Monday, December 04, 2006

US government spying on citizens

By Heraclitus

Have a look at this Glenn Greenwald post on all of the information the US government is trying to gather on US citizens. The information includes all kinds of facts about airline travel (including seating preference and what kind of meal you order [what airline is still serving meals?]), and an attempt to, in the words of a source inside the NSA, "create a database of every call ever made in the US." That's right, knowing that wrong number you dialed last Thursday and exactly what days and times you've called your favorite Thai place for take-out will make us safer. In a familiar pattern, it's a Republican, in this case Lindsey Graham on Fox News, for crying out loud, who really protests. “The idea of collecting millions or thousands of phone numbers — how does that fit into following the enemy?”

Greenwald argues that the agencies collecting this information, or rather the individuals working for these agencies, will inevitably abuse their power. In fact, this has already happened to him; a commenter on a right-wing blog posted his travel information, and told the blogger to contact him if he wanted more information. This commenter has identified himself on other right-wing blogs as an employee of the Department of Homeland Security. Good stuff.

The key here, it seems to me, isn't even that this is good or bad. I think it is, as Graham says, a waste of energy and resources, an obsession born of a neurotic control freak's fevered brain. I also think it's a violation of privacy, etc. But the crucial point is that it's not being debated at all. There's been no public discussion of this whatsoever, because it's been kept secret by the Bushies (there's a surprise). Greenwald says it well:

Surveillance technology is only becoming more potent, as is -- in some circles -- the mentality that the Government's claimed need to "protect us" means that its power to monitor what we do ought to be unlimited. Those two trends -- increasingly potent surveillance abilities combined with an increasingly submissive and authoritarian-minded public -- have the potential, actually the likelihood, to create all sorts of undesirable outcomes, to put it quite mildly.

The last thing that ought to happen is that these matters get decided without public awareness, let alone debate. If our Government thinks it has good reason to start monitoring our actions and collecting and storing detailed data about how we live our lives -- including the millions of citizens suspected of no crimes -- then it ought to say what it wants to do and we can then debate if it ought to have that power. Why is that proposition controversial? (Apparently, like the prior disclosures about domestic spying, there was no national security reason to conceal this program, since it was the Government itself which, after several years of collecting this information, just disclosed the travel data program in the Federal Register).

I'm sure I've said here before that Greenwald, for all his virtues, can tend to be long-winded and repetitive. So he can, but this post is well worth reading in full.

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