Some voters ask what’s the big deal about the spying on fellow Americans? Islam terrorists are trying to kill us. Right? The President can do anything in wartime. Right? There’s no other way to catch the bad guys without resorting to warrantless spying. Right? No one has anything to fear from wide spread government spying on literally millions of ordinary citizens if they haven’t done anything wrong. Right? So, what’s the big deal?
Spying on Americans without bothering to obtain a warrant with the accompanying judicial oversight is a big deal, the biggest, a Constitutional Crisis in fact. It’s a big deal because:
1. It’s Expressly Forbidden by the Constitution. Those who say otherwise either have never read it or, more likely, have chosen to deliberately deceive about it. Read it yourself. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states, about as plain is it gets, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” What part of the word “NO” don’t they understand? Merely because a devious Congressman, a disingenuous Attorney General or, for that matter, a dissembling Supreme Court Justice says it is permitted, does not make it true. The words are unmistakable, unequivocal, and unalterable without amending the Constitution itself (even assuming we would actually want to throw out one of the few protections against abuse of power we have left). There are no “asterisks” in the Constitution. George Bush, the Attorney General and all the rest behind such Constitutional violations solemnly swore before the God they claim they believe in to uphold that very Constitution including the parts they did not happen to like. Crossing their fingers behind their backs when they took their oaths of office does not create an exception.
2. It’s Expressly Against the Laws Passed by Congress based on the Constitution. There is some question as to whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, which allows some warrantless searches so long as the warrants are obtained within several days after the spying has already started deserves to be held as “constitutional” given the clear prohibition of Amendment IV. Nevertheless, even under the loosey goosey FISA law with its secret judges, minimal review and no opportunity for opposing views, the actions of Bush and his supporters are in violation of the inarguable wording of that law.
3. It Doesn’t Seem to Work. Even though the White House admits it has been conducting such illegal searches, wiretaps, data mining and other secret spying on Americans since shortly after 9/11, the number of terrorists caught by such methods in all those many years is apparently either one or none. Literally millions of Americans have been spied on without warrants or probable cause or even suspicion. They have been spied upon relentlessly by every means that can be devised. Trillions of phone, internet and other electronic messages and data banks have been invaded. Yet, there are almost no results of all the effort. While funds for things like port security and other desperately needed and legal terrorist prevention activities went begging, there was almost no justification for the massive cost of secret electronic spying on darned near everyone. Some apologists for such actions might try to claim that the government did catch terrorists with such methods and merely does not want to reveal it by bringing the ones they caught to public trial. Of course, that raises a whole new set of dictatorship-like questions if true. But, given this Administration’s penchant for risking national security to pursue its own purely political ends (such as the outed CIA agent affair), if the Administration had succeeded with such techniques, almost certainly they would be braying it at the top of their lungs. No, the only times the White House really keeps secrets is when it is trying to hide its own incompetence or illegalities.
4. There Are Other Tools That Do Work. There is no persuasive evidence anybody the Administration caught could not have been caught by the many other successful, long established and legal methods. The single 9/11 suspect they caught and brought to trial was caught by other means. Does it need to be pointed out that such methods weren’t deemed necessary to defeat Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, far more potent foes. Moreover, even if there were no other means, since when does the end justify all means? Obviously, the Bush Administration believes or asserts that its ends are golden and therefore justify any means possible. At the same time, how is that sort of reprehensible thinking all that different from how the terrorists act? Are we to be indistinguishable from the terrorists except that we don’t prefer beheadings? Has Bush never heard of the Golden Rule? Or, is it just that he wants to be sole Ruler?
5. It Doesn’t Just Affect the Terrorists. Wiretapping and searching of Americans is fully permitted, even under the Constitution, so long as (a) it is primarily focused on specific targets, (b) there is at least some probable cause suggesting those targets did something that is criminal and (c) an independent third party such as a judge is reviewing the evidence. Assuming those truly minimal restrictions to prevent abuses are met, a warrant is routinely granted making the whole thing fully legal. Here is the important point. If a wiretap or a search has a warrant, then every crime discovered while listening or searching is punishable, no matter how unrelated to the initial warrant. For instance, if the feds tap a public phone or an internet server because, say, drug dealers happen to use it, then everyone else who uses the same public communication terminal and mentions something that might be evidence of some potential crime can have it used against them. Is there anyone who has never disobeyed any law any time? Odds are you have committed crimes you did not even know existed. Plus, the government is adding new crimes all the time. It can all come out in public and quite legally at that point. Do you really want the government to review all your electronic communications with others and have the ability to use that against you?
6. There May Be Other, More Nefarious, Uses of the Data Gained. All of this leads one to wonder if there might be some other motivation for such massive, blatant and arrogant disregard of the rules. Blackmail is an obvious opportunity. While blackmail is illegal under any circumstances, the Bush White House crew has already demonstrated that mere illegalities are of little consequence so long as his unique ends are achieved. Other than the hardware involved, how is the principle behind such searches any different from that of the Watergate burglars in the 70s? While finding terrorists is the alleged purpose of such spying, spying on political opponents for instance would surely yield useful levers to prevent Congressional Democrats or inquisitive reporters or even straying Republicans from challenging the Caesar-like powers with which Bush is cloaking himself. Do you think anyone in power who wants to stay in power can resist that opportunity for long? It doesn’t even have to actually be used. The mere threat of universal government eavesdropping declared as legal would have a chilling effect on public discourse. Who knows, perhaps the spying to date would explain the utter ineffectualness of the current national Democratic leadership. Perhaps not.
7. The Assembled Information Can Be Used to Help the Party in Power Politically. In any event, it is not necessary to use the accumulated information just for blackmail purposes. Remember, if the initial spying is determined to be “legal,” then probably everything resulting from it can be used for any legal purpose. Think how useful it would be for the party in power to know what the party preferences are of the millions of people spied upon. A party that knows that might not have to waste money sending campaign material to strong supporters and could target more on just the wavering ones. Obviously, information gained in secret by the party in power does not have to be shared with the other side in an election. On top of that, a party that knows how people were politically inclined could find ways to play dirty tricks on election day to keep the voters on the other side from reaching the polling places or generally intimidating them. The voting booth itself is not safe from such spying if it is somehow deemed “legal” to spy without warrants. So much for secret ballots. We already know that the this Administration believes anyone disagreeing with its goals is a potential tool of terrorists. Think of its ability to use such accumulated data to investigate tax returns, deny licenses, and freeze bank accounts of opponents, even if the Administration did not want to go to the trouble of jailing without trial or lawyer as it claims it has a right to do during “war.” What limits are there, if any? And, if the Administration does not want to dirty its own hands, it could simply turn the data over to the competitors or bosses or pastors or spouses of those with anti-Administration proclivities and let them apply the force to neutralize the opponents of the Administration.
8. The Assembled Information Can Be Used to Help Private Companies Who Want Your Money. As pointed out above, if such spying is legal for one purpose, it is legal for almost all other purposes. The data mining, for example, can be sold, or more likely given, to private companies who were heavy campaign contributors to those now in power. Even if the White House chooses for once to be non-discriminatory, do you really want strangers to know what movies you watch, especially the risque ones? Do you want them to know what web sites you have visited or what alternative news sources you have sought? Do you want them letting others know or having the potential to know such things? Will the individual employees of such privileged companies keep the information private even assuming the companies who paid for the information promise to do so? Do you want anyone having access to know what books you read? Do you want them to know what you or your children eat, let alone whom you date? Do you want them to know where you go, what you do, what you said in conversations or emails you thought were private? Do you want them to know about your illnesses, your secret desires, your past indiscretions? Worse, even if, and that is a mighty big if, the Administration was not willing to commit overt blackmail on its own, is there any assurance it would not happily allow others to do so if it happened in the process to indirectly benefit the current Administration? Think of the power it gives for anyone to have that data. A paranoid thought, but entirely justified in the light of the continuing disclosures by the usually gutless press corp.
9. It Destroys Trust in Government Officials. Knowing how often power corrupts, do we really want to eliminate all the checks and balances our Founding Fathers so carefully imbedded in the Constitution? Do we want to anoint one of the formerly equal branches of government with unequaled power? Do we want to give up privacy and freedom for the illusion of security? Do we want to make ourselves the laughing stock of the world?
10. It’s Just Plain Wrong.
Those who do practice such warrantless spying are criminals. Those who support it are genuine traitors in the truest definition of the word. Those who do nothing about it are idiots. What are you?