The Ministry of Shadows

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Against All Enemies ...

Wednesday, Jul. 09, 2008 3:46 AM

It's likely that Congress will vote on the amended FISA legislation, which, thanks to the capitulation of Democratic leaders, again includes immunity from prosecution for the telecoms and their 'alleged' participation in the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

The sad fact is that FISA was never broken. From its inception, it included a provision for cases involving international terrorism. It allowed for warrants to be filed after the fact, and for the confidentiality of a special court.

The issues raised by modern telecommunications - the advent of cell phones, and of VoIP services like Skype - were presaged long ago, as early as Justice Louis Brandeis' dissenting opinion in Olmstead, where he emphasized that new technologies should never outstrip the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment, or considerations of privacy.

The Bush Administration wants to make it All About Terrorism, but somehow lacks the ability to voice its arguments as anything other than rampant fear-mongering - that we have to do it because of the terrorists, because this is a different world, a different kind of war. Those same reasons front the 'debate' about waterboarding.

Ask for specifics, and they'll tell you they can't reveal those without giving information away to the enemy, which seems like we're making the assumption that these guys really do live in caves, and that they've never heard of surveillance, torture, or operational security.

That officials can stand before the American public to promote a weaker standard of proof - reasonable suspicion over probable cause - and not draw the immediate censure of citizen and legislator alike is astounding.

What Americans seem not to recognize is how deeply private thought informs public thought. Whether a political movement or a new age change of consciousness, it begins with the individual, and spreads to the community. Evangelical faiths work along the same lines by individuals witnessing to other individuals. Blogs follow the same trend - we tend to read the work of individuals with whom we agree, or who provide unique content.

Take that away, impose the spectre of surveillance at any time, and we lose a crucial measure of freedom. We self-edit - not because we are fearful of getting caught doing something wrong, but because we all crave approval at some level. We're caught up in what others think of us, or our views and values.

More importantly, a weakened Fourth Amendment has brought us to this pass: that gross violations of your privacy need not even be for reasons involving terrorism. And that's what the Bush Administration is asking you to sign off on - warrantless wiretaps on politically active groups or individuals, without probable cause.



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