Putting Two And Two Together

I must admit that I’m a little disappointed in the American people today. Apparently a significant majority is pretty cool with the revelation made public yesterday that the NSA has been data mining domestic calls since not long after the 9-11 attacks.

Now look, I understand the threat of terrorism, and the desire to be made safe. In fact, I understand the threat to the point where I realize that we’ve been going about it all wrong for the past, oh, let’s say six years. Silly me, but when the whole goal of terrorist attacks is to exert political influence through vicious and violent attacks, it would seem the last thing you would want to do is hand terrorists political notoriety as this administration has done nearly every step of the way. I said it from the moment I entered into the political arena, and I stand by it today: swatting at flies is EXACTLY how you handle terrorism because you rob them of their platform.

But that’s all beside the point. The fact of the matter is, all of these revelations about the NSA bother me for a single reason, principle. There is a notion, an idea, that this country thrives upon that we are a free country, one in which we are afforded certain rights, and the right to privacy is perhaps one of the most vital of them all. Your right to privacy is analagous to your stature as a free and valuable individual. I’ve read comments from people talking about how they have nothing to hide. That’s not the point. The point is that the government which we elect and fund is supposed to respect that you have nothing to hide to the point where they don’t go digging in your business unless given a valid reason to suspect you.

It’s the principle that as the last remaining super power, we can survive and prosper without resorting to the tactics of fascist nations. It’s the principle that we as citizens are trusted until we have given cause to have that trust taken away.

The implications of vast data collection on a free population are terrifying. And yet, I understand it’s place in the continued attempt to protect our fellow Americans against future terrorist attacks. But that’s what FISA was put into place for. I understand the importance of clandestine operations. I understand, having a government clearance myself, the necessity to keep things from prying eyes. But there has to be a check to the system. There has to be someone out there, and not mouthpieces, not shills, saying, okay, we’re doing things legally, and we are protecting the rights of our citizens.

Now, in my initial write up of the domestic data mining story, I jokingly mentioned Qwest, but that is seriously one of the most important aspects to the entire story. Qwest had requested that the NSA go through FISA and the NSA intentionally didn’t because they didn’t think that FISA would agree with the legality of the program. This isn’t difference of opinion, boys and girls, this is the intentional bypassing of system check that could possibly prevent the NSA from carrying on.

It’s the principle of the matter. If everything is fine, why not go through FISA? I want to know. And you can’t bring up the timeliness of the issue when you talk about the Qwest factor because the NSA still has a hole in regards to Qwests customers, a hole that could be filled by now had the FISA courts found the system to be legal.

So, yes, it’s very much about the principal of the issue. It’s the principle because if the goal of terrorism is to invoke changes on the political sphere through terrorist actions, then the moment we cede our rights to privacy out of fear of attack, then we have assisted the terrorists in achieving their goal. The terrorists will have won another battle.

But there is a darker side to all of this, and that is credibility. I think if the administration had played the “no comment” game in the past, I wouldn’t be quite as bothered as I am now, but that’s not how the story goes. Prior to the NSA wiretap story being broken, President Bush INSISTED that we do not wiretap phones without attaining a FISA warrant. And then, after that was proved to be false, the administration insisted that they were only looking at international calls, and now we have this story on domestic data mining. And now the president is telling us that they get the stats, but don’t listen in. Had his record been stellar, I would be tempted to at least try and give him the bennie o’ doubt, but he hasn’t, and so I’m left asking the question, when will the story break that they DO listen in on domestic calls?

I want to thank my fellow coblogger Macswain for digging up the following excerpt. I had heard it on the radio a bit ago, but couldn’t get a transcript, and I don’t like trying to quote from memory. What we have here is a bit of testimony from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales:

NADLER: Number two, can you assure us that there is no warrantless
surveillance of calls between two Americans within the United States?

GONZALES: That is not what the president has authorized.

NADLER: Can you assure us that it’s not being done?

GONZALES: As I indicated in response to an earlier question, no technology
is perfect.

NADLER: OK.

GONZALES: We do have minimization procedures in place…

NADLER: But you’re not doing that deliberately?

GONZALES: That is correct.

We do not, point of fact, have minimization procedures in place. We have maximization procedures in place.

So, look, I’m a simple guy. I don’t know the law inside and out, but what I do see is a lot of lying, and a lot of things that smell real fishy when it comes to a principle I feel very strongly about. So, I don’t want a dialouge, I want an investigation. I don’t want a debate, I want fact finding. What I want is for congress to not just dumbly rubber stamp this stuff through like they’ve been doing, and I want them to do their job and protect my rights, because that’s what they are there for, and that’s what being an American is supposed to be about.

So don’t tell me you got nothin’ to hide. That’s not what this is about. This is about making sure your government is doing its job and protecting your rights, and not eroding them.

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