Thursday, June 06, 2013

First, they came for the tea partiers...

Remember that old bumper sticker: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." Well, that's what we're witnessing today. Suddenly, those libertarians who warned us about the powers of the government in pursuit of terrorists would expand to threaten all of us one day don't seem so wacky.

First the IRS came for the tea party groups and other conservatives groups plus pro-Israel groups. And liberals yawned and argued that they deserved it.

Then the DOJ went after the Associated Press and James Rosen of Fox News. And the media got a bit perturbed about that because it threatens their livelihood. But other liberals told us that this was all legit to find leakers and conservatives were hypocrites since they had wanted to find out who was leaking national security information.

And now we're finding out that the Obama administration has obtained a top secret court order demanding that Verizon hand over all his call data records for American Verizon users so that the information can be given to the NSA.
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.
Some might say that this is just a continuation of Bush-era policies, but this is different. When the Bush administration was collecting such metadata, it was for those who might have been in contact with foreign terrorists. And the NSA is specifically barred from targeting American citizens. I interned at the NSA for a couple of summers back in the late 1970s and I well remember the scrupulous attention we were directed to take to make sure we were not reporting on anyone who might be an American or any business which might have an American owner. As Andy Greenberg at Forbes writes today,
Though the classified, top secret order comes from the FBI, it clearly states that the data is to be given to the NSA. That means the leaked document may serve as one of the first concrete pieces of evidence that the NSA’s spying goes beyond foreigners to include Americans, despite its charter specifically disallowing surveillance of those within the United States.

“In many ways it’s even more troubling than [Bush era] warrantless wiretapping, in part because the program is purely domestic,” says Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.”But this is also an indiscriminate dragnet. Say what you will about warrantless wiretapping, at least it was targeted at agents of Al Qaeda. This includes every customer of Verizon Business Services.”
Those who warned of a slippery slope after learning of the Bush administration policies now are vindicated.
But the Verizon order seems to show that the NSA, using FISA, has specifically gathered communications data that both begins and ends with Americans. That domestic surveillance may be allowed under FISA’s low standard for the “relevance” of the data demanded from Internet companies and telephone carriers in the investigations of foreigners, says Julian Sanchez, a research fellow with the CATO Institute focused on privacy and civil liberties. ”The overall purpose of this program is to identify foreign terrorists,” says Julian Sanchez. “But in fact it extends well beyond whether the individual you’re investigating is foreign. If you think an American citizens’s email has information about what a foreign power or individual is doing, that’s ‘relevant.’ The purpose of the investigation is not a constraint on the target or the people from whom the information is sought.”

“If they data mine huge blocks of call records, they’re getting lots of innocent Americans’ data,” adds Sanchez, “But the argument, I imagine, is ‘we’re doing data mining to look for suspicious patterns to help us identify foreign terrorists.’”
Now we have to find out if other phone carriers have also been targeted as well as other internet sources that might have information such as Google or Facebook. As Greenberg points out, the NSA has denied previously that they are spying on Americans. That statement is no longer, as they say, operative.

For those who were pooh-poohing tea partiers' emphasis on protecting our rights or who laugh at the NRA talking about the Second Amendment, this is what chipping away at our rights looks like. You can add in those whose religious rights have been chipped away with the Obamacare requirements that religious organizations provide free birth control and free morning-after pills despite their religious beliefs. Or all those who warned about how Obamacare's authors had stretched the Commerce Clause. Or Obama's ignorinjg of checks and balances as he took it upon himself to decide when the Senate was and was not in session. And his administration's further ignoring of federal court rulings stating that his supposed recess appointees were unconstituional and, therefore, all the rulings from the NLRB made with that appointee were invalid. Or Eric Holder's ignoring of being held in contempt of Congress for refusing to give over information on Fast and Furious. And the IRS and Holder's delays in answering questions and providing information including about Holder's clear misleading of Congressional committees. Add in all those who deride Justice Scalia's emphasis on textual readings of laws and the Constitution because anything else is subject to the whim of whatever some judge wants to rule.

Our Founders created a rule of law for a purpose. And we've seen more chipping away at those laws and those rights in the past few years than anyone could have imagined.

Benjamin Franklin famously warned that the Constitutional Convention had created "a republic, if you can keep it." If the country chooses to ignore all these infringements on our rights simply because Obama is a liberal, then we don't deserve to keep it.