Saturday, December 24, 2005

They’re Everywhere

From the New York Times:

The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system’s main arteries, they said.

As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.

The government’s collection and analysis of phone and Internet traffic have raised questions among some law enforcement and judicial officials familiar with the program. One issue of concern to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has reviewed some separate warrant applications growing out of the N.S.A.’s surveillance program, is whether the court has legal authority over calls outside the United States that happen to pass through American-based telephonic “switches,” according to officials familiar with the matter.

Let me be really clear about this in case there are some of you out there who still don’t get it: I do not have a problem with our government doing everything within its power to protect the country and its citizens from harm. That is why we established it and that’s what we pay it for. But there are rules we live by and procedures in place that protect us from unreasonable searches and overzealous “law enforcement.” If we give up those, what are we fighting for? Isn’t this the slippery slope we keep talking about?

By the way, what do you think would be the response of the National Rifle Association if it was found out that these unwarranted sweeps happened to go after gun owners? It couldn’t happen because the NRA has basically bought and paid for the House of Representatives to the point that a weapons-registry database was intentionally left out of the PATRIOT Act, but just imagine the outcry. I really doubt that the authors of these Letters to the Editor of the Miami Herald would be so willing to sacrifice their rights.