Sunday, May 21, 2006

Big Brother is Here

It was interesting that many people (60% by one preliminary poll) feel it is all right for the government to get all of our phone records in order to “catch terrorists.” To me, even this, seems a violation of unreasonable search and seizure, which requires “probable cause.” But when considered along with other actions of the government it seems much more Kafkaesque.

Not only is the government compiling the telephone numbers called by all American’s on both cell phones and landlines, they have conducted warrantless eavesdropping on foreign calls (maybe domestic calls) and tracked people’s movements by their cell phone signal. Yes, you may not know that the government can track or reassemble your travels if you carry a cell phone.

They say they are not mining all of that phone data, just looking for patterns. Isn’t that the same thing? Their stated goal is to get records of every call ever made and gain access to all voice and email communications. Along with that, the government has requested that internet companies retain records of all websites people visit, sought to sample website searches and requested all search records for a week from internet service providers. There are also revelations from a former CIA agent that spy satellites that can see detail down to at least one meter have been used to watch Americans in this country.

Previously the Defense Department proposed an operation called Total Information Awareness that would have allowed them to “data mine” personal information on driver’s licenses, passports, credit card purchases, car rentals, medical prescriptions and records, banking transactions, employment records and more. That proposal was withdrawn following a public outcry, as far as we know.

The administration has all but openly admitted to breaking the FISA law and continues to do so. It’s solution? Legalize the illegal activity retroactively and pass a law that allows it to be even more intrusive. Senate Bill 2455, the Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006 introduced by Republican Senator from Ohio, Mike DeWine includes free rein for the President to wiretap anyone he wants, stating: the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize a program of electronic surveillance without a court order for periods of up to 45 days if--
(1) the President determines that the surveillance is necessary to protect the United States, its citizens, or its interests, whether inside the United States or outside the United States;

How’s that for vague?

This decision will be reviewed by the Attorney General (Alberto Gonzales, the guy who argued for the right to torture) and a summary of the activity reported to a Senate subcommittee, eventually. The Act also proposes keeping all congressional review secret, penalizes whistleblowers who tell if its been used in violation of the constitution with up to 15 years in prison and a one million dollar fine and provides no penalties if the government violates its own statutes.

If you were hoping for government investigation or oversight, think again. A recent investigation of the NSA wiretapping program by the Bush Justice Department was shut down by the Bush National Security Agency because it refused to give the Bush Justice Department clearance to look at the alleged violations. When Harry Reid, Democratic Minority leader who is vice-chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee tried to hold a meeting on February 16th, where it was expected he would be joined by three Republicans to call for hearings on the NSA wiretaps, Bush supporter Pat Roberts from Kansas cancelled the meeting and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, threatened to restructure the committee to dictate its agenda if Reid pursued hearings.

The administration is pursuing investigations, with the promise of prosecution of those who leaked the NSA violations and the reporters who reported it. Given the Bush administration’s secrecy, its willingness to bend the truth to accomplish its goals (WMDs, Al Qaeda/Saddam connection), signing statements saying he can ignore laws at will, its willful and unnecessary violation of FISA, and a history of punishing even Republicans who disagree with it, it is impossible to trust that they will not use this information against their political opposition or people who report their wrongdoings.

There seems to be some discussion of implanting the real ID with the same technology that is being introduced by the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) to track every individual livestock animal with a radio traceable biochip. In the President’s proposal on immigration he wants to incorporate local police in to immigration control. Does that mean they will be able to stop people and ask for papers? Local police have already been found to be receiving funds to establish local intelligence units that have spied on peace groups, environmentalists and others. Forgive me if the more the President tells me he is out to protect me the more worried I get.

John Kelley
Guest Essayist

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