The land of the protected, and the home of the scared

1 Feb

This isn’t a political blog, I swear. Nor do I want it to become one. It’s mainly about writing – communication of all kinds, really – and technology.

So while I’m unlikely to post about the situation in Iraq, for example (unless there’s a communication/technology angle), I am all over the NSA wiretap issue.

By coincidence, the President touched on the subject in last night’s State of the Union address:

“It is said that prior to the attacks of September 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late.

“So to prevent another attack — based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute — I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America.”

Wha…? It ain’t that law enforcement and intelligence agencies couldn’t listen in on the hijackers’ phone conversations. They certainly could have, had they “connected the dots” enough to know that they should. At that point they could have gotten an order from the FISA court and eavesdropped to their hearts’ content. Heck, FISA even allows for a court order to be obtained retroactively, within 72 hours of an emergency wiretap. This isn’t about their hands being tied: they just screwed up this time.

“Previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have — and federal courts have approved the use of that authority.”

True, but then the 1970s happened.

“Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed.”

I wish he’d told us who, and what makes them the appropriate members to tell.

“This terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks.”

For example?

“It remains essential to the security of America.”

I look forward to the administration proving that eavesdropping on U.S. persons without an order from a FISA court is essential to our security. I would also like to engage it in a discussion about the responsibility of government to protect our liberties as well as defend us from harm.

“If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it — because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.”

Hear hear! I am 100% on board with this. Let’s just not turn into the Soviet Union along the way, all right?

I’ve been reading a lot of commentary on the Internet and letters to the editor of our local newspaper about this issue. A lot of the authors say that if the government can keep the terrorists from hurting us, they are willing to submit to any sort of treatment from the authorities: random searches of their homes and persons; spying on their conversations and movements; reading their mail; and scrutinizing their reading habits, online searches, and purchases. They go so far as to suggest that there’s no line they won’t happily let the government cross if it keeps them secure.

If all we care about is being physically safe, and will relenquish our freedom to that end, then we need a new national anthem. We will in no sense be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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