There may be good arguments to support that massive trolling of Verizon Business phone records by the NSA revealed yesterday, but so far, the justifications are either disingenuous, rationalizations, or leaps down the slippery slope. None exemplified this better than the Wall Street Journal, in its editorial defending the recently revealed surveillance. My favorite paragraph:
“The critics nonetheless say the NSA program is a violation of privacy, or illegal, or unconstitutional, or all of the above. But nobody’s civil liberties are violated by tech companies or banks that constantly run the same kinds of data analysis. We bow to no one in our desire to limit government power, but data-mining is less intrusive on individuals than routine airport security. The data sweep is worth it if it prevents terror attacks that would lead politicians to endorse far greater harm to civil liberties.”
- “The critics nonetheless say the NSA program is a violation of privacy, or illegal, or unconstitutional, or all of the above.” “The critics?” Can someone honestly say that taking my personal and private phone communications data without my knowledge or consent is not a violation of privacy? To argue that is the definition of Orwellian. “We’re not violating your privacy, we’re just secretly examining your private communications.” Oh.
- “But nobody’s civil liberties are violated by tech companies or banks that constantly run the same kinds of data analysis.” That’s an F in Civil Rights 101 right there. The government doing this is materially and constitutionally different from a private company doing it. The Constitution exists to protect us from government abuse of power; the laws are supposed to protect us from abuse by everyone else.
- “We bow to no one in our desire to limit government power, but…” “…we still think its hunky-dory to trust the same government that used private tax data to stifle the First Amendment rights of conservative groups before an election to use restraint and proper safeguards as it surreptitiously gathers other personal data on citizens.” Unbelievable.
- “…but data-mining is less intrusive on individuals than routine airport security.” The “It’s not the worst thing” rationalization in its purest form. Yes, by all means, WSJ, let’s assess the appropriateness of all government intrusions on the 4th Amendment by whether it is worse than being forced to submit to uniformed strangers searching your belongings and person without probable cause or warrants, including feeling up your naughty bits, as a condition of exercising the right to travel.
- “The data sweep is worth it if it prevents terror attacks that would lead politicians to endorse far greater harm to civil liberties.” Yes, they really did write that. Accepting over-reaching intrusions on personal privacy and abridgement of civil rights is reasonable if it prevents worse intrusions on personal privacy and abridgement of civil rights. Let the government go through your stuff, because the next step will be for them to beat information out of you with a rubber hose, and we wouldn’t want that. Of course, if it comes to that, why wouldn’t the Journal then argue, “The data sweep is worth it if it prevents terror attacks that would lead politicians to endorse far greater harm to civil liberties, like routine water-boarding of citizens under suspicion”?
The issue, you fools at the Journal, is and always is trust.
Sure, the data-gathering would be reasonable if we trusted these people, but why should we? After what we have learned in the last couple months, why should we? The government is not being competently or diligently managed, or it is being corruptly managed. Even by its own dubious excuses, “rogue agents” at The I.R.S. put in place rights-violating policies for naked partisan gain, for years, and there is no oversight, candor or responsibility. The Attorney General, by his own admission, has little knowledge of what is going on in the Justice Department. Not only doesn’t the President know what’s going on (he says), but his staff makes certain that he doesn’t know what’s going on. When high-ranking officials go before the public (Susan Rice, the President), the news media (Jay Carney) or Congress (Holder, Lerner, Shuster, Clinton, ad nauseum) they obfuscate, dissemble, mislead, spin or outright lie. Why would any American in his or her right mind assume that only limited and appropriate uses would be made of private phone communications?
The Journal’s weak arguments for shrugging off yet another escalation in the chopping away of core rights by the government would be ridiculously inadequate even if the Obama Administration had proven itself trustworthy, honest, consistent, and, of course, “the most transparent administration” the President promised that it would be. It has proven to be none of these, however. How could we believe otherwise, when the man at the head of it all said this while persuading the nation to elect him to a job for which he had no relevant experience or job skills whatsoever except a silver tongue:
“[The Bush] Administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.”
How could anyone, especially the Wall Street Journal, trust or urge us to trust the good faith, restraint and respect for civil rights of a government led by so feckless an individual? Better that we heed the condemnation of a reliable ally of the President, the New York Times, which wrote (before it was “persuaded” to soften its official verdict),
“The administration has now lost all credibility.”
Got that? That means that we can’t believe what they, including the President, say. It means they cannot be trusted. And that means that we must not just smile and cheer when we discover that they have been spying on us to a greater extent than we ever understood, were informed of or agreed to.