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May 15, 2006
Stephen Kaus Mon May 15, 12:36 PM ET

The Washington Post-ABC News instant poll, which showed that a stunning 63% thought the mining of everyone's phone calls was an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, appears to have been an aberration. A USA Today/Gallup poll out today shows disapproval by a 51% to 43% margin.


Newsweek reports that its poll shows "53 percent of Americans think the NSA's surveillance program "goes too far in invading people's privacy," while 41 percent see it as a necessary tool to combat terrorism." The magazine further reports that Americans do not believe President Bush's assertions that the privacy of Americans is "fiercely protected," and that "we're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans." 57 percent think the Bush Administration has "overstepped its bounds" and has "gone too far in expanding presidential power." 38 percent think the Administration's actions are "appropriate."

The new polls are consistent with other polls over the past few months showing unease with the "big brother" stories that have daylighted recently. The coast is clear for the Democrats in congress to make their articulate move. Why do I feel that Danys Baez is striding in to "protect" another Dodger lead?*

What should be scary to most Americans is not the collection of all this information per se, but the complete lack of a check on what is collected and how it is to be used. People are inured to their personal information being collected and used, for example for marketing purposes. Every time I run Spybot-Search and Destroy, it finds a dozen data mining cookies that tell someone where I have been on the web. If the First Neighborhood mortgage company can get my contacts from Doubleclick, why not Uncle Sam. Oh wait, I forgot this one.

The problem is the complete lack of any oversight of what the federal government is doing and the apparent lack of any restrictions on what information it can gather and what it can do with it. The administration says there are limits, but the Administration is not credible. Bush said Americans' privacy is "fiercely protected," and that "we're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans," two things that we know are not true just from the USA Today story on Thursday, assuming we know what the meaning of the word "mining" is.

This sort of problem is solved thousands of times a day through the use of judges to approve what law enforcement wants to do. Even with this step, many questionable searches occur, because the judges are too lenient with the police or because the police lie in their warrant applications, and there are exceptions like hot pursuit or searches incident to arrests, but by and large, it is a system that has stood us in good stead for two and a quarter centuries.

The common denominator of all of the Bush search plans is the refusal to involve a judge. We need a debate on how far searches should go, given the technological possibilities and the nature of the present danger. Frankly, I do not know enough to be as certain of my view as some others are. But, there can be no debate on whether these activities should be conducted without judicial supervision. Additionally, if this is a program justified by the need to locate terrorists, if it is to continue, its use obviously should be limited to that end, something that I have not heard anyone in authority say.

Of course, judges have been eliminated from the trial and sentencing portions of other Bush Administration law enforcement programs, so why am I not suprised?

We have heard a lot of excuses for not involving the FISA court in the wiretap program, chiefly not enough time and too much paperwork. It is hard to figure out why judges should not be involved in the newly revealed data mining operation, except for this Administration's position that it can do any thing it wants, regardless of the law or our Constitutional tradition.

And by the way, I do mean "newly revealed." One of the right-wing tactics has been to dismiss the data-mining story as "old news," apparently because that canard worked so well to throw everyone off the scent of Bush's AWOL service record. But the stories that first reported this connivance by the phone companies were not authoritative, they were tentative and indicated that there would be a congressional investigation. I remember reading them and getting the feeling that the reporters had been told about the mining program, by sources in which they did not have 100% faith, so they were waiting for better information. Plus now it's in the USA Today, instead of that left wing rag, the New York Times. How Red State can you get.

* four blown saves in a row!

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Posted: May 15, 2006 7:47pm

 

 
 
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