Friday, May 12, 2006

Spying on Americans

President Bush defended the practice of tracing the phone calls that tens of millions of Americans make by saying "our intelligence activities strictly target Al Qaeda and their known affiliates." Does anyone believe that al Qaeda has tens of millions of affiliates and members in the United States?

If true, al Qaeda should just declare victory and those of us who aren't affiliates of al Qaeda should move to Canada. The al Qaeda sympathizers can ban abortion, torture people in secret prisons, demonize gay people, destroy offensive art, etc. in the nation they so brilliantly infiltrated.

But it isn't true. The people being surveilled illegally are not al Qaeda affiliates. They are normal people who happen not to use Qwest for their local and long distance calling.

As Reed Hundt points out "In an authoritarian country without a bill of rights and with state ownership of the communications network, such eavesdropping by people and computers is assumed to exist. But in the United States it is assumed not to occur, except under very carefully defined circumstances that, according to reports, were not present as NSA allegedly arm-twisted telephone companies into compliance."

This is the difference between a police state and a liberal democracy. In a police state, you're presumed guilty, and it's the job of the police to find what you did wrong when they decide to nail you. In a liberal democracy, police need to be looking for the person who committed some specific crime before targeting you.

And massive databases of who called whom serve only the authoritarian trend, not the pursuit of liberty. Apparently, it doesn't even serve the purpose of finding terrorists. DefenseTech cites experts in the field who point out that "It's a waste of time, a waste of resources. And it lets the real terrorists run free." And a counter-terrorism analyst reports that "the people working on this program aren't as smart as they think they are." It doesn't work, it violates the law, and it infringes on our liberties.

Senator (and Kansan by birth) Arlen Specter is going to be calling telecom companies in for questioning, and eventually will face General Hayden in his confirmation hearings. Of course, Senator Roberts says it's all hunky-dory.