Saturday, June 10, 2006

Senator Specter doesn't understand Zeno's Paradox

In order for Achilles to catch the tortoise, he has to get to where the tortoise is. But by the time he gets there, the tortoise has moved. So he has to go to where the tortoise went. And by the time he gets there, the tortoise moved again. Can Zeno possibly catch the tortoise? Of course he can, he's the fastest man in ancient Greece, and the tortoise is, well, a tortoise.

All of which puts this Washington Post's headline – "Specter Offers Compromise on NSA Surveillance" – into perspective. Specter's moved, the administration hasn't, and eventually Specter really will wind up right where the administration has always been:
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed legislation that would give President Bush the option of seeking a warrant from a special court for an electronic surveillance program such as the one being conducted by the National Security Agency.

Sen. Arlen Specter's approach modifies his earlier position that the NSA eavesdropping program, which targets [American citizen's] international [and domestic!] telephone calls and e-mails in which one party is suspected of links to terrorists, must be subject to supervision by the secret court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
The problem, of course, is that he already has the power to get a warrant from the FISA court. Indeed, he's already legally obliged to get such a warrant. These warrants are the "exclusive means by which electronic surveillance… and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted" (119 USC 2511 2(f)).

This compromise weakens the protections of every citizen against warrantless and baseless government surveillance. Senator Specter, a Kansan born, is our last line of defense against this imperial presidency. Give him a call and tell him that Achilles will catch up to the tortoise, if that's what he really wants to do.