Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Surveillance and Snooping - Who's Kidding Who?

Psalm 64:1-6 (New International Version)

1 “Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint;
protect my life from the threat of the enemy.
2 Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from that noisy crowd of evildoers.
3 They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows.
4 They shoot from ambush at the innocent man; they shoot at him suddenly, without fear.
5 They encourage each other in evil plans, they talk about hiding their snares; they say, “Who will see them?”
6 They plot injustice and say, “We have devised a perfect plan!” Surely the mind and heart of man are cunning.”

With Congress on recess, much of the furor about the President’s authorization of warrantless wiretaps being conducted by the National Security Agency has died down. It’s only a temporary respite. The legislators will be back after the first of the year, the hearings will begin, and most will be distancing themselves politically from the President.

It all smacks of hypocrisy to me. Political opportunists from both sides of the aisle will make grand speeches about their dedication to civil liberties. Then, when the next terrorist attack takes place they’ll be in a fury, demanding to know why the president didn’t do anything to prevent it. And, don’t you know, newspaper editorial pages will be overflowing with condemnation, blaming the administration for what’s happened.

Andrew McCarthy, seeing the hypocrisy, sarcastically asked the question many of the legislators will in all likelihood be asking before long – “What makes the president think he can invade the privacy of Americans without a warrant?”

Upon asking the question, McCarthy went on to list twenty-five instances in which federal law recognizes such a right. For instance, federal law recognizes the right of law enforcement officials to “arrest American citizens, based on probable cause, without a warrant?” The right of law enforcement officials to “conduct a warrantless search of the person of an American citizen who has been detained, with or without a warrant” has also been recognized by the courts.

I occasionally go down to the Lyon County Courthouse here in Emporia. In order to conduct business there, I have to go through a metal detector. I can complain as much as I want about invasions of privacy as I do, but I won’t get to conduct business there unless I go through the metal detector. Any time I’ve ever been there I’ve never known of anyone issuing a warrant or getting a judge’s approval to search my person electronically. Nor have I ever gotten on an airplane without going through such a warrantless search. It’s the way things are, and should be, when terrorists and malefactors are lurking about.

Is our privacy being invaded? Sometimes, I think. But, I also think the government has far less interest in me than it has on trying to find out what terrorists, living in America, might be up to.

Myself, I like the idea. I don’t think that someone planning to kill thousands of Americans has an unlimited right to privacy. In fact, I think that terrorists have forfeited their right to privacy by engaging in in plots against United States citizens. Libertarians, politicians seeking political advantage, and journalists may believe that that terrorists have an unlimited right to privacy. I don’t.

Is the government the only entity invading our privacy? No! Just before Christmas I asked the boys down at the Gazette who they might be snooping on. I got no reply. Now, I doubt that a small town newspaper has an accomplished surveillance team, but I have no doubt that the big boys do. This morning I read a piece by Ann Coulter titled “Live and Let Spy.” Citing a New York Times Story published Monday, she noted:

“Monday's Times carried a major expose’ on child molesters who use the Internet to lure their adolescent prey into performing sex acts for Webcams. In the course of investigating the story, reporter Kurt Eichenwald broke open a massive network of pedophiles, rescued a young man who had been abused for years, and led the Department of Justice to hundreds of child molesters.”

Good for the New York Times, I say. I don't think that pedophiles have an unlimited right to privacy any more than terrorists do. It’s about time something that benefits society found its way on to its pages.

How did the Times get the information it needed to run the story? Coulter explained:

“In order to report the story, the Times said it obtained:

Copies of online conversations and e-messages between minors and the creep adults;

Records of payments to the minors;

Membership lists for Webcam sites;

Defunct sites stored in online archives;

Files retained on a victim’s computer over several years;

Financial records, credit card processing data and other information”

How did the New York Times get the information? They spied! Did they get warrants to invade the privacy of the pedophiles and their victims? No! Did they talk to a judge before they did their digging? Of course not. Do the New York Times and other big newspapers routinely snoop on the rest of us? You’d better believe it. And, when they do they don’t get warrants.

The Times, like the legislators who’ll be circling like vultures in a few days, would argue that they were acting in the public interest. I’d like to believe that, but I find it hypocritical that the Times believes it can conduct its own surveillance, yet would deny that right to the federal government. As Coulter said, “Would that the Times allowed the Bush administration similar investigative powers for Islamofacists in America.”

Who am I supposed to trust in all of this? Who has the security of me and my family at heart? The Congress? Not a chance. Our legislators have done far less to merit our trust in this regard than the president. Public polls taken recently, showing that fewer than one-third of Americans have confidence in either their senators or congressmen, tell me I’m right. Should I trust the press? No way! In a recent poll journalists rate even lower than used car salesman in the public’s eye. They’ve too great a penchant for cozying up to the tyrants of the world to suit me. They’d sell the security of the United States in a minute if it meant securing an interview with Usama Bin Laden. They’d kiss his derriere and give him the co-ordinates for the Sears Tower in exchange for fifteen minutes of questions and answers with him in his cave. There is no way I would trust a journalist with the security of my family.

On page fifty-one of the November, 2002 FISA Court of Review Case (case # 02-001) there’s an interesting footnote to the Court’s conclusion that “Indeed, it was suggested that the FISA court “requirements based on Truong may well have contributed, whether correctly understood or not, to the FBI missing opportunities to anticipate the September 11, 2001 attacks:”

The footnote, which follows, is, I believe, instructive:

“An FBI agent recently testified that efforts to conduct a criminal investigation of two of the alleged hijackers were blocked by senior FBI officials – understandably concerned about prior FISA court criticism – who interpreted that court’s decisions as precluding a criminal investigator’s role. One agent, frustrated at encountering the “wall,” wrote to headquarters: “(S)omeday someone will die – and wall or not – the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’ Let’s hope the National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, (Usama Bin Laden), is getting the most “protection.” The agent was told in response that headquarters was frustrated with the issue, but that those were the rules, and the National Security Law Unit does not make them up.”

I can’t predict how this will all play itself out in the courts. I can predict, however, that if the press and many in the Congress have their way, a lot of American mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers will be mourning losses inflicted by terrorists who used a sympathetic press and a politically motivated Congress to ply their deadly trade.

So, the question of who I can trust in this equation is paramount to me. Should I trust my security and right to life to the Congress, with seventy-one members who can’t get a credit card because of bad credit, fourteen who’ve been arrested on drug charges, eighty-four who’ve been arrested for drunk driving, and thirty-six of whom have been charged with spousal abuse? Should I trust the press, who would sell MY soul to Usama Bin Laden for a scoop? You may if you like. You’re free to be a fool. Me? I’ll trust the executive branch on this one.


dog1net said...

Compared to today, the fifties and sixties almost seem idyllic. Unfortunately, 9/11 has forever changed how we go about conducting our public interactions. Your essay effectively argues and demonstates why this is so.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

Add: Martial Law is Constitutional.

A wise citizen once said, "Those who have nothing to fear have nothing to fear." Anon

(Any ideas of who has something to fear?)

Semper Fidelis

prying1 said...

Wonderful post Phil.

My question is, "Who is going to scream the loudest about who didn't do enough if there is another atack on our soil?"

Clublint said...

I honestly think that if you've got nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.

I think a government has a right and a duty to protect its people and if that includes, what is essentially, legal tapping, then so be it.