Thursday, March 2, 2006

Senate Republicans: Protecting the Terrorists, Neglecting the Innocent

Those darn Senate Republicans, always putting the rights of suspected terrorists above those of the American people!

The deals the Republicans are floating in order to squelch the NSA surveillance scandal misses the whole point of our objections. From the same L.A. Times story discussed in the post below this one:

On the spying controversy, senators are weighing competing proposals from DeWine and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

DeWine's proposal would authorize a spying program similar to the one Bush has described: the warrantless interception of electronic communications in suspected terrorism cases in which one party is overseas and the other is in the United States.

However, DeWine said his proposal would impose a time limit on the warrantless spying of 45 or 90 days, at which point the administration would either have to seek a warrant to continue to target a person or explain to a special congressional oversight committee why it could not do so. ***

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he favored DeWine's proposal but that it needed to include a stronger judicial review as soon as the program identified a suspect.

Surveillance of "the enemy has never required a warrant. That's a military operation," Graham said. "But focusing in on the privacy of an American citizen for an extended period of time, you need a check and balance." ***

Specter's proposal would first seek a ruling on the program's constitutionality from a special intelligence court established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under current law, that court must approve warrants for the NSA to electronically eavesdrop on people in the United States.

"I think there needs to be a determination as to what is going on constitutionally," Specter said, adding that he was sympathetic to the administration's concerns that providing full information to Congress could lead to leaks. "The [FISA] court is reliable. I think the court ought to pass on its constitutionality."

That's not good enough. DeWine's plan is to allow the government to invade our privacy and violate the Constitution, but only for a couple of months at a time. Graham's twist on DeWine's plan would provide judicial review only after the surveillance has occurred, and only with regard to terrorism suspects; it would do nothing for the thousands of Americans who aren't designated "suspects" but whose privacy will still be violated. And Specter's plan, while better than the others, would still allow "data mining" and government surveillance, not only of transnational communications but also of purely domestic communications, so long as it obtains the blessing of a court whose judges' names are secret and that historically has sided with the Administration 99.97% of the time. (That 99.97% number is real, by the way; Specter isn't kidding when he says, "The [FISA] court is reliable".)

In other words, the only thing the Republican proposals are sure to do is strengthen the civil rights of terrorism suspects. When it comes to completely innocent Americans, on the other hand, the Republicans fall on their face: two of their proposals would do nothing to protect non-suspect Americans' rights, and the third would delegate the job to a secret, historically accommodating, court.

I'm starting to think the Senate Republicans actually believe the talking point, promoted by O'Reilly, Limbaugh and innumerable blog trolls, that those of us who object to the NSA Program are trying to protect terrorists. By increasing suspected terrorists' civil rights, they apparently think they're appeasing us.

They just don't get it. I'm all for extending appropriate civil rights protection to suspected terrorists, because it increases the chance of getting a conviction and because it's the way we Americans do things -- the right way. But that's not what has me, or most Americans, angry about the NSA program. We WANT the government to listen in on conversations involving suspected terrorists, provided it's done legally. It's innocent Americans -- whose privacy will remain completely unprotected under both DeWine's and Graham's proposals, and left in the hands of a secret court under Specter's -- that we care about. And none of these proposals adequately addresses that concern.

Anyone who wants real hearings into the NSA program should be working our Game Plan to encourage the Senate to adopt truly meaningful reform, not just the Terrorist Protection Acts that DeWine, Graham and Specter are trying to foist on us.


Ellie Finlay said...

But it's not really about terrorism, is it? It's about desensitizing us to a police state.

Anonymous said...

Ain't that the truth? I don't actually believe they're using the program to gather blackmail info or anything Nixonian like that. It's not the data at all they care about, even the data that pertains to terrorists. It's the power and the precedent.