Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Government spying

Debby here, who is still reading the Sunday NY Times. One of the front-page articles set my antennae a-quiver. It's about personal lobbying on the part of Bush and his "top officials" to pass legislation protecting the communication companies who helped the government in the National Security Agency's warrentless wire-tapping. The administration wants the companies to have immunity from lawsuits. This is some companies, mind you. There were a couple companies who refused to turn over records.

A few weeks ago on Type M for Murder, we had a nice discussion going about the indiscriminant use of tasers and certain police actions, but what about this? The government is fighting both crime and terrorism, but where do we draw the line on Orwellian tactics? And what if someone wants to collect other kinds of information, especially in an election year? And do we believe them? This is great crime fiction stuff.

According to the Times, the NSA relies more than ever on telecommunications companies allowing access to their records. Twenty years ago, most phone calls and many other forms of communication was relayed along microwave towers or bounced off satellites. The NSA had its own satellite dishes to intercept the flow of talk. (Wow, it really was 1981!) Fiber optics and communications by land and undersea cable have changed the accessibility, and now the government needs to rely on the corporations' cooperation. Meanwhile, these companies are looking for protection in the case of lawsuits. After the disclosure two years ago that the NSA was eavesdropping, more than 40 lawsuits have been filed against the government and phone carriers. Consequently, the Bush administration is working hard to get retroactive immunity for companies who cooperate with its plans.

I don't know whether to be more disturbed that the government is openly seeking cooperation in an illegal eavesdropping scheme, or whether to be happy that at least they’re unable to be as sneaky as in the past. There is a possibility of opposing the policy using legal means. But if congress goes along with granting retroactive immunity (and they’ve caved on some other important issues), we've got a lot to be concerned about.

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