Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Examining an obsession about civil liberties

By Carol Gee

"Privacy advocates," "civil libertarians," "Fourth Amendment Constitutional activists," "Left Wingers," "Right-leaning members of the Libertarian Party," "Online activists," I am one of you. We are, indeed strange bedfellows.

What is the reality? I am trying to figure out why I have this obsession about protecting U.S. civil liberties. I wonder whether I am being too paranoid about the U.S. government spying on Americans. I am very curious about the actual facts of the current administration's (what I believe to be illegal) domestic surveillance program. I think about what it is about all this that is so bothersome to me, and to the others of us who regularly blog about the issue. I often look to those whose expertise has been so pivotal in this fight. Glenn Greenwald at, whose links I have liberally used in this post, often states the reality in which I believe. Today's includes good insights on the administration's apparent motives for its massive spy effort. To quote from his current post:

. . . the reality is that the Government and the telecoms broke the law not for weeks or months, but for years -- well into 2007. They continued to do so even after the NYT exposed what they were doing. They could have brought their spying activities into a legal framework at any time, but chose instead to spy on Americans in exactly the way our laws criminalize. Manifestly, then, national
security had nothing to do with why they did it. The Bush administration chose to do so because they wanted to eavesdrop without oversight and to establish that neither Congress nor the courts can limit what the President does, and telecoms did not want to jeopardize the massive
government surveillance contracts
they have by refusing.

Congress is not the least bit obsessed about this constitutional assault. Are they right and are we the ones who are losing our minds? We strange bedfellows feel that we are losing our constitutionally protected Fourth Amendment civil liberties of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. I wonder why our elected representatives in Congress are not as obsessed about this as I am. After all, they are the ones who took the oath to uphold and protect the Constitution. I never took such an oath. Why does it seem to matter more to me; I am just one little blogger regularly pecking away about FISA at my little notebook's keyboard. But big blogs are also obsessed. "The FISA cavein is Congress' shame," says "Scarecrow" at Firedoglake. In one succinct and searing post this writer says it all, and so much better than I have been able to manage, given my current obsessive funk. To quote rather extensively from this fine writer's main points:

For six years, the Bush Administration and the nation’s communication companies have been illegally spying on Americans’ phone calls and e-mails. They did this in direct violation of the Constitution’s 4th Amendment and a federal statute – FISA. Both laws emphatically forbid such surveillance unless the government first obtains a warrant from an independent (eg, FISA) court.

. . . the US Senate is planning today to grant immunity to the lawbreakers, while sanctioning more warrantless surveillance, weakened oversight and a sham investigation.

. . . it wasn’t just a few, scattered incidents of warrantless surveillance, nor was the spying directed solely at suspected “terrorists.” The spying was massive, sweeping, and undifferentiated. Everyone’s privacy was vulnerable. . . the Bush Administration diverted, stored and searched through millions of our communications looking for . . . what? . . . we won't know how our private information becomes misinterpreted and misused – that is, used against us, without us knowing why or being able to do anything about it.

. . . Can you imagine the leaders of our present Congress signing the Declaration of Independence? Would any of them have insisted that the Constitution not be ratified unless it included a Bill of Rights?

. . . The nation’s founders were not such frightened people. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in open defiance of the world’s most powerful empire, a regime that would certainly have hanged them if they failed in their efforts to become free men. Now our Congress cowers because they fear a President with 25 percent approval ratings and a Republican Party that the electorate can’t wait to throw out of office.

Fourth Estate and candidate failures to uphold the Constitution obsess me. I ask why has the mainstream media, except for The New York Times, been mostly silent on this extremely important issue. And, most disappointingly, why does protecting civil liberties not matter as much to my chosen presidential candidate as it should. Sarah Wheaton at the 7/3/08 New York Times blog, "The Caucus," explored Senator Obama's dialogue with his supporters who disagreed with his stance on the current FISA bill up for debate today. To quote: “This was not an easy call for me,” Mr. Obama said in a statement posted to the diary of Joe Rospars, a top Internet adviser to the campaign. “I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect.”

This examination of our obsession about civil liberties tells me that neither I nor my fellow protesters are crazy. We are focused, honed in, tuned in to a reality that is a big problem for the nation. It is good to remember that I am not the only one who feels this way. It is upsetting to remember that there are far too few of us to matter at this point. But that does not mean we will give up our obsession. We must not; too much depends on it.

Update: This is a sad day in FISA's history. The Senate approved HR 6304 by a vote of 69 ayes and 28 nays. Glenn has the full story, including the defeat of three "improving" ammendments prior to the final vote. Obama voted for the bill; Clinton against it. He also reports that Congress has now dropped to single-digit approval ratings. Is anyone surprised?

This day in history: July 9, 1787 - Constitution Convention. Convention discusses committee's report on ratio of representation in House.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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  • I feel your pain.

    Aside from the civil liberties aspect (a big aside, yes), I think the Dems who voted yes are being incredibly naive.

    I really don't have that much fear of personally being a target of surveillance (being a powerless, voiceless gnat as demonstrated by my hapless protest on this issue). I do fear surveillance being used as an incredibly effective political weapon.

    Strike that. I have absolutely no doubt that it will be used in that fashion, if it hasn't already. I also have absolutely no doubt which party will benefit from this weapon.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:26 PM  

  • gnarlytrombone, first of all I love your name. Second I appreciated the thoughtfulness of your comment. Thanks.
    Pardon my tardiness of reply. I am away from my regular computer.

    By Blogger Carol Gee, at 5:04 PM  

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