Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hung Up

Last week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell sent a strongly worded letter to Congress, condemning the Senate for allowing the Protect America Act to expire, which effectively ended the legal practice of domestic spying - at least for the time being. For those who are not aware, the Protect America Act is the Bush administration's program that allows the Federal Government to eavesdrop on the telephone and email conversations of American citizens without a warrant. Read that sentence again.

For roughly twelve months, the Federal Government, with the cooperation of major telecommunication companies, has been listening to you. Your phone conversations, your emails, your text messages, virtually every communication you have made with the assistance of an electronic device has, potentially, been intercepted and reviewed by our government. This is all being carried out under the premise of providing "national security." This has all been necessitated, proponents of the Act argue, by the "increased post 9/11 threat level." Furthermore, this practice must be continued, the same proponents state, to provide for our continued safety against further acts of aggression.

The main sticking point that prevented Congress from allowing this bill to be extended was verbiage that granted retroactive immunity to the telecommunications firms who corroborated with the government to carry out these previously illegal wiretaps. Senate Democrats wish to strike such clauses from the bill, and allow for lawsuits brought by affected individuals against said firms to proceed. Reading between the lines, this would illustrate an acknowledgement on the part of Democrats that these practices are entirely illegal. Why else would they be willing to set precedent allowing for suits to be brought against some of the nation's largest and most profitable companies? More importantly, though, why don't these elected leaders strike down this bill for what it truly is: an illegal and unconstitutional act perpetrated by the Federal Government against the peoples that it governs?

In 1859, John Stuart Mills wrote:

As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion. But there is no room for entertaining any such question when a person's conduct affects the interests of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like (all the persons concerned being of full age, and the ordinary amount of understanding). In all such cases there should be perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and stand the consequences.
Mills is absolutely correct in his implied definition of a plausible, tangible and practicable line that separates and distinguishes the rights of society, in the present case defined as the government, from the rights and freedoms of the citizens that said government holds jurisdiction over. By blocking the passage of this bill, the Democrats, albeit unwittingly, acknowledged one of the fundamental elements that defines our society: the freedom of We, the People "to be secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

In effect then, the Protect America Act does one of two things (if not both simultaneously): It either abolishes the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, or it defines the very act of communication as a probable cause, deserving the attention and scrutiny of the persons and bodies that constitute our government. This act strikes at the very core of freedom; the very existence of such a law denigrates the society upon which it is enforced. Our Senate Democrats therefore must be applauded for blocking this bill, if only by default.

It seems that the line that separates freedom from repression has become blurred in the eyes of some within our government. Let us all hope that the fog perceived by this misguided few does not set upon us all, for this is the blinding, strangling fog of absolutism, of authoritarianism, of despotism.

It is a strange case of irony that dictates that these are the imminent threats that come from within.

1 comment:


    This article describes England's struggle with IRA terrorists. Home secretary Charles Clarke was pushing for extended government powers such as the right to indefinite imprisonment. Tony Blair supported his proposal, stating that England is facing "a new form of global terrorism". All of this sounds vaguely familiar...