Thursday, January 24, 2008

Your Communication Is Not Yours Anyway

Congress is poised to act again on a bad idea - giving out something called "retroactive immunity" to telecom agencies for the purposes of spying. The bill passed in Congress last August to re-write the laws on spying/eavesdropping/data-mining, though it came with a time limit, which ends on Feb. 1st of this year. So with a quiet determination, the White House is pushing for a permanent bill, as Vice-President Cheney preaches for the law's passage to a chorus of believers at the Heritage Foundation.

And now, as in August of last year, Congress really does not know what it is even voting for (or against), as Coleen Rowley notes:

Without the facts about the scope of monitoring, what actual prior limitations or technological challenges existed and exactly what kinds of surveillance services or customer records the telecoms were providing the NSA, it's hard to know what, if any, legislative remedy is needed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It is quite obvious, however, from various congresspersons' public statements after the midnight vote in August 2007 (before their summer recess) that few understood what they had voted for. So there's strong reason to believe that Congress itself has still not been told the truth. What Congress and the public have been told is that dramatic changes to FISA are necessary to expand warrantless monitoring of all international calls including of Americans' calls abroad.

Immunizing the telecoms' prior illegal actions in a blanket way not only sets a terrible precedent that the Constitution and the courts don't matter on the mere say-so of the executive branch, but the continued murkiness potentially covers up all kinds of other problems. Remember the FBI's rush to collect banking, credit, telephone, travel and all manner of other information about you with their hundreds of thousands of "national security letters" after 9-11? More is not necessarily better if mistakes and non-relevance are pervasive in such collection, as the Department of Justice's own Inspector General later found."

The argument that only the guilty need be concerned about this type of constant surveillance is an argument which has neither merit nor logic. And demanding, as the White House does, that "retroactive immunity" must be provided surely tells us that officials are and were keenly aware that something illegal has been done.

Monitoring and controlling communication is a priority for telecoms, as AT&T has recently announced it is planning to "filter" all the info they handle -- that means anything you search for or send out is going to be scrutinized:

But it’s a sign of things to come: “Net Neutrality” is a hard issue to explain to most folks. But the notion of AT&T “reading your IM” is a lot easier to convey, and sure to rile folks up. This would be a tough sell even if it wasn’t an election year."

And again, an often mentioned argument that "we have no privacy now anyway" is a self-defeating and self-fulfilling prophecy.

I think what the White House is after could be better described by a term fans of comic books often use -- retcon. Retcon stands for "retroactive continuity", deliberately changing established facts and history to accommodate current trends. It's a reality shift so that reality always changes to fit the needs of the moment.

SEE ALSO: Whites Creek reports that only one presidential candidate, John Edwards, is aggressively battling the passage of the telecom immunity plan, and wonders why front-runners Clinton and Obama are quiet on the issue.

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