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Saturday, June 24, 2006

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.

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.
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].

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.


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16 Comments:

Blogger L>T said...

You don't think we are close to having a Police State now?
Law-abiding citizens have no idea what's going on.

5:54 PM

 
Blogger SusieQ said...

I share some of your concerns about the threat to our rights. But on the phone records that the NSA obtained, there were no personal identifiers involved such as name and address at least not initially. To get that NSA would need some kind of legal permit I gather.

I am confused about this next point. Weren't the phone records obtained after the fact of the phone calls themselves? If so, this would have made it impossible for NSA to have listened in on any phone conversations.

If you are concerned about the phone records and our rights, does it concern you as well that we might end up with a national database containing everyone's medical records? It concerns me. Under the Clinton Administration, the Clinton Health Security Act laid the groundwork for this....supposedly. Do you know if this is true?

12:19 AM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

L>T, we have quite a ways to go till we have a police state. If you are a Muslim American you might feel like you do, but it seems that few have been hassled. I haven't been hassled for saying what I say -- in a police state, my site would be shut down. As I noted, the Western Democracies differ a good deaL as to the rights the people have.

SusieQ, the Clinton Health act didn't pass.

1:14 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

I'll probally go off topic here.
But, I am very passionate about freedom. Freedom from arbitrary laws.

One problem I see in America is this idea of passing Laws all the time.

As Bush says so adamently, "We are a country of Laws!"

The trouble with Laws is once you pass them, it's hard or even impossible to take back them back.

& then when your government is pulling all this stuff with 'National Security' using fear-monger tactics to go over the heads of the citizens...It's scarey stuff.
Because once it's there,It does not go away, easily.

In my opinion, Americans need to rethink alot of things, before it's too late & some of our cherished freedoms are gone.

1:33 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

LG, I see this happening In the justice system;
Laws being passed the take away the rights of certain Americans, maybe these are people that you don't like anyway, but that's what makes is easier to do it to everyone.
Do you know that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world? & getting bigger all the time?
Do you know that Laws make people crimminals?

Don't you think it odd that there are so many felons in the U.S.? (I'll try to find the statistics for you, I have them around somewhere)

How do you account for all this?

2:13 PM

 
Blogger SusieQ said...

LG, I know the Clinton Health Act didn't pass, but it laid the groundwork for a national database of patient records.

Do you think such a database is worth the risk to our right to privacy and our right to make our own health decisions? Health care costs are skyrocketing as we know. I can imagine that testing could become mandatory for certain diseases such as breast and colon cancer in order to catch them early before they become more costly to treat. I don't want government telling me I have to get a mammogram each year and then being able to check my records to make sure that I did.

Lusty Tart, you said, "Do you know that Laws make people crimminals?"
Yes, if we got rid of a bunch of laws we would see the crime rate plummet. This is true. :-)

10:16 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

L>T, laws do not make criminals except for cases when things that ought not to be criminalized are, such as possession of marijuana. Or sale, for that matter. The situation should be the same as for booze. The very punitive laws treating crack users/sellers more harshly than coke users/sellers was not targeted at Blacks but has had that result because crack is cheaper.

Things like Homeland Security are the hard thing to deal with. We have to be able to protect ourselves and this may require a different approach to certain things, but the problem is that too many laws were passed. Contrary to what you say, some have either been withdrawn either because the people wouldn't go along with it (invasion of library privacy, which regular people refused to go along with) and gitmo rules (which the courts refused to along with.) I think the gitmo rules are due for another whacking shortly.

A national disease -- health data base that does not contain personal indentifiers is a great thing for it could expose areas that have a high susceptibility to one disease or another which could lead to correction of the problems there. The containing of identifiers of persons is the problem.

9:26 AM

 
Blogger L>T said...

That's the point I was trying to make.

i'm working on a post dealing with that issue also the implications of privatization of prisons. I don't think Laws ness. target certain people, tho the statistics for young black men in prison compared to anyone else IS mind blowing.

On the other hand, Laws are not only passed because we need to put the screws on the bad guys.
Laws can be passed for purely self-serving reasons like kissing some lobbyist's ass.

or some politician feeling like he must do something...like pass a Law, because that seems to placate people.
Damn the long term consquences.

11:17 AM

 
Blogger L>T said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:17 AM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

A lot of interesting stuff here. First, I find it strange that you call yourself a centrist. From the results which you posted of that political compass test, I would say that you most definitely are not a centrist. That label would more adequately describe me, although I'm a right-leaning centrist.

As for the 4th Amendment, I'm not sure there's a violation here. I'm with Scalia on this one in believing that warrants are not required for searches--only probably cause is necessary. (Warrants were originally only a defense for a trespass action in tort, not a prerequisite to a search--and it should still be that way.) Regardless of the warrant issue, the phone subscribers are not being searched in any way. Only the phone providers are being searched, and those were all done with consent. Anyone who knows anything about the 4th Amendment knows that consent invalidates any 4th Amendment claim (unless it's coerced consent, but that coercion is obviously not present here).

And if SusieQ's beliefs on the subject are right--that no personal identifiers were given unless they had reason to suspect the caller--then I don't see any problem with this. Your issue is with your phone provider for willingly giving up this information, not with the NSA.

Another major point: has anyone noticed that we haven't been hit with any notable terrorist attacks since 9/11? I would find it absolutely incredible if no serious attempts at a terrorist attack have been made since then. Obviously they're doing something right. Of course, I am not in favor of giving up any rights for increased safety, but I think that I haven't seen any evidence of my own rights being eroded. At least not yet. When it does happen, I will be completely with you. But so far it seems that our rights have been "eroded" only by contract. The things they are looking at are things that didn't exist at the time of the passage of the Bill of Rights--phone records and bank wire transfers--and have only been eroded to a small extent, but there is no way that we have less privacy now than we did then except to the extent we have taken advantage of technology.

And with that, I'll end with a quote:

"The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

--John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

3:16 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

Kelly, the idea that we have had no attacks on our border is not due IMO to our half-wit President's Homeland Security act provisions. By all reports, the agencies do not cooperate any better now than before.

The reasons for the lack of attacks are
1. Al Queda was wrecked by the attacks by us and our allies in Afghanistan and Al Queda and domestice groups are the only group that has acted here
2. Almost all attacks in Europe have been by local Muslims. The first attack on the WTC was domestically arranged and/or supported -- remember the blind cleric.
3. In general, I think we treat domestic Muslims better than they are treated in Europe. The banking surveillance targets international actions and would not reveal purely domestic interactions.

Maybe the Bushies have cought some guys. Hard to know. However, to infer from the absence of attacks that the Bush administration is doing something right would be a specious inference. It could be that no big attacks have been brought to fruition. Remember that the plane attack on the WTC took 4 years of preparation.

7:44 AM

 
Blogger Marc André Bélanger said...

"we haven't been hit with any notable terrorist attacks since 9/11"
Ah, the old tiger-repellent rock arguement (from the Simpsons: Lisa points out a rock to her dad and says: eversince we've had that rock, no tiger has step foot on our lawn; therefore it's a tiger-repellent rock).
It's not like there were that many notable terrorist attacks from outsiders before (the surveillance of the NSA does not seem to target the kind of militia groups and individuals that were responsible to terrorist actions pre-9/11).

"I haven't seen any evidence of my own rights being eroded. At least not yet. When it does happen, I will be completely with you." To which I can only answer "They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist..."

8:37 AM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

Well Marc, let me rephrase that. I haven't seen any evidence of any American rights being eroded, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been happening. I just haven't seen it, and that's why I limited my statement to me (because that's the extent of my experience).

Great Simpsons episode by the way. Bear Patrol and all that. While you may be right that it may be as simple as no terrorist attacks coming to fruition, I still find that hard to believe. But then again, maybe the Iraq war is keeping them busy focusing on our soldiers. If that's all it takes to keep them away from our home, then they're stupider than I thought.

9:06 AM

 
Blogger Marc André Bélanger said...

"I still find that hard to believe." How many notable terrorist attacks coming from non-Americans have there been on American soil before 9/11? I can only think of one.

10:27 AM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

I find it hard to believe because I think the cultural climate has changed and the terrorists have become all-the-more willing and determined to attack us. I could be wrong, though.

2:15 PM

 
Blogger Marc André Bélanger said...

You're right that the times are not what they were before.

But we have to remember that one of the goal of terrorism is, of course, to create/use terror (I'm not talking about a war zones or occupied territories with freedom fighters/resistance/insurgents), and one of the key elements to do that is the element of surprise. You have to wait until the "enemy" is lolled into a (false) sense of security for your strike to be much more efficacious (that was the point of the "failed" attempt in the London subway, a week after the deadly attacks: to say "you're still not safe"). I'm always surprised when people expect terrorist action on specific date (holidays, events, etc.) After all, what was so special about 9/11 until 2001 (except to Chilians of course)? Terrorist might be more willing and determined, but my guess is, they're willing to wait.

Then again, using insecurity (I'm tempted to say terror) as a means to political ends, like Bush seems to be doing, could, in a weird way, prove a deterrent to terrorists, forcing them to wait until Americans feel safer ;-)

3:27 PM

 

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