Monday, November 12, 2007

It Has Come To This . . .

Sean Chercover.

Last Wednesday, former AT&T technician Mark Klein testified before a congressional Judiciary committee, blowing the proverbial whistle on his former employee, and on our own government. You can (and really should) read about it here, here, here, and here.

AT&T has, for years now, been keeping a copy of everything that passes through its computers. All your emails, phone records, Internet surfing trails, have been saved and AT&T has been passing your information to the NSA.

Not, as some of our elected officials would have you believe, just communication between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists. Everything. The email you sent to your old buddy from high school? Check. The drunken phone call you made at 2am to an ex-girlfriend? Got it. All the websites you’ve surfed. You betcha.

Everything. And the other giant telecoms (with the possible exception of Qwest) have reportedly followed along.

The government didn't even try to deny these allegations. Far from it. Caught with their sweaty hands in the cookie jar (yet again), our government instead sent Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence, to tell Americans that we must redefine privacy. “Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety,” Kerr said. “I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up…”

This is scary stuff, kids. Fully aware that AT&T (and the other major telecoms that collected our private data for Big Brother) have broken the law, the administration is insisting that the telecoms be granted a blanket immunity for their misdeeds. And many in congress are happy to go along. This is not a Republican/Democrat issue, since major players in both parties have been bought and paid for by the same lobbyists.

They would like us to officially wave goodbye the fourth amendment. You know, the one that reads,

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”


Yeah, that one. Are we really willing to go even further down this road than we have already? Do we really want China's today to be America's tomorrow?

The really scary thing is, most Americans have fallen for Big Brother's scare tactics, and don't even care that we're abandoning the principles that made this country great. Among the minority of true patriots who do give a crap and who are fighting to preserve our constitution, you'll find the nation's librarians. I love the librarians, but I'm not sure I like their chances against Big Brother and the military industrial complex, when most of their fellow Americans seem perfectly willing to trade the title "citizen" for "subject".

Okay, so this is very depressing. I recommend settling down with a stiff drink and re-reading Orwell's 1984.

Oh, and this may (or may not) lighten the mood . . .


18 comments:

Libby Hellmann said...

Great post, Sean.

The most insidious part is that these same telecoms are cramming news down our throats that distract us from the very issues you're talking about. The surfeit of information about Brittany's parenting woes, or Lindsay's latest rehab visit dull our brains to the point where we don't care about anything the "news" presents -- including warnings about losing our constitutional rights.

Oh, for an Edward R. Murrow. We need to be taught what we're about to lose. Although with attention spans these days, people probably can't concentrate for more than 30 seconds.

Maybe a PSA campaign?

Katie Bell Moore said...

Thanks SO much for the Rockwell vid--now I'm gonna be singing that damn song all day!

Sara Paretsky said...

Agree with Libby, great post, Sean, and what are we doing about it? I tried to become a party to the lawsuit the ACLU was helping file against the telecom companies, but the FBI said they didn't have a file on me and therefore I couldn't be a party to the suit--which isn't quite as infuriating as being told they can't tell you if they have a file on you because that would violate national security, and therefore you don't have standing to sue because your status is classified.

And Libby, I was on tour when the bombs went off in London two years ago. At the same time, some white woman was missing in Antibes or the west Indies or some place, a story that had been spun out every day for months. The woman who met my plane in Dayton the day after the bombings greeted me by saying, "That thing in London yesterday knocked the news off the front page, but today we got an update on" Nicole or Tiffany or whoever it was. Oy, gevalt!!!

JD Rhoades said...

the FBI said they didn't have a file on me

Oh, Sara, I'm so sorry. I'd be crushed to find out they didn't have a file on me. But cheer up, I'm sure someone does.

Anonymous said...

The only two political parties that seem concerned about this issue are the Green Party and the Libertarians. Could that be because they have no power to abuse?

The Green Fedora said...

To me, it's more of an ethical question than a legal one. Is it ever appropriate to invade another's privacy?

I used to corresponde some with a woman in Australia. She read part of the book I was working on, and thought it completely unrealistic that my PI character was able to do background checks on internet pay sites. Apparently, there's no such thing in Australia. Apparently, they take their privacy much more seriously than we do.

But maybe they can afford to.

When you get down to it, we are a nation of paranoid snoops. And we like it that way, as long as it works to our advantage. We like to peek through the fence to see what all that hammering is about next door. We like to know why our spouse is staying late at work every night. We secretly applaud when the cop plants a few grams of coke on the child molester who was going to get away otherwise.

We would like it very much if we could go back in time and thwart 9/11 by intercepting every email and phone call from every man, woman, and child in the United States, just to find the one that outlined the attack.

Wouldn't we?

Maybe not.

Of course, the interceptors would be sued, and the terrorist would walk.

You can bet they're laughing their asses off at us right now.

Privacy in the U.S. has been virtually nonexistent for a long, long time. It's an illusion, especially since the 9/11 attack.

Get used to it, or move to Australia.

If monitoring my email and phone records saves a life, then so be it. Ethically, I'm willing to give up a little privacy--and even bend the constitution a bit--for the greater good.

9/11 was a declaration of war. We have to behave accordingly.

IMHO.

John Purcell said...

Privacy in the U.S. has been virtually nonexistent for a long, long time. It's an illusion, especially since the 9/11 attack

That boils down to: "if they can do it, and have been doing it, they should be able to continue to do it."

There's a reason why the 4th Amendment is there,and why it's been there for 200 + years. Rights don't disappear overnight. They disappear incrementally, slowly, over time, so that it might take a generation or two before you notice they're gone. So, if we allow this little bit of privacy to go, and someone down the line lets the next little bit go, then one day we'll wake up wondering how long the cameras have been in our bedrooms.

The Green Fedora said...

...if they can do it, and have been doing it, they should be able to continue to do it.

Who is "they," John?

Do you really think there's some sort of conspiracy going on that will eventually allow "them" to put cameras in your bedroom? Who's behind the conspiracy? Aliens from other planets?

I don't think so.

We are the government. You and me are "they."

The constitution has survived for more than two hundred years because it is a flexible document, open to interpretation. Some of the clauses are extremely subjective, and that's why we have wise men called judges to interpret them.

The author of the 4th amendment couldn't have fathomed cameras in your bedroom, any more than he could have fathomed telephones, the internet, airplanes, suitcase bombs, or Play Station III. The author of the 4th amendment couldn't have fathomed an end to slavery, or granting women the right to vote.

The world has changed dramatically in the past two hundred years. The world has changed dramatically since 9/11. We can choose to adapt, or we can choose to perish.

The enemy is right here on our own soil, and they know the constitution better than most Americans do. Let's preserve it, as best we can, but let's not let the enemy use it against us.

You have to trust your government a little bit, just as the citizens 200+ years ago trusted theirs. It wasn't perfect then, and it's not perfect now.

When it's a matter of survival, sometimes you have to bend the rules.

Nobody cares about your 2AM booty call, or the email to your old college buddy about that chick you picked up at the disco thirty years ago. Believe me, nobody cares.

The only people who should be sweating over this issue are those who have something to hide, and I'm pretty sure the vast majority of them are already figuring ways other than At&T to communicate.

Mark Combes said...

My only hope is that with the glut of information, they will have too much to process and not be able to do anything with it.

Might be time to find that deserted island...

Sean Chercover said...

Green Fedora wrote:

"If monitoring my email and phone records saves a life, then so be it."

You hear that argument a lot. "If banning guns / cigarettes / trans-fats / television violence / etc. saves just one child..." As soon as you hear the "if it saves just one life," argument, you can bet an unconstitutional law is being proposed and freedom is being restricted.

Respectfully, I couldn't disagree more with that logic. If dismantling the constitution and turning against the principles that made this country free saves a life... it is NOT worth it.

"Get used to it, or move to Australia."

Yeah, this is another position taken when an argument is unsupported by logic. "If you don't like it, you can always leave," has always been shouted at people who fight to get our country to live up to its ideals and abide by its constitution.

"The author of the 4th amendment couldn't have fathomed an end to slavery..."

This quote says a lot. Respectfully, you are seriously misinformed about the constitution. Slavery was, in fact, a hotly debated topic at the constitutional convention of 1787 (2 years before congress passed the Bill of Rights and 4 years before the states ratified it), and is addressed in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 of the US Constitution, which says, " The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person."

And sure enough, on the very day in 1808 when congress was constitutionally allowed to do so, it abolished the importation and migration of slaves.

Saying, "The author of the 4th amendment couldn't have fathomed an end to slavery," suggests that you've set your opinion in concrete and won't let the mere facts of history get in your way.

"The enemy is right here on our own soil, and they know the constitution better than most Americans do."

Well...certainly more than some of us.

And speaking of history being a good teacher...

"You have to trust your government a little bit, just as the citizens 200+ years ago trusted theirs."

Uh, actually it was distrust of government power that gave birth to the constitution and the bill of rights.

"Nobody cares about your 2AM booty call, or the email to your old college buddy about that chick you picked up at the disco thirty years ago. Believe me, nobody cares."

Yeah, remember J. Edgar Hoover? How about Richard Nixon's enemies list? Or... well, we could go back through history, but the point is, people in power will use private information to coerce those who wish to limit that power. Always have, throughout history. Always will. That's why we have such things as the Bill of Rights.

It concerns me that so many Americans are perfectly willing to transform this country into something much closer to the totalitarian regime that the terrorists would like us to be.

"The only people who should be sweating over this issue are those who have something to hide."

Oh my f***ing God. Did you really mean to say that? Joe McCarthy would be proud. So would Stalin. You forgot to follow up that statement with, "And you don't have anything to hide, do you??"

As Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Maryann Mercer said...

I don't believe I have anything to hide...although isn't that up to interpretation? If I have someone monitoring my personal calls or e-mails, how much freedom to say what I feel actually remains for me? Glut of info or not, anything said by any one person can be taken out of context and spun...haven't we learned that much by the events of the last decade? My freedom to speak my mind in my own home, to the people I choose,is important to me as is my freedom to write my thoughts on paper without fear of recrimination. Just knowing this post is somehow going to find its way into a grab-bag of blog entries is rather scary. If we allow the freedom of speech to slip away bit by bit, how soon after does the freedom of thought follow?

Sara Paretsky said...

Sean, thank you for those informed and eloquent responses. Nothing says, "we want to end privacy for political ends" like the reality of information available to Rice, Bush et al before 9/11: the document stating Al Qaeda planned an imminent attack on US soil; the efforts by local FBI agents to alert top brass to the behavior of some of the 9/11 terrorists who went to flight schools and said very explicitly they didn't want to learn how to take off or land a plane. Lives could have been saved if the Bush team had been alert to the information they were receiving. They certainly didn't need to end the 4th Amendment to pay attention to it.

By the way, the GAO today published the cost of the war in Iraq. To date it has been 1,500,000,000,000
1.5 trillion that could have been spent on health care, public transport, securing our ports, improving education, and the end is not in sight.

Jude Hardin said...

...You forgot to follow up that statement with, "And you don't have anything to hide, do you??"

LOL, Sean! I can just see you stabbing that into the keyboard.

You know, it's only a matter of time before we all have a mandatory subdermal computer chip implant. Just think how great that will be! We'll just walk through the line at the grocery, and the money will automatically be deducted from our bank accounts. As an added bonus, the FBI will know our whereabouts 24/7. Can't wait!

The Green Fedora said...

"If banning guns / cigarettes / trans-fats / television violence / etc. saves just one child..." As soon as you hear the "if it saves just one life," argument, you can bet an unconstitutional law is being proposed and freedom is being restricted.

So I suppose you’re pro-NRA (Virginia Tech, anyone?); pro-Big Tobacco (smoking is COOL); pro-let’s-feed-the-nation-substances-that-will-form-candle-wax-in-their-arteries-‘cause-we-make-more-money-that-way “food” producers; pro-let’s-get-some-more-gratuitous-violence-on-TV-‘cause-all-the-hip-kids-really-dig-it television producers.

Hmm. We all have the freedom to poison one another. Yay!

If dismantling the constitution and turning against the principles that made this country free saves a life... it is NOT worth it.

Really? Is the constitution so sacred a document that it’s actually more important than life itself? What if it was your kid up on one of the top stories that fateful day?

Slavery was, in fact, a hotly debated topic at the constitutional convention of 1787...

Thanks for the history lesson, but there’s no denying that owning slaves was a “right” at one time, is there? There’s no denying that many of our esteemed forefathers actually owned other human beings, is there? Hotly debated or not, it was quite within the boundaries of the constitution and often quite grim for those who were owned. Hey, but the owners were within their constitutional rights, weren’t they?

...it was distrust of government power that gave birth to the constitution and the bill of rights.

Meet the old boss. Same as the new boss.

Yeah, remember J. Edgar Hoover? How about Richard Nixon's enemies list? Or... well, we could go back through history, but the point is, people in power will use private information to coerce those who wish to limit that power. Always have, throughout history. Always will. That's why we have such things as the Bill of Rights.

Who wrote the bill of rights? ET? I’m pretty sure it was guys similar to Nixon and Hoover, who had their own agendas at the time.

It concerns me that so many Americans are perfectly willing to transform this country into something much closer to the totalitarian regime that the terrorists would like us to be.

You know what the terrorists like? They like--they LOVE--Americans who cripple their elected leaders with words written during a time when modern warfare and communication was unfathomable. They love it.

Oh my f***ing God...

Did you really mean to say THAT? Surely you didn’t actually mean to curse The Lord in an attempt to make a commenter look foolish on an internet blog. Was that really necessary?

As Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Why is Franklin suddenly appointed to tell us all what we do or do not deserve?

WTF?

I’m sure I could find a Franklin quote that expressed my point of view as well.

I would prefer to heed the words of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed: We’re all on the way out. Behave accordingly.

The only way to behave accordingly, and to preserve a decent way of life for our children and grandchildren, IMHO, is to defeat those who oppose us in any way necessary. If tapping phones and internet lines gets the job done, then I say go for it.

If I get caught downloading a third-generation bootleg copy of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry...well, hell, sacrifices have to be made.

John Purcell said...

Good post and good responses Sean. I agree with you wholeheartedly. And despite fedora's claims to the contrary, I don't really care about my personal privacy being invaded, because I have nothing to hide (or do I?). What I am concerned about is allowing the government to make the decision over what is private and what is not. At that point I've lost not only my privacy but my freedom, because then the sky's the limit on what we lose.

It seems ironic to me that the same people who think we should be in Iraq because the "terrorists hate freedom" are willing to do away with the very freedoms that say they are trying to preserve. Makes no sense to me.

Sean Chercover said...

Thanks, John. I don't understand it, either.

On the evening of 9/11, our president spoke to the nation, and said, "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America."

The US constitution is the foundation of America, not because it is "so sacred a document," but because it places limits on government power and makes this a country of laws. And that is the essential foundation of what is good about America, what we need to protect.

Green Fedora asked: what if it was my kid in the WTC... If it were my kid who died on 9/11, I would want my government to track down and kill those responsible. That means going after Bin Laden and the top members of his organization. What I would NOT want is for the government to let him off the hook by diverting the majority of our forces away and starting another war in a country that was NOT behind the attack. I would also NOT want the government to use my kid's death as an excuse to fundamentally change this country into something less free and less democratic.

Oh, and just to be clear: I often use blasphemy. So, yes, I did mean to say that. I am a blasphemer, guilty as charged.

The Green Fedora said...

If it were my kid who died on 9/11, I would want my government to track down and kill those responsible. That means going after Bin Laden and the top members of his organization.

Me too.

We're fighting a bunch of covert weasels who'll use any means possible--including suicide missions--to defeat our way of life.

What should we use to track them? Bloodhounds?

In World War II, we evaporated a couple of cities to bring our enemy to its knees. Thousands of civilians were instantly turned into grease spots.

Somehow, a little wiretapping doesn't seem all that drastic to me.

We face an extremely potent enemy, one that is largely invisible, one that is right here on our own soil.

If we can't attempt to thwart their efforts by monitoring communications, what hope do we ultimately have?

While we're fighting amongst ourselves, they'll slime on in and take down another couple towers.

Thank you Mark Klein.

Roy D. Schickedanz said...

As we head into an election year, our democracy is threatened internally by own fascism. Left unchecked our country is headed in the direction of Nazis, Germany.

Today, we continue to be engaged in illegal wars, where aggressive acts have harm, injured, and killed peoples of Iraqi and Afghanistan. Both of these nations did not attack the United States, and the continual linking them to September 11 should be truthful addressed.

Outlaw groups representing policies to do injury to the United States are extremely small sampling of any given population and cannot be equated to the policies of those nations and the majority of people living therein.

There are those in this very room who believe in justifying criminal acts and crimes against humanity. They can justify those acts under a democracy as the other guys. We are not the other guys. Lincoln eloquent stated in the Gettysburg address:

That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 2

What I say to these people, read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

What we stand for as a people and as a nation is written eloquently in those documents.

The problem with the American Civil War Roundtable movement it glorifies war. You will quickly defend yourselves that you look upon the American Civil War in terms of the sacrifices made. But the topic is war. War is inadequate solution to any problem. While, the dead and wounded of these wars are almost all faceless. The sacrifices are as veneer as retelling of what happened and why, pertaining only to a select few.

Our identity to the issues of their day is left at the doorstep of history and the commentary of the historians doing the writing, reflecting their personal and honest basis. But the real zeitgeist is living through the specific times. Our hindsight will always remain 20/20.

Lincoln, nonetheless, under the constitution and in his first inaugural address had the right to do what he had to do.

I now read an E-Mail that I received on September 12, 2007, day after the sixth anniversary of our 911.

Hey Roy!! F.Y.I. Our entire phone is being monitor because my son is an Officer in the Army. In case we are subject to hostile phone calls. Certain words trigger a response from a central office watch your words. My son signs the paper for this service.

My reply was:

Do you live in a Fascist state or a democracy? Where do you stand?

PS: Your continual threats will be judge as personal threats to my person

On September 12, I called the American Civil Liberties Union over the received E-Mail. Upon reading the said E-Mail, the operated indicated that it should be directed to the intake office, which would be there the next day, which I said I would call back.

The next day, I did call the Chicago branch of the ACLU. I was put through to the intake desk. Here, I indicated the reason of my calling, reading the said E-Mail. The ACLU said there was pending legation involved with monitoring based on a single and than one party. Since there was consent involved which the receiver was not aware of and certainly not a party to at the telephone had some legal and authorized basis.

In any case, the person who took my call suggested that I contact the Indiana branch of the ACLU since the E-Mail was sent from Indiana.

Tyranny is only made possible if we let it. We live in a free and open society under the governing rules of our constitution. To maintain that freedom we must always be vigilant.

Such abusive tyranny can start easily here as in Nazis Germany

Our guiding hand is made possible by the Sons of Liberty, by the Liberty Tree, by various committees of correspondence, by the minutemen at Lexington and Concord, the ordeal of Valley Forge, the echoing spirits of George Washington and Nathial Greene for the cause, and not least the battlefields of Saratoga and Yorktown.