TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: The Balance Between National Security and Privacy?

Re: The Balance Between National Security and Privacy?

Linc Madison (
Sun, 14 May 2006 11:10:36 -0700

In article <>,
<> wrote:

> I am curious as to what people think of the issue of national security
> vs. privacy in light of the recent revelations.

It's very, very simple: the NSA and other arms of the Executive Branch
should spy on terrorists *within* the laws passed by Congress, and
*with* judicial oversight. Under the Constitution, the President lacks
any and all authority to order anything different.

The NSA program of listening to the content of telephone conversations
in which at least one party is a "U.S. person" (not necessarily a
citizen, nor even necessarily a permanent resident) is absolutely and
unequivocally illegal and unconstitutional. "In time of war" the
Constitution doesn't cease to exist, nor do its limitations on police
powers. Neither the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act nor the Authorization to
Use Military Force (AUMF) gave the Executive any such powers -- nor
could they, since the powers arrogated by the administration are
beyond Congress' authority to grant. The administration has even
admitted that the reason they did not ask Congress to modify the law
to permit this surveillance program is that they did not believe that
the Congress would comply. In other words, "We figured you would
probably say no, so we just did it without asking."

The other NSA program, of collecting telephone call records, is a bit
more tricky, since it is (supposedly) not intruding into the content
of the calls. There is considerable reason to believe that the telcos
violated their own legal obligations to their customers (the privacy
clauses in their contracts) by turning over the records without a
court order, but the violation of the law -- if any -- by the NSA was
certainly far less egregious than in the wiretap case. The Supreme
Court has ruled that you do not have a legitimate privacy claim to the
records of what numbers you called and for how long. Police have often
sought call records as part of an investigation, although those
searches were much more limited and much more closely tailored to the
individual cases.

Of course, the other element in both schemes is the effectiveness and
wisdom of the program. I don't know who first said it, but, "We're
looking for a needle in a haystack, so wantonly piling on more hay
might not be the best plan." We do need more data about the terrorists
and their plans, but far more than that, we need more intelligent
collection of data. There have been published reports that the FBI has
been really steamed because the vast majority of the leads produced by
the NSA's illegal espionage program have been wild goose chases -- a
complete waste of the Bureau's resources without making America the
slightest bit safer. Simply put, we don't have the resources to make
use of the data we already have, so going after mountains of unsifted
raw data isn't the best use of our capabilities.

But even if the programs produce some results, the question remains,
at what cost? I'm not at all pleased at the idea of the government
snooping through my private communications, or even knowing who I
called and when. Do I have something to hide? Hell yes! Every single
one of us has something to hide. Just because some activity is legal
doesn't mean that it's in my interests for the world to know about it,
and the line between the government's knowing about it and the world's
knowing about it is altogether too thin.

Beyond that, our government has a long history of misusing such
powers. The FBI wiretapped Martin Luther King because he was a
subversive -- in other words, an "uppity nigger" -- even though he was
acting completely within the law. President Nixon spied on his
political enemies for purely partisan reasons. The Fourth Amendment is
there for good reason, to protect the lives of innocent, law-abiding
citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government. To allow
President Bush to ignore those protections, as he undeniably has, is
the essence of treason.

Linc Madison * San Francisco, California *
<> * primary e-mail: Telecom at LincMad dot com
Read my political blog, "The Third Path" <>

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