Archive for May 12th, 2006

One of the predictable reactions to the news that the NSA is data mining tens of millions of domestic telephone users that it may actually be legal. Or not as illegal as one might think.

(See legal discussions here, here, and here.)

Bottom line, there may be actual legal wiggle room for both the Bush administration and the telecomm companies that forked over your account information:

One government lawyer who has participated in negotiations with telecommunications providers said the Bush administration has argued that a company can turn over its entire database of customer records — and even the stored content of calls and e-mails — because customers "have consented to that" when they establish accounts. The fine print of many telephone and Internet service contracts includes catchall provisions, the lawyer said, authorizing the company to disclose such records to protect public safety or national security, or in compliance with a lawful government request.

Get it? It’s in the fine print! It’s your own fault!

Even more predictably, some right-wing bloggers are falling over themselves in decrying the “liberal” reaction to the news. Take John McIntyre of Real Clear Politics who says,

Show me the real alive Jane and Joe Americans who have had their liberties violated in some grotesque manner by the Patriot Act.

So? What’s all the fuss about?

Honestly, I don’t care if the program is technically legal. It’s wrong.

First the program was created without any oversight. Congress had no say, the judiciary has no right of review. That means the program could be used wrongly. While the program may indeed be used solely to catch terrorists, it creates an apparatus to monitor every citizens for any type of behavior the government may someday dislike. Like dissent, for example.

Next, the program was created without any debate. Shouldn’t we as a nation decide the limits of government intrusion? Certainly the program should have been debated in open sessions of Congress. That the administration proceeded in secret, without a mandate, and based on the mysterious rights of an all-powerful “wartime” executive should give one pause. It makes me think that the President and his henchmen knew the American people wouldn’t want to pursue such a project.

Also, while righty McIntyre demands to know who’s been affected by the program and in what way, we simply don’t know. Might the program already “marked” a number of people? Might those people have lost out on government jobs, say, or grants they might have otherwise gotten? Does the program isolate otherwise unsuspected Americans for closer surveillance by federal agencies? Every thing is secret, so we don’t know. I’d also suggest to McIntyre that, by the time that everyday Americans do feel the pinch of the program, it’ll be too late.

Bottom line: I don’t care if the program was legal in a technical sense. It’s inefficient, it’s expensive, and it’s morally repugnant.

Update: As soon as posted this, a report came over the line from USA Today on the legality of the data-mining project:

The U.S. government's secret collection of Americans' phone records may not breach the Fourth Amendment's privacy guarantee, legal analysts said Thursday, but it could violate federal surveillance and telecommunication laws.

Seems like it's the old FISA court thing we saw in the wiretapping scandal. Gee, I wonder how Bush will handle this one? And I wonder if Congress will roll over for him again?

So. People seem to be taking this latest intrusion by the Bush administration seriously. Conservative pundit Joe Scarborough said, “Now, whatever you consider yourself, friends, you should be afraid. You should be very afraid.” Chuck Hegel and Newt Gingrich have also spoken out against the government’s policy.

Here are some things you can do to resist the Bush administration.

Change Phone Carriers

If Congress won’t strike against Bush, we can hit those that work with the President on his illegal operations where it hurts: in their pocketbooks. If you currently use one of the corporations who turned over their records, your name and profile is now up with government secret agencies. Show your telephone company what you think of them and switch.

The corporate malefactors include the following telecommunications companies:

AT&T/SBC

Verizon

BellSouth

Here are some of the telecomms that refused to give up their customers’ information:

Qwest

T-Mobile

Sprint

Nextel

Firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher reminds us we can always take the Blackberry plunge.

Pester the Guilty Telecomms

While our President is obviously disinterested in listening to his constituency, you know big, greedy companies don’t like negative publicity. It hurts profits. So pick up the phone, pen an email, send a letter and vow to boycott the guilty’s products until they agree to no longer work on extralegal spying activity.

Log a complaint at the Verizon ethics line.

Write a nasty email to AT&T.

Call one of BellSouth’s service lines and register a complaint.

Or visit Thank you, Qwest and leave a positive comment for Qwest’s CEO, David Heller.

Go after their endorsers

The band Oasis has a fat deal with AT&T. Don’t you think it’s time to cut their ties? Leave a note at their official site.

Links…

John Adams on Burns’ Bitteroot dam plan. Speaking of Burns, Pogie’s analyzed the Senator’s exhaustive scientific analysis of global warming.

Mike’s still on Tester’s case, Pogie counters. I think Tester is starting to emerge; he seems to be gaining ground in recent weeks. Is it enough?

Local pundit Ochenski latest to compare Bush administration to a dictatorship: “Bush’s Banana Republic.”

The Economist rips Bush and Blair: “The Axis of Feeble.” Indeed.

Even Ed Kemmick has broken out of his apolitical shell and has taken offense to Trent Lott’s dismissal of our civil liberties.

Bush approval rating falls below 30% — and that was before the data mining story broke!

The WaPo, however, reports that a majority of Americans are just fine with being spied on. I’m speechless. Are people that spineless? Dumb? SusanG prepares ten talking points to combat people’s willingness to sell out their rights.

ThinkProgress claims the telecomms that rolled over to the administration could be liable for quite a large sum in damages ($1 billion?) to all of their phone customers whose records they’ve turned over. $1,000 per violation. Almost makes me wish Qwest had violated my civil rights. (Just kidding, Qwest! You da telecomm!)

Norbizness thinks data mining is the tip of the iceberg. And he doesn’t spare Democrats, either.

Josh Feit notes that the same story broke last December – and didn’t get traction. Are folks starting to come around?

Congress addresses the biggest deficit in our nation’s history…by cutting taxes for the wealthy! These guys are insane.

Good news, though. Chris Bowers is reading the data and realizing that independent voters are breaking towards the Democrats in a big way. A changing of the guard in DC, or a blip?

“Livingston, I presume” on socialized medicine: bring it on. Amen, sister. My health insurance bills are destroying the finances of my family.

As if all this news about illegal domestic spying weren't enough, the Waltons have been evicted.




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