So, on Monday I paraphrased Mort Halperin as saying that “all of the [Bush] administration’s statements concerning which information is targeted [for wiretapping] were specifically about this particular initiative [monitoring overseas calls]; … most expert observers believe that there is at least one more program, and possibly more, whose scope has not yet been revealed.”
What a difference three days makes. Boom, brand new program that doesn’t discriminate too much about whether you’re a US citizen or inside US borders.
I have little interest in the metaphysical debate over whether the Fourth Amendment covers the use of government computers, rather than government humans, listening in on your calls. I have little interest because I’m damn sure it should. The claim that computer monitoring is somehow not an unreasonable search into your papers is as ludicrous as if James Buchanan had claimed ponytapping was Constitutional because he used slaves instead of white people.
What I’d instead like to draw your attention to is this quote from Reuters:
“The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities,” Bush told reporters at a hastily called session aimed at damage control. “We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.”
And that’s highly interesting, because it’s a lie. Not an evasion, not a spin, not a misreading, but a damned lie. Specifically, the phrase “we’re not mining.” It’s a shame he didn’t stick with “trolling,” because one could argue that they’re not literally using giant fishnets or trying to pick up women in bars.
But mining, well, that’s exactly what you have to do with the largest database in the world, and it’s pretty much the exact definition of “using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity.”
So, to recap — we have this program over here that monitors the actual content of phone calls on overseas lines, which is revealed by media investigation, and which Bush claims (without providing evidence) is strictly limited in focus. Then we have that program over there that monitors pen traces of domestic calls, which is also revealed by media investigation, and which is arguably what Bush claimed he was not doing when he was exposed the first time.
When that hits the news, he simply lies about it.
That’s the problem with circumventing the rule of law; once you’ve decided you’re above it, there just aren’t any limits. Or, to quote Al Gore, “Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is ‘yes’ then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?”
These surveillance programs ran simultaneously. To state that there are others which we don’t know about is a given; that’s the point of intelligence agencies. The sole question about the others is their scope. Considering the scope of the programs we do know about, I don’t see any conceptual line being drawn as “information about Americans that the government has no right to know.”
So — an open question to anyone in the “nothing to hide” community who’s stopping by this week. Where’s your line? How do your Fourth Amendment rights protect you? If you’re not disturbed about your phone calls, how about your emails? Private documents? What doesn’t the government have the right to know about you?