. Does this mean that every wiretap undertaken to protect national security must be preceded by a court order? You would say, “Yes” while I would say, “Show me why it can’t, then we’ll talk about it.” Whatever the “questionable” action is, we need to judge its merits in light of the circumstances and times that surround it.

For now, at least, I choose to believe that the people working in these programs are well-intended and just as interested in preserving personal privacy and freedom as I am. If and when it comes to light that information or power is being misused, I’ll change my tune.

As for indignation some people may fee at the possibility of having their phone calls listened to, they are no doubt too young to remember party lines. Now there was some interesting stuff!


Bimplebean said...

You make some valid points. I do see how your perspective is colored by the time you grew up in. Let me tell you how my perspective is similarly formed.

You talk about party lines. I never had that. My phone conversations were always private. I was always told they would be. I knew my mail was similarly sacrosanct. It was what I was taught in school. There are laws against listening into private phone conversations or taping them without notifying the other party. There are laws against tampering with someone else's mail. When I was growing up those prohibitions were scrupulously observed and enforced. Perhaps things were looser during your day; perhaps the technology did not allow more scrupulous rules, or more likely such laws weren't as necessary because people were better mannered about such things back then.

I don't think every wiretap undertaken by the government should be preceded by court order, but it certainly should be justified by one, either before or after the fact. I fully recognize that sometimes events move too quickly and that surveillance efforts must have flexibility in times of genuine need, but there must be a requirement to justifiy that need to a member of the judicial branch of government. To completely cut judicial review out of the process is to abandon the core concepts of checks and balances designed to keep all branches of our government honest and in check. In short, yes, you can tap some phones, but you'd better be damn well prepared to justify why to a sceptical judge. Otherwise -- individual citizens should obey these laws, why shouldn't the government as well?

You say you choose to believe the government is 'well-intentioned.' The old saying really applies here -- 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.' Besides, as a teenager I saw my government take us to war in Vietnam, followed by the impeachment of a president. I saw how government officials can lie, cheat and subvert our laws to terrible ends. It made me skeptical of those who beat the drum to rally the population to act out of fear.

Now I am seeing the same thing again. The war in Iraq was at best a tragic mistake, at worst based on a deliberate lie, but in either case it's unforgivable. The aftermath to the invasion has been a botched mess of horrific proportions; it is estimated as many as half a million Iraquis have died as a result of the war, occupation and insurgent unrest that followed. We have spent half a TRILLION dollars on this war, with more being spent every day.

Officials of our government kidnap and torture suspected terrorists, create 'black prisons' in eastern Europe to hold them in secret, deliberately create a gray legal area in the form of the Guantanamo prison and constantly lie about and smear those who oppose them. They undermine legal, environmental and consumer protections at every turn, installing former lobbyists at the head of the protective agencies they seek to undermine. They craft tax breaks for the wealthy while undermining efforts to provide health care to the poor. They expose their own secret CIA operatives out of political vindictiveness, undermining those who work to protect this country. They work hard to protect and nourish the rich and powerful while ignoring the poor and needy. There is also good evidence that both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were subject to such massive fraud that the outcome was in doubt.

Worst of all, they took one of the most tragic events in our history - 9/11 - and used it to political advantage at every turn, cynically exploiting the horror and sadness of the event while undermining good faith efforts to investigate the lead up to the attack, and fighting to avoid compensating the victims and protect, help and heal those who became ill from working to clean up the crash site.

No, I do not trust these people with my private phone conversations. I absolutely do not. Not in a million years. After six and a half years of secrecy, lies, war, waste, fraud and double-talk, I don't trust them with anything.

Perhaps 'everything is relative' -- but I think some things are less relative than others. The need for the government to have checks and balances is of utmost primacy; our right of privacy is sacred and shoud not be breached lightly, casually or easily without oversight.