Friday, December 16, 2005

The Coming of Big Brother

One cannot go anywhere without surveillance cameras watching you. In public places, I can go along with that. But with the breaking story from the New York Times that the president allowed the NSA to eavesdrop, without warrants, on possibly thousands of people within the U.S. is going too far. Normally the NSA would have to get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret court in Washington that deals with national security matters, before it can tap lines or intercept emails and other correspondence. Warrants issued by the courts is our best defense from being spied upon by our own government. Taking this out of the process is playing with fire, and in principle can allow NSA members to spy on anyone they want whenever they want. The White House has been avoiding the questions all day today, and even ranking Republican members of Congress and the Senate are publicly criticizing this decision by the president and calling for investigations (not quite what Republicans need going into an election year, with all the other scandals and problems that have come up in the past year). I would imagine the president will see another negative bump in the polls with this one, as he should.

In one sense I can see the temptation for a move like this, because one wants to do whatever it takes (within the law) to try and catch terrorists before they perform their missions. However, are our enemies not winning when we start tearing down our own freedoms and civil liberties because of the threat they impose on us?


mark said...

Some clarification.

Generally it is the FBI and military and select other counterintelligence units that go before FISA in order to wiretap specific individuals not the NSA.

The NSA generally does not target individuals - it " vacumns" the mass of global SIGINT looking for specific clues. Kind of like keyword combinations.

The legal rules for SIGINT against foreigners overseas, foreigners inside the U.S. illegally ( sleeper cells), legally and U.S citizens vary. It also matters if this is for intel vs. Law enforcement purposes.It also matters if the individual being tapped is suspected of affiliation with al Qaida because due to the use of force resolution they fall under wartime rules.

I don't have a problem with what the NSA did so long as there was targeting of suspected al Qaida communication channels. Generic snooping on the other hand, I have a problem with.

vonny said...

Thanks for the details, Mark. I don't have trouble with it, either, if the NSA is only looking at suspected al Qaeda and the like. But it seems to me that getting warrants is about the only level of protection we have from the 'Big Brother' mentality and phenomenon. If not warrants, there is no hint of oversight or clarification of who's being watched. This certainly appears to have caught Congress off-guard, so who is left for oversight but FISA? In my mind this is a bad precedent to set.

Hope all is well.