Category Archives: warrantless surveillance

Just Try Stuffing That Genie Back In The Bottle, Folks

[UPDATE]:

It’s The Corporations, Stupid: Juan Cole on why the Second Amendment is interpreted strictly, literally, fundamentally, but the Fourth Amendment is not. Good read.

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Last night I was watching “All In With Chris Hayes,” a rare oasis of intelligent, in-depth conversation on the day’s news. The segment on Edward Snowden, which you can see here (WordPress won’t let me embed the video) covered a lot of the main issues. The thing that got me out of my chair was this bit from Karen Finney; I have no idea who Karen Finney is — I gather she worked in the Clinton White House and she’s got a show coming to MSNBC — but she hit every point I’ve been thinking and saying about this story, and I want to say thank you because there are a couple of larger issues here that really need to be addressed.

She said:

[…] I remember very clearly when I was at the DNC, when we were fighting the Bush Administration on the warrantless wiretapping. I mean, many Democrats, Howard Dean among them, you know, the argument we made was, follow the law. We can do, you know, let’s follow the law and we can keep America safe, we said we wanted a process. We now have a process. I think the argument needs to be, if this process isn’t right, then let’s have that conversation. But the other problem, just quickly, Chris, that really bothers me about this is, you know, somebody could track my location just based on my cell phone. Somebody not the government and so, like, we’re already — it’s a farce if we think that we’ve got a level of privacy that we used to. I mean the amount of information that is out there and available about us that we are willingly giving away all the time, if we’re going to be this concerned about it, then let’s really have that conversation because I don’t want private companies having access to that information either, by the way.

Marc Ambinder then jumped in with his notion that there’s a big difference between corporations and the government having this information, the worst a corporation can do is send you coupons in the mail, but the government can actually put you in jail. That’s an extraordinarily dumb argument, and Ambinder should know better. First of all, being deluged with advertising messaging is incredibly invasive (I wrote about it here). But also, we live in an era when corporations are polluting our elections with dark money and trying to hide their true agenda behind shadowy groups like Americans For Prosperity and FreedomWorks. So to say the worst thing a corporation can do is send you some unwanted ads is extraordinarily obtuse. They’re trying to undermine our entire democratic process, Ambinder. They’re unraveling the very fabric of our democracy. You goddamn fool.

I’m not happy about any of this, but I’m slightly less concerned about the government’s activities than I am the private sector’s. We have control over the government. We have elections, and a certain amount of transparency built into that system. Private corporations? Not so much. Money corrupts, doesn’t it? So let’s not bring the profit motive into any situation that we don’t want money to corrupt. Like, you know, national security.

Let’s take this scenario to its logical end, when we’re all slaves to the board of directors of RJ Exxon Coca-Koch Bros. Industries, and quaint things like clean air, clean water, worker’s rights and a fucking Saturday off are a thing of the past. Yes I’m exaggerating but if you think things like income inequality are bad now, wait until we turn more of our institutions over to private, for-profit corporations. It’s called “corporate capture” and it’s the real problem, the one no one wants to talk about because it’s already too late.

If I seem a little “emo” on this issue it’s because the whole surveillance issue is something I’ve devoted a lot of time to in my life. Heck, I spent 10 years on a novel I never finished (I know, such a cliche, right?) whose title was “Panopticon,” okay? So I get it. The thing is, as Finney points out, this isn’t just big, bad gummint doing this. This is a private security contractor! A private corporation! The collusion between government and the private sector is extremely disturbing. And I guess we won’t ever address that issue until some Tea Party Republicans decide they don’t like it (which will be never) because apparently our corporate media doesn’t think any issue is worth discussing unless Republicans are upset about it.

So wake the hell up.

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Filed under civil liberties, corporations, FISA, FISA. telecom immunity, national security, NSA, warrantless surveillance

50 First Controversies

[UPDATE]:

What Tom said.

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You know what kills me about these stupid, post-truth times we live in? There’s no fucking accountability. Invade a Middle Eastern country based on lies, distortions, and fearmongering? Kill tens of thousands and bust the national treasury? No problem! Off into the sunset with you, eight years later we’ll have forgotten it ever happened.

Monitor peoples’ phone calls and internet activity without a warrant? Don’t worry about it! Five years later people will have never heard of such a thing. And when we hear about it happening with warrants and judicial oversight? Hey, we can pretend it’s some new thing and get faux-outraged all over again.

I mean, shit. We can’t even have a national discussion about this surveillance with FISA courts and all that because everyone’s pretending this is the same extra-judicial overreach that Bush did. It’s like “50 First Dates,” every day the sun rises and memories are wiped clean. Every day we start back at square one. It’s annoying as hell.

I want to know some things about this, like how long the NSA keeps this information or if they’re required to dump it after a certain period of time. Also, who and what governments (or corporations) are they sharing this information with? And what legal recourse do those being surveilled have? What can you do if a mistake is made, which is bound to happen? What limits and restraints are there?

Now is the time to find out about this stuff but no, we can’t even get that far because we’re still in “OMG THE GOVERNMENT IS LISTENING TO MY PHONE CALLS” mode. C’mon, folks. We covered this ground, like, eight years ago. There are some serious, real issues that need to be addressed here, but we never get around to having the grown-up conversation because we’re in constant reaction-mode.

Look, pay attention, people. Hit the Google. Read a fucking newspaper or magazine instead of getting your information from the TV, which caters to the 30-second attention span. Hey, I’ve learned a lot from Harper’s but maybe The Economist is more your speed? Fine, whatever. Just fucking learn something, please. I’m tired of having the same conversations all over again.

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Filed under civil liberties, FISA, FISA. telecom immunity, national security, NSA, warrantless surveillance

Memory Hole

I really am sick and tired of conservatives calling for the fainting couches over stuff happening under Obama which they actively defended when Bush was in office.

Seriously, I’m super busy today, guys? So look, if you want to know what I think about all of this NSA spying crap everyone is acting like is some new thing? Just click on the little tags and categories thingies below? Because I’ve been talking about this since I started blogging, which was like six years ago. It was bad under Bush, it’s bad under Obama, but no one wanted to listen to any of us hippies on the left (and some on the right) who were crying “civil liberties! civil liberties!” back in the day. So stop your fucking whining and Obama blaming now.

Here’s a nice little trip into the memory hole for y’all:

U.S. President George Bush called on Congress Monday night to broaden protection for telecommunications carriers that helped the government monitor phone calls and e-mail.

The Protect America Act, which allows the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists without first obtaining a court warrant, is due to expire Friday and Bush called for its extension as part of his final State of the Union address.

“To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning,” he said in the televised address. “Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on Feb.1. This means that if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted.”

Failure to extend the legislation won’t just hit the NSA. The telecommunications carriers that worked with the agency despite the lack of court warrants also face privacy lawsuits and an extension to the legislation would provide them legal protection. Bush touched on that point as well.

“Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We’ve had ample time for debate. The time to act is now,” said Bush to applause from mostly Republican members of the audience. Vice President Dick Cheney, seated behind Bush, also applauded the call.

Cheney and the White House last week pushed Congress to extend the act and provide protection for telecom carriers. AT&T and other carriers are facing lawsuits in San Francisco by civil liberties groups and individuals who allege that the surveillance program is illegal.

Earlier Monday, efforts by Republicans to curtail debate in the U.S. Senate and force a vote on an extension to the act failed, and debate is due to resume Tuesday.

Got that? This isn’t some new thing under Obama, it’s something we’ve been talking about for about 10, 11, 12 years now. Since 9/11 at the least. And by the way, that article above is from January 29, 2008. Not only did they want the NSA wiretapping without warrants to continue, the Republicans in the Senate tried to ram it through and were thwarted thanks to the Democrats. As I wrote at the time:

I’m sure the Republicans will be up to their usual screetching about terrorists, but we all know this has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with protecting corporate cronies at Big Telecom. Liberals refer to it as telecom immunity, neocons as “liability protection,” but it all comes down to protecting AT&T and Verizon Wireless from scores of lawsuits because they knowingly broke the law.

Please. Y’all are getting on my last nerve with this IOKIYAR shit. Knock it off. We’re not that stupid.

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Filed under corporations, FISA, FISA. telecom immunity, NSA, telecom, telecom immunity, War On Terror, warrantless surveillance

>Maybe “Ohh Baby” Is Code For Something

>To all the wingnut assholes who thought we just had to give the government these super new powers to eavesdrop on Americans’ telephone calls or else we’re-all-gonna-die-OMG-OMG! (yes, Robert Novak, I’m talking to you), I hope you’re proud of yourselves:

Adrienne Kinne, a former U.S. Army Reserves Arab linguist, told ABC News the NSA was listening to the phone calls of U.S. military officers, journalists and aid workers overseas who were talking about “personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism.”

David Murfee Faulk, a former U.S. Navy Arab linguist, said in the news report that he and his colleagues were listening to the conversations of military officers in Iraq who were talking with their spouses or girlfriends in the United States.

According to Faulk, they would often share the contents of some of the more salacious calls stored on their computers, listening to what he called “phone sex” and “pillow talk.”

Both Kinne and Faulk worked at the NSA listening facility at Fort Gordon, Georgia. They told ABC that when linguists complained to supervisors about eavesdropping on personal conversations, they were ordered to continue transcribing the calls.

Great.

I never understood why a group of people whose political philosophy is based on the idea that we can’t trust the government to do anything at all would nonetheless maintain that we could trust the government with something as totalitarian as eavesdropping on our phone calls and reading our e-mails.

It makes no sense.

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Filed under NSA, warrantless surveillance

>What’s National Security Got To Do With It?

>Tristero over at Digby’s has an excellent post up about this shocking story, in which it’s alleged the NSA sought warrantless wiretapping powers seven months before 9/11:

[Joseph] Nacchio’s account, which places the NSA proposal at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 attacks have been cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts.

As Tristero notes, these are the kinds of allegations that would ordinarily spawn massive investigations and resignations, maybe even an impeachment trial or two. But since America has descended into cuckoo bananas land, it’s likely this will pass without notice. Instead we get “Look — over there! Ann Coulter said something stupid!”

This revelation begs the question: did other telecommunication companies comply with the NSA’s request–seven months prior to 9/11? And if so, to what purpose, since the warrantless surveillance clearly didn’t prevent the 9/11 attacks (or the ensuing anthrax attacks, which everyone loves to forget about).

And if the warrantless surveillance couldn’t stop the 9/11 attacks, then what’s the point of having the program now? Just who is the NSA eavesdropping on? Suspected terrorists? Or, as many of us suspect, is this just a partisan political program, allowing the White House to eavesdrop on Democratic rivals? Richard Nixon did it, why would anyone think Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush wouldn’t?

Joseph Nacchio, former chief executive of Qwest Communications, claims when he refused to comply with the NSA’s request, the agency retaliated by canceling a separate, unrelated contract with the telecommunications company. Nacchio is now in jail for insider trading, since he sold large amounts of stock before the price plummeted. But he says the NSA contract would have been lucrative enough to pull Qwest through a period of slow sales. Instead, the NSA canceled the contract and Nacchio went to jail.

Tristero sums it up like this:

Within five weeks after George W. Bush moved into the White House (after a stolen election, let’s not forget), his administration sought to wiretap without any legal oversight whatsoever, severely punishing those that insisted on obeying the law.* Not work to change the law, mind you, but rather to disobey the laws of this country with total impunity.

Within five weeks. Long before 9/11. Kee-rist.

Indeed. If I were a freedom-loving American, I’d be hitting the phones and calling my Congress Critter demanding immediate investigations. But that’s just me.

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Filed under NSA, Qwest Communications, warrantless surveillance