Monday, May 15, 2006

Become The Media

As far as the polls indicated, a small majority of Americans didn't really have a problem with the notion that the NSA was monitoring calls supposedly between foreign terror organizations and Americans domestically. I, along with most liberals, had a huge problem with the program only in as much that the Bush administration refused to seek a warrant for its activities. The program itself at least sounded like good intelligence policy.

That all changed with the revelation last week that AT&T, Bell South and Verizon have been providing the NSA with customer call records, sans warrant or judicial oversight. The mood of the country is changing profoundly as the collateral damage potential of such a program is assessed by Joe and Jill Taxpayer. Perhaps even more disturbing, via John Aravosis, is this latest bit from an ABC News blog:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

We do not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

Now, certainly I don't equate the media as having a greater right to privacy than any average American. The average American, however, is not going to be disclosing information in an average phone call that is going to mean much to the NSA or the White House. My friend and I discussing the virtues of Champions of Norrath for the PS2, while certainly an indication of our commitment to lifelong geek-dom, is not a matter which could threaten our democracy. The unwarranted exposure of confidential government sources is such a threat however, and one that the American people had better start taking much more seriously. Pinheads like John Kyl and Jeff Sessions either fail to see the danger their abject fear of all things Muslim is stirring amongst the "red-staters" or they see government spying as a step in the right direction to some very unpleasant ends.

For make no mistake about it: unwarranted surveillance of Americans, especially those engaged in anonymous "whistle-blowing" or political commentary, is entering Soviet-style fascist territory. The idea that we should somehow just trust the government to act responsibly, sans any oversight of any kind, is a sure recipe for disaster. It reflects the stubborn notion that fascism cannot happen here, which is absurd. The Bush administration's policies have shown a clear tendency towards authoritarian rule. This is the real thing happening before our very eyes, abetted by the likes of the two Republican Senators above.

I borrowed this post's title from Jello Biafra as a reminder of how important it is to consider the wider implications of government power. Where the government is concerned, trust is never, ever an option. Only oversight, constant, unrelenting and penetrating oversight, can protect our democracy from the likes of George W. Bush's handlers. When rightwing pundits are spouting off in the media that perhaps we need to sacrifice some of our civil rights in exchange for protection from Al-Qaida, we've gone around a corner from which it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to return.

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