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Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Latest NSA Flap

Dale Carpenter at Volokh announces that he's switching to QWEST:
Legal or not, based on what we know now the program seems very hard to justify as a security measure in light of its actual and potential damage to Americans' privacy. Perhaps the administration can offer a defense of the program that makes sense, but so far it feels no need to explain itself to anybody. In the balance between civil liberties and security — which I fully agree has to be adjusted toward the latter in a post-9/11 world — the administration has continually opted for overkill. There is such a thing as security overkill, just as there is such a thing as preserving trivial liberties at the expense of protecting lives. If collecting data on every single call made by every single person in the U.S. every single day for a dubious enhancement of security does not count as overkill, well, the administration will soon show us what does.
I'm somewhat at a loss to account for the reactions to this. According to the descriptions of the program, the government is only collecting records of calls made. It is not tapping the calls. This is the type of information private companies use every day - it is a classic exercise in datamining. Datamining is not illegal.

How do people expect the government to deal with thousands of potential threats, otherwise? The only alternative to using datamining techniques is to impose a additional checks on millions of innocent people for the accident of nothing more than their ancestry or their religion. I am not in favor of that.

Dale thinks that this is useless - it must be some sort of legally-induced cluelessness about what computers can do. It is incredibly useful in sifting through the population to find out higher-probability targets of suspicion, for whom warrants can then be obtained. Again, this did not start with this administration - it's just that post-9/11, this administration started using this information. Do those who think this is some tragic erosion of liberty (the same thing, btw, that companies do to figure out likely buyers of their products) believe that another attack upon American soil will enhance their privacy? What damage is being done here to privacy?

I take it for granted that at some time, the American government will overdo security measures. They already have with the USA Patriot Act's 314(a)measures, which Congress passed. None of these yawping lawyers want to take it up with Congress, though. Bush is evil (because he's against same-sex marriage and doesn't want gays who are out to be able to serve in the military), and Clinton was good (because even though he was against same-sex marriage and didn't let out gays serve in the military, he's a Democrat), and that's all us dimwits need to know. So clearly the exact same programs instituted by prior presidents for your protection, most especially Clinton, are dire threats to life, liberty and happiness when used by Bush. It's obvious.

And if Congress passes a measure (which it did), allowing law enforcement officials to put a person's name on a secret list, which is circulated to banks, which must report back to FinCEN if they have done business with that person, that's not a threat to liberty?

I believe the NSA's datamining is not a threat to liberty (at this time), but the 314(a) program might well be. I don't feel too happy about the de-facto creation of national ID's (done by Congress). I do want NSA to be pursuing programs such as checking calls for certain patterns. The only alternative to efficient ways to find murderous needles in vulnerable haystacks would be to impose a draconian elimination, suppression or monitoring of totally innocent Arabs and Muslims.

This is a tempest in a teapot, no more no less.

The fact remains that we cannot protect the nation if we do not do what has been done for years.

See this:
Picking up on SC&A's thought, the federal government has been (rightly) pilloried for not connecting the dots well enough before 9/11, largely because of systemic and structural inadequacies, I think. Now, whenever the federal government actually takes steps to collect the dots to be able to connect them, they are likewise pilloried.

It seems to me that all of this caterwauling is purely partisan. As MOM's remarks tend to indicate, were this being done now by a Democratic administration, not only would nobody complain, MSM would actually be hailing the careful attention the feds are giving to protecting us.
SC&A, Nice post!

ELC, you make a very good point. There are genuine tradeoffs to be made here. Unfortunately Congress seems disinclined to perform its oversight functions (they want no blame), so we are left with the blank war powers check they wrote the executive.

I don't discount anyone's concerns about an overreaching government. I think government inevitably tends to overreach. But a government that fails to develop ways to detect and cut up terrorist groups won't help us either.

Since the Dems aren't prepared to say we shouldn't look for terrorist activity (and neither are most of the GOP), then they should logically turn to Congressional oversight.

What should scare us is not this program but Congress' abdication of their responsibilities. Congress needs to pick up the ball and to help to balance these conflicts out.

The truth is that we must do stuff like this, but it should be done with some oversight. It is not Bush's fault that Congress is unwilling to engage responsibly. And they are totally refusing to do that. The mass of the Republicans don't want to be controversial or get in a situation for which they might be blamed, and the Democrats just want talking points with which to slam Republicans.

In the meantime, the citizenry is badly represented and rightly uneasy. But to say that not looking for these patterns is the best option at this time seems wildly irrational to me, and almost none of the Congresspukes will take that step.

I think everyone in the country should be infuriated about the banking rules. That is a definite potential danger. I also think anyone concerned about civil liberties should be writing to Congress instead of just cheeping and running around in circles uselessly.

Congress is the place designed for hashing out such tradeoffs. There's a reason for that.
I quite think the government should be PROFILING Islamics. They are the ones OVERWHELMINGLY causing problems.

Line them up.
Question them.
Take their pulse.

Dragnetting all the rest of us means they have won. They have gotten us to turn on ourselves.


Simple calculus.
But getting the governments of the west to treat all Muslims with suspicion is the goal of the terrorists. Their agenda is not attractive. They are bombing and murdering far more within Islamic countries than in the west. They will not win the war for public approval unless they can get the west to draw an iron line and create the religious war they seek.
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