Friday, August 10, 2007

Open For Business To Abuse

What's The Worst That Could Happen?

With the new FISA amendments having now been signed into law, "the Bush administration has successfully forced on Congress a law that largely authorizes open-ended surveillance of Americans' overseas phone calls and e-mails." As this excellent article in Alternet observes,
The law's most important effect is arguably not its expansion of raw surveillance power but the sloughing away of judicial or Congressional oversight. In the words of former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, the law provides "unlimited access to currently protected personal information that is already accessible through an oversight procedure."
This is a really important point, so much so that I'm going to restate it in bullet form, so even any Republicans reading this can understand:
  • The Bush administration throughout the known history of the NSA warrantless wiretapping affair has not been seeking an expansion of surveillance power.
  • What they have been seeking is a reduction or complete elimination of oversight.
  • Prior to the program being revealed to the public in Dec. '05, they were willing to commit repeated felonies in order to avoid oversight.
  • Whatever they were doing it almost led to mass resignations in a Justice Department that was and still is almost completely made up of hand-picked Loyal Bushies.
  • The program was in fact SO illegal that it did lead to the infamous visit by Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to John Ashcroft's ICU ward.
You see the import of this distinction? If there is no oversight, then it doesn't matter what the rules are, because if and when they are broken, no-one will ever know. For instance, the rules say that only communications with someone "reasonably believed" to be on foreign soil can be put under surveillance. But if no-one is allowed to know who is being tapped or why, what's to stop them from tapping you and your significant other arranging a hot date?

So what should we worry about? What is the worst that could happen? Here's just a couple of things that worry me, I'm sure you can come up with more on your own.

Politicians, contributors, and/or journalists could be wiretapped looking for 'dirt' to be used as blackmail. "Hey Senator _________, we know about ___________ so if you don't vote for the _________bill your wife and kids, and the public will find out." Maybe this has already happened, and that's why some of the 41 House Dems and 15 Democratic Senators voted for the latest travesty in the first place. Can we expect a bill in the near future authorizing the government to blackmail people?

Unscrupulous members of government (*cough*Dick Cheney*cough*) could wiretap the communications of businesses, find out about significant deals and events before they were public, and use the information for insider trading. Without the giveaway of being an insider. NSA 'professionals', (whom the government keeps portraying as totally trustworthy), could make a tidy second income selling proprietary information to business competitors.

In fact, lured by the vast potential of this ability to spy on America protected by such legal barriers as Executive Privilege and the State Secrets Act, I doubt if the 'professionals' will have time to spy on the foreign terrorists anymore. I mean, screwing America for a profit seems to be the chief operating principle of the Bush administration. How would this scenario deviate one iota from what they've already been caught doing. And being the most secretive government America has ever known, what the hell might they have gotten away with? As Glenn Greenwald noted in a recent column,
As much as we think we know about the range of controversial Bush policies, it is almost certainly the case that what we do not know, what remains concealed, vastly outweighs what we know.
Now there's a sobering thought.

If that worries you a bit too much, Mark Fiori has this animation to remind you that 'We're watching you because we love you.'

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