Here It Comes: The National Surveillance State | Harper's Magazine

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Here It Comes: The National Surveillance State

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With not a drum roll or flourish, the Bush Administration, with the full complicity of the Senate Democratic leadership, is going to try to push through retroactive immunity. Who are the recipients of this criminal law largesse? The telecommunications companies and internet service providers who collaborated with the Bush Administration, allowing it full access to the private communications of millions of Americans in violation of a federal criminal statute—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The importance of this measure cannot be understated. The Bush Administration is serving up immunity to anyone who works with it in creating the national surveillance state. This effort is being opposed by everyone with more than a gram of gray matter who has studied the legislation. Such radical organizations as the New York City Bar Association, home to the law firms that advise the telecom majors, made clear that the proposed legislation serves no legitimate purpose and establishes a horrendous precedent of bailing out serious transgressions against the public right of privacy.

Here’s a very good summary of the conduct which is being immunized, an NSA program, taken from an article in USA Today:

…The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others. . .

The usefulness of the NSA’s domestic phone-call database as a counterterrorism tool is unclear. Also unclear is whether the database has been used for other purposes.

We’re watching the telecoms use their lobbying muscle to accomplish quietly what they could not hope to accomplish in the light of day.

There’s no surprise that the White House is fully behind them. The surprise (though not to those who’ve kept a close tab on things) is that the Democratic leadership, which claims to be in opposition or at least neutral, is effectively in cahoots with the forces behind telecom immunity. Here’s what Harry Reid had to say:

[I]f people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, Democrats have been pushing Reid to adopt just this defiant posture with respect to the filibustering Republicans for the past year. He has consistently refused to do so. Evidently his backbone only stiffens when it comes to a showdown over the telecoms and their right to facilitate criminal surveillance of millions of Americans without a warrant.

If you care about the Constitution and want to stop the erosion of its protections and the construction of the Bush Administration’s National Surveillance State, the time has come to act. Write your Congressman and Senators and ask them to oppose telecom immunity. More to the point, demand that your senators support the filibuster of the current legislation.

Senator Reid is threatening to bring it to the floor as early as tomorrow. Don’t wait.

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