Security vs Freedom
Again, the Bush Administration has created a furor over violations of what many take to be a fundamental right and that is not to have one's private interactions monitored by the government. The New York Times writes:
The program, run out of the Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by the Treasury Department, has allowed counterterrorism authorities to gain access to millions of records of transactions routed through Swift [Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication] from individual banks and financial institutions around the world. The data is obtained using broad administrative subpoenas, not court warrants.
Investigators have used the data to do "at least tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of searches" of people and institutions suspected of having ties to terrorists, Stuart Levey, an under secretary at the Treasury Department, told reporters at a briefing on Friday. Officials say the program has proven valuable in a number of foreign and domestic terrorism investigations, and led to the 2003 capture of the most wanted Qaeda fugitive in Southeast Asia, known as Hambali.
Before this was the monitoring of telephone conversations. USA Today wrote just two months ago:
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.It is said that NSA officials did not listen to such calls. Duh! There are too many for that. They are looking for patterns of calling and that could include both patterns involving who calls whom and patterns of suspicious language in such calls that would somehow be electronically parsed into nongarbled language [good luck with doing that].
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
So, what's up with this? Conservatives are very pissed off that the New York Times and a few others went with the recently disclosed story because they see this work of government officials as being critical to the security of the United States. Liberals are pissed off that our government is doing this sort of thing using nonspecific warrants or no warrants at all.
The 9/11 attack was massive in its ramifications. It hit the psyche of the American people very hard. I don't have to elaborate on this to any American. I am certainly not "over it." It hit the US very hard economically and this has ranged from the damage done in New York City, which is the economic center of the US, to the Airlines and many things in between. If we can believe our government, there have been attempted forays into the US from Canada -- Western and Eastern Canada -- by terrorists intent on attacking the US and a recent case of potential terrorism was uncovered in Miami though how serious the threat was is open to question.
There is, then, a fundamental conflict in interests of Americans between personal rights and our security as a nation. Conservatives and others believe that Liberals -- let me call them The Liberal Elite -- are insufficiently concerned with national security. This belief has existed for years and has impacted a number of Presidential elections when Democrats were seen as "soft" on Communism or some other bogey man. Liberals, from The Liberal Elite to left-leaning centrists like me are deeply concerned about these surveillance programs and see them as undermining our democracy in a dangerous way.
I recently heard an interview with Jonathan Alter, author of a new book, The Defining Moment : FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, who claimed that at the time of the Hoover-FDR transition, which, of course, was at the height of the Depression (I think this word should have a capitol "D"), Fascism was not particularly negatively perceived and some urged FDR to assume benign dictatorial powers. This came as a real shock to me and I am arranging to get the book to learn more. The part of this that is highly problematic is that with any dictatorship comes a police state. That is the only way the dictator, benign or not, can keep power. The question in my mind is not whether there will be a coup with Bush becoming the first American dictator but whether or not he has created elements of a police state within what is otherwise a Democratic government.
This is not so crazy. Western democracies differ a great deal in the freedoms they have. The Brits have an Official Secrets Act. We do not though we have miniversions of this for those who work for various elements of the government. The French do not offer the same rights our Constitution does. So, it is not far-fetched to suppose that a serious, possibly permanent erosion of the Fourth Amendment is taking place.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.Now, this question wouldn't arise were it not for the fact that liberals of all sorts and many centrists don't trust Bush and Cheney one damn bit. This is the crux of the matter. Those who trust Bush are happy with these violations of the Fourth Amendment. Those like me who do not trust Bush are totally opposed to the failure of the Bush administration, in the guise of the CIA (wasn't the CIA supposed to stay out of domestic surveillance?) and the NSA, to observe the cannons of American law -- no surveillance without a search warrant signed by an ordinary judge.
The problem, you see, is Bush. It is the justified lack of trust in Bush, a certified liar, that underlies the concern of many Americans with these programs. I am very strongly opposed to allowing terrorists the freedom to create violence in the US or in Europe or Bali or anywhere else, no less so than any Conservative. But there must be a better way, one that does not violate the Fourth Amendment, specifically, the "probable cause" requirement. The claims by Bush and Cheney that these programs are legal are quite false. They aren't because the Fourth Amendment has not been repealed. Officially.