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And I Was Overreacting?

By - December 24, 2005

In the book I warned about abuses under the Patriot Act, but this is far worse. And here I thought maybe I was overreacting. From the Times:



WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 – The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system’s main arteries, they said.

The article goes on:



…the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.

From the book (page 200, and here’s all PATRIOT references via Amazon Book Search):



By now, you might be a bit concerned about abuse of power

under the PATRIOT Act, but you’re not a foreign agent bent on

the destruction of the United States, and the law is really only in-

terested in foreign agents, after all. Most of this stuff doesn’t apply

to you, does it? In fact, PATRIOT changes the law so that govern-

ment officials no longer have to prove they are after a foreign agent

when they intercept communications. Now, all they have to prove

is that they feel access to your information might be valuable to

their investigation. That’s a pretty broad stroke. Fortunately, a pro-

vision was added that prohibits surveillance “solely on the basis of

activities protected by the First Amendment.” But how does one tell

the difference between your First Amendment right to do searches

about the tactics of terrorists, for example, and the searches of a

real terrorist?

That’s a hard one.

One might argue that while the PATRIOT Act is scary, in times

ofwar citizens must always be willing to balance civil liberties with

national security. Most of us might be willing to agree to such a

framework in a presearch world, but the implications of such broad

government authority are chilling given the world in which we now

live—a world where our every digital track, once lost in the blowing

dust of a presearch world, can now be tagged, recorded, and held in

the amber of a perpetual index.

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24 thoughts on “And I Was Overreacting?

  1. Andi says:

    Yes, you are underestimating our enemies and overestimating the danger posed to you by the U.S. Government.

    At this very moment people far more dangerous (to you) than the U.S. Government are plotting to vaporize you and they have the will to do it. By denying this you are a danger to me and the things I hold dear, **American Liberty** formost among these.

  2. ZF says:

    The legal arguments don’t go only in a single direction, restricting the actions of the President. As a Supreme Court judge once said, “the Constitition is not a suicide pact”.

  3. easy says:

    “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security”….(Pres. Benjamin Franklin)

    America…Land of the indexed, home of the paranoid.

    As a european i’m astonished to see how fast the US is sliding into a Soviet-State from the cold war… KGB like practices of eavesdropping and torturing with disregard for the law and Geneva convention, attacking sovereign states instead of liberating, shooting first-asking questions later, fraudable Diebold-ES&S voting machines…etc
    One step further and americans are starting to distrust each other; sssst don’t say aloud what you think or they’ll notify the authorities to check your google profile…

    History revisited…

  4. MikeM says:

    Easy, as an European your naive commentary on this subject don’t count for much. You have little at stake and have suffered far less at the hands of the current enemy than us.

    The Patriot Act — so what? Its secondary purpose is to give armchair liberals something to grouse about. Congress just extended the Act, some liberal members voted along.
    I have nothing to hide. I break no laws and don’t give a rip if the FBI knows what I check out at the library. I don’t care if the NSA listens in to my Christmas phone call to my aunt in Spain.
    If the FBI raids a neighbor’s home because they found evidence he is a national threat through listening to his cell phone activities that’s OK by me.
    This is an enemy that does not conform to the clean rules of war civilized nations expect.
    They intend to inflict greater harm to our nation and our people than they already have.

    God bless President Bush, God bless our troops serving our country in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    Merry Christmas!

  5. Jackson says:

    Wow – some wild commentors. These people think being sent off to a secret prison or being spied on only happens to the bad people.

    We already know innocent people have been snared in this dragnet. What makes people so sure that the liberty they are ready to give up today won’t be their’s tomorrow?

  6. Sven says:

    Who are all these innocent Americans that are being shipped off to secret prisons and being spied on? It’s all anecdotal.Since 1979 there have been presidential directives from Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton, allowing the president to do much more than anything Bush has been accussed of. It’s all a smoke screen for the Liberals to gain power. Unfortuneatly it wiil at the expense of our safety.

  7. marten isaak says:

    “Since 1979 there have been presidential directives from Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton, allowing the president to do much more than anything Bush has been accussed of. It’s all a smoke screen for the Liberals to gain power. Unfortuneatly it wiil at the expense of our safety.” – correct i think it too! but i think the future is not better like the past :(

  8. Andy Havens says:

    Good pointer to an important story, John. I blogged on it yesterday here, but with an emphasis on how what the government is doing equates to searching and tagging our metadata (call records) as opposed to our data (the call transcripts themselves).

    Personally, I don’t do a darned thing that would get me in trouble with John Law, and really, really don’t want to be blowed up by terrorists. That being said, I am surprised when I hear my more conservative friends say that they take the side of the current administration on this issue; i.e., that they’re “OK” with what the NSA and the CIA have been doing as of late vis-a-vis data searches, arrests without warrants, holding people without charging them, etc. If that ain’t Big Government intrusion, I don’t know what is, and if the conservative movement wasn’t originally built to protect against that, I’m confused.

    I’m sure that most people don’t do stuff that they’d care about having the government “see.” At the moment. Unless, as I point out in my post, you have a problem with the government knowing how old you are, what drugs you take, your weight, whether or not you own guns, where you vacation, etc.

    This year terrorism. Maybe next year this NSA metadata ends up getting used to determine who gets audited? Now, you may not have done anything wrong… but if you’re making lots more calls than average from Miami than someone who lives in Pittsburgh usually does for somebody in your tax bracket… OK, you just tripped that trigger. It’s more efficient to use the metadata we’ve already pulled in, right? And if you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear, right?

    And while we’re at it, is it OK if the police come in and search your house every week to make sure that you don’t have unregistered firearms, illicit drugs, child porn, copies of DVDs you haven’t paid for, etc. etc. etc.

    Yes, of course I’m jumping very, very far down the slippery slope. But that’s the point. Where do we draw the line? It’s getting easier and easier to “snoop” on metadata. And more and more of our lives are spent online. Our financial, health and legal data are often as much “meta” as they are “data.” If we can be Googled by the government without a warrant… that disturbs me. I find it unreasonable, even if the intent is to protect me from terrorists.

  9. Arthur Eisele says:

    It is very ignorant to say that because you don’t do anything illegal you wouldn’t mind being spied upon by government agencies.

    In either a Washington Post or NY Times related article –don’t remember which one– it said that this eavesdropping project had focused on Iraq war protesters and Greenpeace, among other groups that have absolutely nothing to do with Sri Lankan terrorists, bin Laden’s minions, or Pakistani buyers of nuclear material.

    If I don’t do illegal activities, the government should be working on protecting my privacy, instead of working to diminish it.

  10. Andi says:

    Those who tie our government’s hands will have no cause for complaint when the next terrorist strikes. Don’t you dare say “they didn’t connect the dots.” If you hide the “dots” you will bear the shame and the blame. Your so-called right to privacy is not sacrosanct, and isn’t really the same as freedom.

  11. steve says:

    I think government spying is fine as long as:
    A) We trust the government
    B) It’s full of dedicated professionals who are committed to upholding our liberties
    C) They are motivated purely by their duty to protect us, and do not engage in partisan politics
    D) They agree to be held accountable for their actions, just in case…

  12. One Way Stox says:

    Maybe if there was a Berlin Wall in Baghdad then all the libs would get it. And, thanks for the NY Times, etc. for giving out state secrets. Can you imagine if this were June 5th, 1944? “This is Dan Rather reporting from Drover, England, as allied forces prepare for a massive unwarranted invasion…”.

    Prediction #1 for ’06: Al-Jazeera buys NYT…& nobody notices the difference.

    You people have to back the hell off. How do ya think the Clinton Adm. prevented the Millennium attacks on LAX & Seattle? Ya think it was done with mind reading?

  13. One Way Stox says:

    Maybe if there was a 300 ft Wall accross the Mexican Border, then all the neocons would keep the terrorists out. And, thanks for the NY Times, etc. for giving out state secrets A YEAR LATER. Can you imagine if they’d published it on October 5th, 2004? “This is Wolf Blitzer reporting from the Whitehouse, Washington, as the administration prepares for a massive unwarranted invasion…”(on privacy).

    Prediction #1 for ’06: Bush impeached…& new elections.

    You people have to blog the hellotta more about this stuff. How do ya think the Bush Adm. prevented the Democrats take-over in Ohio & Florida? Ya think it was done with machine reading?

  14. David says:

    Leftist pig.

  15. Andrew S says:

    Your commenters miss the point here, just spouting mostly pointless rhetoric that is not relevant to this discussion.

    The real point is that the president is breaking the law, by bypassing the mechanisms set by law to approve wiretaps on American citizens. It does not have to do with whether this is a good idea or not. He did not go to congress and ask for a new law to be created and voted on for this to be approved; he did not allow this to be challenged in the courts for its constitutional validity. He bypassed checks and balances set by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and needs to be impeached, to discourage future abuses of power.

  16. chronika says:

    “Your commenters miss the point here, just spouting mostly pointless rhetoric that is not relevant to this discussion.” correct Andrew, but the discussion is very interesting and it close quarters to talk about.

    and rhetoric is normaly if you discuss with hearth :)

    i think the same like you. it´s not okay thats the president is breaking the law, but what is normal on the job of bush? he doing what he wan´t and this since 4 years :(

  17. Andi says:

    The impeachment of Clinton may well have distracted him enough to give us 9/11. Those who want to impeach Bush for trying to protect us are working for Al Qaida and are my enemies.

  18. anti-andi says:

    andi,

    you are very deluded.

    1. 9/11 occured when? 2001. Seems to be Bush was president then. So why do you blame it on Clinton?? oh sorry – everything is Clinton’s fault – i forgot. Maybe you can find some reason to blame the US’ current deficits on Clinton as well.

    2. Bush has broken the law!! Can you imagine if Clinton was in the same position as Bush and had broken the law. And btw, under the current law, Bush can get wiretaps whenever he wants – he just needs to get a warrant within 72 hours after initiating the wiretap.

    btw, what do you think about Yahoo handing over personal information on dissidents to the Chinese government? isn’t it much of the same thing as this?

  19. Deliverator says:

    “Wow – some wild commentors. These people think being sent off to a secret prison or being spied on only happens to the bad people.”

    Yeah, it’s not like a president would use wire-tap or eavesdropping to spy on his political opposition… oh, wait a minute. And it’s not like Americans would actually torture prisoners of war, we’re not like that… oh, yeah… It’s astonishing the American people do not see that the Bush administration considers freedom and democracy in the populace as minor obstructions to the enactment of its policy.

  20. Deliverator says:

    Andi, you need to broaden your thought a little bit, take a peek out of your bomb shelter, and realise the world isn’t peppered with terrorists like some Bond movie. Yes, terrorists exist. Yes, they are dangerous. And yes, the odds of them killing any one person in the United States are far, far, far less than the odds of an American policeman killing an American citizen.

    “First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out;
    Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out;
    Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out.
    And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

    Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984

  21. James says:

    Scenario:

    Dear Mustafah,

    Just writing ot let you know that the plans for the destruction of the evil US empire are well under way and that we will be shipping the explosives/chemicals tomorrow via UPS. Additionally, Abdhul is arriving from Baghdad/Islamabad/Jakarta on the 3pm flight.

    Yours in faith for the fattawah,

    Osama

    End of scenario

    Are we seriously to believe that any terrorist proposing an act of destruction or harm upon the US is going to be THAT open or indiscret? No. Are they going to use the most obtuse and obscure means to transfer messages? The least obvious? Of course they are.

    Data mining of peoples records and communications will NOT turn up anything meaningful. What it will do is turn up all sorts of information ‘useful’ to a government who is hell bent on repressing free speech and any ‘alternative’ thinking.

    Oh. One minor thing. It is in breach of the law!

  22. Kevin says:

    It’s not just the US that are introducing or have draconian laws enacted. We have them here in the UK too.

    The Regulation of Investigory Powers Bill was introduced to force ISPs, phone companies etc. in the UK to retain details of websites visited, emails exchanged (header info, to, from, subject etc.), mobile and landline phone records etc. This bill allows any government security agency to pull all these records for law enforcement purposes without a court order. It was to be extended to ANY government agency, so someone working for a local council could request information on anyone without requiring court orders or even senior management approval. ANY government agency, from the unemployment benefits offices, local housing agencies, the police, the fire service even those working as civil servants for organisations such as your local library would have been able to request information on anyone. Thankfully the house of lords shot that amendment down but Tony Blair has indicated that they will try again.

    Other laws include internment without trial, which was to be extended to 90 days (approx 3 months) but thankfully that was also shot down by the house of lords. Now the government want to change the way the house of lords works so they cannot shoot down such laws and plan to reintroduce the 90 day internment part again.

    Our government want to be allowed to appoint their own judges to high profile trials, as well as removing the right to trial by jury for high profile trials too. Another provision allows for internment without trial for 14 days and without your defence being allowed to see any of the evidence against you for fear of revealing sources of intelligence.

    The DVLA database which holds records of every car owner in the UK is to be tied into surveillence systems so that upon driving into a town or city your registration plate details will be viewed by a CCTV camera and the details checked against the DVLA database. There are also plans to tie CCTV systems with facial recognition technology into police and criminal databases. Pass a CCTV camera and be followed around town, or arrested if there are any outstanding warrants against you. Their latest plans are to force car companies to introduce black boxes with GPS positioners so that you can be tracked wherever you go if required by the police are other law enforcement agencies. These black boxes will also know speed limits and will be able to tell if you are speeding. The first you would know is a fine popping through your door a few days later.

    The biggest threat to individual privacy in the UK is the ID Cards Bill. The ID card itself is not the problem, it’s the databases it will be tied into. The plan is that eventually all government databases will be tied together in the ID Card database and other, private organisation will be invited to join. Imagine not being able to get a bank account, a job, buy large items, get a mortgage, sign up for utilities like gas, water, phone etc. without having an ID card. All of your identity on one card with a database behind it that knows who you are, where you are at any one time, what you buy, when you buy it, where you work, who you call, why and when, who you associate with and hundreds of other details. Our government have a VERY poor record when it comes to keeping such data confidential so the potential threat to ones sense of privacy and freedom is astronomical. The cost of the cards is to be passed on to each individual too, independant watchdogs put the cost at anywhere from 77 UK Pounds to over 300 UK Pounds per person. You will also have to visit an approved centre to have your photograph, fingerprints and DNA taken for inclusion on the card. These approved centres are likely to be hundreds of miles away for some people in very remote areas such as the highlands and islands of Scotland. The reason for all this legislation, we are told it is to combat organised crime and terrorism yet the government will not require anyone visiting the UK for less than 3 months to apply for an ID card. How on earth is that going to work?. The terrorists who bombed London in July were UK citizens so they would have had an ID card quite legally, how would ID cards have prevented that?. These laws are all about the government controlling it’s citizens and have nothing to do with the current terrorist threat.

    It’s all very big brother and it’s getting worse.

  23. Norman says:

    Scenario one:
    I’m on the phone (or sending an email) to a friend.
    “We’re thinking about a vacation in Washington D.C. this August. We’d really like to tour the White House, but we’re worried some terrorist might plant a bomb there that goes off with us inside”.

    Perfectly innocent and guaranteed to have the Feds all over me.

    A REAL terrorist would say something like:
    “I want to confirm our package is delivered on August 25 to the head office. The boss will be there about 10am and I know he will want to be there personally to receive it.”
    Absolutely nothing for the Feds to pick up on.

    So why would I care if I have nothing to hide?
    Come on, we ALL do stuff we don’t want the government to find out about.
    Ever exceeded the speed limit, failed to stop right on the STOP line, allowed a teenager to have a beer or two, downloaded a copyrighted music file, or maybe your child has?
    Maybe you have a business-use car and sometimes use it personally without properly recording the mileage?

    Or perhaps you just don’t feel good about someone placing a bug in your bedroom and tape-recording you making love to your spouse.

    By the way, if Osama ever gets caught I think he should be released…. lowered from a helicopter into a waiting crowd in Times Square.

  24. David says:

    Just wait until terrorism becomes the same as protesting WalMart!

    If you do not believe liberal freedom fighters then believe President G.W. Bush when he says, regarding the war on terror, on NBC’s Today Show, “I don’t think you can win it.”