God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen - Jars of Clay - listen now

Friday, August 17, 2007

Foreigners and Phone Calls

Jonathan Alter takes Congress to task in his Newsweek article I Know What You Did Last Summer. Of what does he speak? The amending of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to bring it in line with 21st century technology, which he characterizes as having "shredded the Fourth Amendment." He also castigates the Democratic controlled Congress for "caving" in and approving the measure out of a selfish desire to protect their own behinds and to keep from delaying their vacations. Not that he wants to be melodramatic mind you.
We had to do more listening in, especially with scary new intelligence "chatter" suggesting an unspecified attack on the U.S. Capitol this summer. Congressional sources who attended the late-July classified intel briefings, but won't talk about them for the record, say these threats didn't sound like spin. After all, we're not talking here about trumped-up Iraqi WMD, but Al Qaeda terrorists who have already tried to kill us.

So members of Congress are legitimately afraid that they and their families will get blown up this summer. Fair enough. But then they lost their heads and sold out the Constitution to cover their political rears while keeping the rest of us mostly in the dark. [...]

Even liberals like Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, argued in two heated, closed-door meetings on Aug. 3 that the Democrats might as well cave. Otherwise, they would be pounded during the August recess for ignoring national security and destroyed as a party if the country were actually attacked. Even though the leadership and 82 percent of House Democrats voted against the bill, they did not block it, delay the recess and hold the Congress in session. The private excuse was that the liberal base wouldn't be satisfied no matter what they did, and that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid couldn't make the more conservative Senate go along anyway. Apparently, there's always an excuse for leaving for vacation on time.
What is the crux of his argument? Is it that the government can listen in on any conversation they think significant? Is it that the CIA can add your conversations with your neighbor to their "Greatest Hits of Freedom Shredding" CD? No. His whole argument revolves around the premise that the government can now "spy without a warrant on any American talking to a foreigner, even if it's you and the guy from Mumbai fixing your printer." Oh puhlease. As if the FBI, CIA, or NSA has anything better to do than listen to you get directions for changing the print cartridge on the piece of crap "free" printer you got from Dell, or swapping recipes with Auntie LuLu in Sydney or São Paulo.

What I think people don't seem to realize in this whole spy business, is that the government already has a pretty good idea of who they want to listen in on and where that suspect is calling from and to. They don't just waltz into the "Secret Telephone Tapping Office" every morning and randomly select conversations on which to eavesdrop. Could the act be used as a political weapon? Perhaps, but do you think any politician today wants to go down in history as the next J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon?

In my opinion, anyone out there who sees the update of FISA as a trampling of their rights and thinks the government cares what they're talking about on any given day, might need to check their ego for over inflation. I'll even buy them a pin to pop it with...

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