And Probably Yours Too
None of us are taking this seriously enough.
I was talking to a friend of mine online about a month ago. She is very a very competent law student that does a good job keeping up with current affairs. We were talking about the warrantless wiretapping. I was explaining to her what is at issue here, that they didn’t just hand over “suspected terrorists” (whatever those are) but the random correspondence of American citizens.
Her response was, “it is a good thing we are having this conversation online.”
Uh, not quite. It is a terrible thing we are having this conversation online. Because AT&T, the very company that is accused of handing this information over to the government, provides the internet where I work, where I was having this conversation. In fact where I am typing this right now.
But she still didn’t seem to get what I was saying—that this is not a safe conversation. And since she is one of the smartest, has-her-shit-together of my friends I think it is likely that many people aren’t getting this. So I am going to lay it out as simply as possible.
First: The EFF is suing AT&T, this much everyone has heard. What exactly do they mean by “warrantless wiretapping”? It is very simple. It means that AT&T couldn’t be bothered to keep track of those people who the feds had warrants to search and those who they didn’t.
They took all the content that was traversing their fibre optic cables, every email and text message and phone call, THE WHOLE EFFING PIPE and they split it. Thus all communication from AT&T is also going to a secret room accessible only to the NSA.
Please note the use of the present tense. Because this is still happening. There has been no freeze on what appears to be a very clear violation of the fourth amendment. You don’t have to have AT&T for this to apply. Can you say for sure that no one you are emailing or calling has AT&T? Of course not. It is more likely that they do. Ask around. Know anyone with an Iphone? Maybe it is time to ask them politely not to call you anymore. Certainly don’t email me, I have just confessed as an AT&T user. But even this is ridiculous. Just because AT&T got caught doesn’t mean the other companies aren’t doing the exact same thing.
Of course none of this has been proven in a court of law, it is only a court case at this point and everyone gets the benefit of being innocent until proven guilty. But don’t take my word for it. The engineer that hooked up the data stream put it this way:
“My job was to connect circuits into the splitter device which was hard-wired to the secret room, and effectively, the splitter copied the entire data stream of those internet cables into the secret room–and we’re talking about phone conversations, email web browsing, everything that goes across the internet.” [This short video is worth watching.]
In my mind, this is bigger than Clinton’s lie under oath, possibly bigger than Water Gate. You upset about an administration that is lying to the American public? Try lying to the American public and spying on them too. It is very important that this case be allowed to continue so that the people understand what is at stake and those responsible are brought to justice.
And there is no reason it shouldn’t continue. It’s not like the House and Senate will get together and pass a bill giving them a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. The Congress wouldn’t do that, they don’t get involved in legislative affairs! That’s unheard of!..Oh, wait, that’s exactly what they’re doing. The Senate is passing a bill today that will give retroactive immunity to AT&T. It already passed in the House. “Retroactive immunity” is a fancy phrase that took me a while to wrap my head around. It means that even if they broke the law, it’s okay, we forgive them. And it will kill the lawsuit. Nothing to sue for.
Why on Earth would they do this? Everyone is shaking hands, saying what a great compromise this is. Really, I listened to all two hours of it on C-span. Those opposed were of the tone “This bill scares me to death…” Those in favor spent their debate time with congratulatory messages, “I’d like to thank Representatives Bob and Jane for making this possible…” I’m not joking, that was really the gist of it. There was no real argument for why the bill is a great compromise. It is more capitulation than compromise, here’s a great fact sheet from Senator Russ Feingold for the scary details. But in my mind, as long as retroactive immunity is on the table, this bill is totally unacceptable, unthinkable.
The argument in favor says that they were only following orders so AT&T shouldn’t be held responsible. Give me a break. No one pointed a gun at their heads. They broke the law and now the Democratic Congress that we elected is giving them a free ride, and probably the administration too. You can be sure this is going to impact Kucinich’s Impeachment bill. How convenient that the court case that will uncountably bring attention to the Bush Administration’s trampling of the Constitution will be swept under the rug, along with the Fourth Amendment. Wait a second, if the Democrats are rushing to the aid of the Republicans than who is supposed to be representing the people that want the Republicans out of office?
On that note, the latest turn in this sickening display of blatant cronyism is the about-face from Senator Obama. When he was trying to get the support of lefties he said he would fillibuster the FISA bill. Today he announced he is backing it. I thought I would have a few months of bliss before the luster wore off the man who gleams like a trophy on the podium. I take little consolation in seeing those who support Mr. Obama to the point of worship change their position over night, simply because he has.
What we are looking right now is the death knell of privacy in the United States. You may think that what you are writing is not interesting to the NSA but please don’t think for a second it is not being read by the NSA. No digital love note, no treasonous utterance, no meeting agenda, no late-night web-surfing, is safe. Sure, they still need a warrant to knock on your door and rifle through your file cabinet and your underwear drawer. But these days most of us keep our tax forms and our lingerie digitally; when this bill passes it will be like passing the keys to every house in America over to the NSA. Because Big Brother is not only watching, he is recording it all for later. And thanks to Congress, there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.