another September 11th from occurring. They can get lucky and prevent one from happening;
but ultimately there will be more attacks. Given that reality, the latest proposal by the
Obama administration seems to have much more to do with failed drug wars, failed law
enforcement efforts, and failed human intelligence than it does with national security.
The White House wants legislation mandating any service which facilitates
communications have a built-in back door so the government can listen in or read whatever
it wishes. This requirement would include encrypted e-mail platforms like Blackberry, social
networks like Facebook, and any software which allows "peer to peer" communications like
Skype. Any encryption software would have to provide a way for the government to
unscramble the message.
The government would have to get a warrant to tap these communication systems; but
with the evisceration of the Fourth Amendment, the government can get a judge to agree to
a wiretap easier than Glenn Beck can produce tears.
Do I need to remind you the Bush administration didn't ask for warrants as it used
telecom companies and the NSA to "data mine" American's cellphones, e-mail, Internet
activities, Blackberries, and Smartphones? The FBI used national security letters to force
libraries and other institutions to turn over records of what Americans were reading and
researching (illegal by the way). We have no way of knowing if the Obama administration
discontinued these practices; but we do know a feckless Congress passed legislation granting
the telecom companies immunity and making these illegal acts legal.
Despite all the spying and illegal wiretaps and unconstitutional searches, the government
has not caught a major terrorist or terrorist cell. They didn't catch Richard Reed, the shoe
bomber, nor did they stop the Christmas Day underpants bomber. They completely missed
the Times Square bomber and the Fort Hood shooter. As of today, containers still come into
American ports unexamined and radicalized Americans still seem to be able to get to Pakistan
and Yemen for training without the U.S. government's knowledge. Even as they try to scare us
into giving up more of our civil liberties; law enforcement really wants these new tools to
continue a drug war they are losing, to spy on Americans who engage in political dissent, and
to catch little fish like the Fort Dix pizza delivery guys to justify monstrous budgets.
In Part One of this piece, USA Today uncovered the practice of U.S. attorneys lying,
covering up evidence, engaging in prosecutorial misconduct all in the name of getting the job
done. The result was innocent Americans going to prison for crimes they didn't commit.
The New York Times chronicled how FBI agents were so desperate to arrest a group of alleged
terrorists; they use their informant to try to entrap them into illegally buying a gun just in case
the evidence in the case was too thin and the case might "go south". In a recent editorial, the
Times excoriated an FBI agent sent to spy on an anti-war rally in Pittsburgh. He took pictures
of demonstrators and filed a report on who attended. The FBI lied when confronted by
the ACLU. They claimed the agent was there looking for a possible terrorist who might show
up at the rally. They lied to cover up their real purpose. FBI director Robert Mueller used
the lie when testifying in front of a Congressional committee. Every time the government
wants more power to spy on us and to invade our privacy. They promise us there are checks
and balances in the system to protect our Constitutional rights and every time we discover
that nothing could be further from the truth.
They say "trust us" and then we find out evidence is suppressed, agents lie, warrants
aren't worth the paper they are printed on and judges simply rubber stamp anything the
government wants to do as long as they claim it involves national security. The greatest
scandal of our criminal justice system, resulting in the gutting of the Fourth Amendment,
is caused by judges who fail to do their job and protect the rights of average Americans.
Now the Justice Department wants new laws to enable them to tap the Internet and turn it
into a facsimile of the old telephone system. Experts say this could stifle innovation because
software engineers won't be able to design new capabilities if they spend all their time
designing ways for the government to get in the back door. Of even more concern, is the
security threat "backdoors" represent. There have been a number of occasions where
cyber-attacks were successful because hackers used the built-in "backdoors" to get into
government and private industry information systems. In Greece, in 2005, hackers used a
mandated "backdoor" to spy on top official's phones including the Prime Minister's.
Imagine a U.S. Attorney, a zealot, salivating at getting a bad guy and he thinks you may be
the one. This U.S. Attorney can use the Patriot Act to secretly enter your home to bug your
computer and mine all Internet activities. National security letters can be used to check on
what you are reading or what your other interests might be. Your car is followed by access
to On-Star-like systems, your cellphone can be tracked and telecom companies will let them
listen in to all your calls.
Despite all this massive intrusion into your privacy, they uncover evidence which totally
exonerates you. What do you think the U.S. Attorney will do? After spending all that money
and time, will he just give up and slink away into the night?
If I thought the judiciary would act in its role as a check against executive power, maybe
these new proposals would be less troubling. However, we know the FISA (Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act) court, which meets in secret, grants warrants in over 98% of
the cases brought to it by the government. We know the FBI and CIA lie about the reasons
they need warrants to spy on us, if they ask for them at all. We know the U.S. Attorneys will
convict innocent Americans and cover up evidence which proves their innocence. Who is left
to protect "us" from "them"?
It is up to you. What will you tell your member of Congress to do regarding privacy,
the Fourth Amendment, and the government's request for even more spying authority? In
the past, Americans have been cavalier about their civil liberties until they are gone. Will
this be the case again? What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please
send them to firstname.lastname@example.org