Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Land of the Free? Home of the Suspect!

While trying to track down a video clip of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' appearance on CNBC Tuesday afternoon, I stumbled across this Washington Post story from earlier this month.

Seems like the Bush administration has found the enemy and it is us! In addition to the latest information on phone company cooperation with the NSA in their latest bit of revealed spying (more on that in a bit), the FBI has been putting the FISA Court and other legal processes to work 'smokin' us out and hunting us down (in the words of the Decider in Chief).

That giant sucking sound? It's really the Bush administration gathering as much information as possible on every American. From your credit cards to your ISP; from your phone to your bank. Bush and company want to get to know us all, up close and personal like.

Here are some raw numbers from the above-linked story:

The FBI sought personal information on thousands of Americans last year from banks, Internet service providers and other companies without having to seek approval from a court, according to new data released by the Justice Department.

In a report to the top leaders of both parties in the House, the department disclosed that the FBI had issued more than 9,200 "national security letters," or NSLs, seeking detailed information about more than 3,500 U.S. citizens or legal residents in 2005.

More:

The count does not include other such letters that are issued by the FBI to obtain more limited subscriber information from companies, such as a person's name, address or other identifying data, according to the report. Sources have said that would include thousands of additional letters and may be the largest category of NSLs issued. The Washington Post reported in November that the FBI now issues more than 30,000 NSLs each year, including subscriber requests.

The Justice Department report also outlined a continued increase in the use of secret warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The secret court that oversees the law approved a record 2,072 orders for clandestine searches or surveillance in 2005 -- an 18 percent increase from the year before.

Now, Attorney General Gonzales was on CNBC's The Closing Bell on Tuesday afternoon (I'd just returned from jury duty). The interview with the AG was interrupted with news that BellSouth had just issued a denial of the USAToday story that it and other phone companies had cooperated with the NSA's phone call data gathering project.

Interestingly, while neither confirming nor denying the USAToday story, Gonzales said that phone records are BUSINESS records and, thus, getting them from the phone companies (in whatever way) does not constitute any invasion of phone company customer privacy. He said the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled such in a decision a couple of decades ago.

So, if it makes you feel any better, don't think of that as your privacy (AKA "The Fourth Amendment") that's being violated. Think of it as the MBA President and his most powerful pals doing some due diligence on the phone companies' record-keeping.

There! Doesn't that make you feel better just knowing that? If you believe that, I've got some FEMA rehabbed land in St. Bernard Parish to sell you. ;-)

4 comments:

Nick said...

I hate to break this to you because it would ruin your "it's all evil Bush's fault" lovefest, but the government, especially the NSA, has been collecting as much info. as possible on Americans for over 10 years. When you register to purchase a product online, other companies automatically know this and start sending junk e-mails to your inbox. This has been going on since before Bush's presidency, and if these companies know what you purchased and who you are, don't you think the government has known much more much sooner?

What about the "great" Robert F. Kennedy approving the wiretapping of MLK's telephone?

Mike Stagg said...

Nick,

Size matters!

No project in American history has ever randomly gathered this much information on the activities of citizens as has the NSA phone trolling program that began in the wake of 9/11/01.

If the kind of program you described did exist, it only proves the futility of such massive data hauls. Having ALL of that information didn't allow the NSA, the FBI, or any agency to prevent the initial bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombing of the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, the events of 9/11/01, nor the still-unsolved anthrax attacks in 2001 and 2002.

The point is that all that is being accomplished is that our Constitution has been shredded by an executive branch working outside the system of checks and balances that is the foundation of the constitutional order that has governed this country for over 200 years.

AND, this work -- done in the name of security -- has NOT PROVIDED us any additional security.

To suggest that what the Bush administration has done is anything but qualitatively and quantitatively beyond the scope of any prior executive branch power grab exhibits either intellectual dishonest or a shocking lack of awareness.

Robert Kennedy's wiretapping of Martin Luther King's phones was shameful. It was also focused on the contacts of one individual, not the entire nation.

GumboFilé said...

I think a lot of folks might see it differently if the government went after the "business records" of gun dealers or the "business records" of churches.

David in Grand Coteau

Nick said...

Mike:

All I'm saying is that this is not a Bush only or Republican only infringement on our Constitutional rights. This has been going on long before Bush was in the White House, probably before he even kicked his coke addiction. However, I never said that I agreed with what was going on. I was just pointing out the fact that though you guys may want to pin this only on Republicans to fit your agenda, Democrat Administrations have been invloved in these types of programs as well.