Friday, June 07, 2013

The Party of Main Street should be all over this Verizon kerfuffle

Yesterday it was revealed that the Obama administration has obtained secret court orders allowing it to track hundreds of millions of phone calls made by Verizon customers.

This AP News summary, by Matt Apuzzo et al., suggests that the order disclosed yesterday was entered by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court under authority of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, "known colloquially as the 'library records provision' because it allowed the government to seize a wide range of documents, including library records. Under that provision, the government must show that there are 'reasonable grounds to believe' that the records are relevant to an investigation intended to 'protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.'"

So... this is all caused by the Patriot Act?

Well, one of the Patriot Act's original chief sponsors, Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, has written Atty. Gen. Eric Holder insisting that the newly revealed surveillance order is not appropriate under the Patriot act but is, rather, an abuse of the Patriot Act.

Actually, it's more polite (and, I think, more accurate) to say that broadly drafted language in the Patriot Act has led to some "unintended consequences." Thanks to sloppy language in so many statutes, these sorts of things happen all the time.

Still, in his letter to Mr. Holder, Congressman Sensenbrenner writes, "How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the Act?"

It's a good question.

But is it just a political one?

Well... it could be.

See, Mr. Sensensbrenner notwithstanding, many prominent Republicans and Democrats have united in pooh-poohing any civil rights issue in the government's tracking of our phone records (and it is assumed, at this point, that Verizon is not the only company turning over its records for government scrutiny).

This piece on the Huffington Post quotes California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as saying, "I read intelligence carefully, and I know that people are trying to get to us. This is to ferret this out before it happens. It's called protecting America."

This condescending attitude finds bi-partisan support. The ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Georgia's Saxby Chambliss, is quoted in the same article, as saying "Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this, and to my knowledge we have not had any citizen who has registered a complaint relative to the gathering of this information."

Um, Senator, until yesterday no private citizen knew about this.

In the best tradition of the Stupid Party, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Fox News, "I’m a Verizon customer. I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist phone with somebody in the United States."

Some Democrats and some Republicans have decried this (literally) unwarranted invasion of privacy. Heck, no less a dedicated Statist than former Vice President Al Gore tweeted yesterday:

Apparently, however, it's easy to be for civil liberties when out of government -- but really, really hard to remember how to defend them once in power. Candidate Obama was a staunch defender of transparency in government. As President, he gives out secret email addresses to senior government officials, Guantanamo stays open, and he continues the practice of spying on millions and millions of law-abiding Americans in the name of detecting terrorist plots.

The Verizon kerfuffle shows, once again, that we have two parties in Washington. We have the Big Government Party and the Big Business Party. Their interests are often aligned -- aligned precisely on this spying issue, for example. Who cares about the Constitution? Warrants? We don't need no stinking warrants.

The government says that they are not listening to calls, or keeping track of who is making each call, only tracking calling patterns such as what number called what number and the duration of each call.

Here's a newsflash, dear readers: Enter your home phone number in your favorite search engine. Your name and address will pop up. (It doesn't work so well for cell phones... but you can buy that information easily enough.) In other words, if the government has your phone number, it also has your name.

If only there was a political party that cared about the working guy and the small business owner, the folks who are supposedly at odds with one another but who together make up the still viable, if declining, middle class. Call it the Party of Main Street. But we don't have one of those in this country.

1 comment:

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

i didn't get why only verizon. isn't that just one carrier of many?

smiles, bee