An up-and-coming political blogger posts some thoughts on the recent news that the U.S. government has engaged in wholesale spying on American phone calls, in particular those placed through the Verizon system. The blogger allows that he’s not much of a fan of the ACLU, but that its warnings in this matter lead him to conclude that, for now at least, “the ACLU is right.” Weird political pun notwithstanding, I’m inclined to agree with him.
Our blogger also pointed out Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) reaction to the news: “I don’t think you’re talking to the terrorists. I know you’re not. I know I’m not. So we don’t have anything to worry about.”
It gets worse. Other prominent senators also have come out in support of the program. Senate Intelligence committee chair Diane Feinstein (D-CA) insists that “the only thing that we have to deter this is good intelligence,” by which she means your private phone calls. Feinstein concludes, “This renewal is carried out by the FISA court under the business records section of the Patriot Act. Therefore, it is lawful.” It’s heartening to learn that the good senator considers herself a judge as well as a legislator.Meanwhile, Committee veep Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) adds, “It has proved meritorious because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years.”
Man, this spying on you really gets the job done. They love it! Aren’t you glad your senators are merely here to help by violating your civil liberties in what they consider a good cause? What could possibly go wrong?
For one thing, you can kiss your privacy rights goodbye. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.
I was moved to compose some comments in the form of a reply to the above-mentioned political blog. Below, in their entirety, are those posted comments. Note: it’s becoming apparent that the government listens in on everything we write or say, public or private, not because we’re important but because they can. Therefore, should things get worse in this country before they get better, I can only hope for leniency from the authorities. In the spirit of spitting into the wind, then, herewith are the comments (which begin with some thoughts about the ACLU):
1. The ACLU often defends the civil liberties of people we despise, and it tends to have a liberal bias in general, which makes conservatives think it’s usually “wrong”. But better to have some baddies live free than good people suppressed. The paper that broke the story, the Guardian, is notoriously liberal, but in this case it did Americans a big favor. Conservatives would do well to ally themselves with the ACLU, where appropriate: instead of splitting their efforts, they’d form a massive, united front in defense of the Bill of Rights. (Still, I don’t envy them the fight, between strange bedfellows, over who gets most of the covers.)
2. The Verizon sweep allows the government to search through an entire haystack to find a few needles. This is convenient for them, and it sounds fine to a senator whose life is insulated (unlike the rest of us) from arrest, either accidental or politically deliberate. (The IRS Tea Party scandal shows how “accidental” intimidation works.) But the gigantic phone tap chills speech: fearing government monitors, will we second-guess our phone comments, and, by extension, our emails, tweets … and blog replies?
3. The Verizon sweep — along with the rubber-stamp court that approved the tap — may well violate the Fifth Amendment (against self-incrimination) as well as the Fourth (search warrants) and the First (speech). But who knows how the Supreme Court might rule? SCOTUS sometimes fights a rear-guard action against executive incursions into the Bill of Rights, and their rulings — ObamaCare, for example — can come out as garbled mashups. The NDAA and Military Commissions Act (under which the White House granted itself the option to assassinate Americans it deemed enemy combatants) have yet fully to be addressed by the judicial branch. Meanwhile, all we have from the Obama side is reassurances that this privilege won’t be misused. But if they can wiretap everybody just to find a few miscreants, why can’t they murder lots of citizens to ensure they nail one or two enemies?
An administration’s promise not to exert arbitrary power against its own citizens hardly carries the force of law. The Verizon sweep shows how the Executive branch can tend to “shoot first and ask questions later”. Without clear judicial decisions in support of the Bill of Rights, recent events will simply give heart to politicians who would rather rule over Americans than serve them.
… There. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Besides, I’m a law-abiding, upstanding citizen, and Senator Graham assures me I have nothing to fear. Government officials won’t decide to start monitoring my communications simply because my comments take issue with their unfettered phone spying. Right? Oh, wait, that’s because they already spy on me. And you. And every American citizen.
When I make phone calls, I can rest assured my conversations are being monitored for my own benefit. I can only hope that, in the future, this won’t result in my arrest … for expressing the wrong thoughts.
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UPDATE: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. (But don’t rule out malice.)” — Heinlein’s Razor