Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Next Time You're on the Phone, Say Hi to the Government

The Senate yesterday took a massive step backwards when it comes to civil liberties in this country. In a 68-29 vote, the upper house of Congress chose to reject amendments to a new domestic spying bill that would have restricted the government's ability to tramp all over your civil liberties. It's one thing when legislation like this is proposed directly after 9/11 when patriotism and the fear of terrorism has gripped the nation, but we are over 6 years removed from 9/11. The government has offered little to no evidence that the Patriot Act prevented any type of terrorist attack on this country, so why do we need to essentially expand upon it?

One of the more contentious parts of the bill is the fact that is grants legal immunity to those phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon who illegally gave phone records to the government sans warrant (as a refresher, here is a link to the 4th Amendment). The New York Times article I cite (CNN ran nothing on the story as of 2:30 pm today, deciding that whatever Roger Clemens put in his ass or wondering if anyone gave a shit about the Oscars was more important) says that those who supported immunity for the phone companies said that the companies gave up the records out of patriotism. With such logic, doing anything that the president does not want you to do (like opposing the war, calling for equality for gays, etc.) is unpatriotic. That is a highly dangerous way of thinking (I could point you in the direction of a dictator from Germany a while back who used the guise of patriotism to do horrific things). Obviously we are not at 1930s and 1940s Germany's point, but why even take a baby step in that direction?

One interesting thing was that a highly influential individual in the debates arguing for the immunity aspect of this bill came in the form of Senator John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia, who has received considerable money from both AT&T and Verizon. The New York Times article says $42,000 in contributions from executives at these two companies last year and has received $37,600 from AT&T and $30,500 from Verizon since 2003. You don't think that would have anything to do with his pushing for immunity for these companies, do you?

The bill says that the surveillance would only be foreign-based communication and Americans would not be the target. The problem is that there is no court overlooking this surveillance until after the fact. In other words, the government can do whatever it wants and face a slap on the wrist from some secret court tribunal well after the action has been taken. This would not be unprecedented, as reports have come out detailing the abuses that various "intelligence" organizations committed under the veil of the Patriot Act.

The bill has not been passed yet, but the large amount of support in the Senate is highly disconcerting. The House gave them the bill without the immunity for phone companies and also with much more restrictions on governmental spying. The Senate did not like that and is sending it back to the House with the aforementioned revisions.

What does this mean? Well, for one, it shows the massive divide in the Democratic party that has been highlighted in the primaries. Secondly, it shows the inability of the Democrats to stand up for their constituents for fear of being labeled by paranoid Republicans as being weak on terrorism, as Senator Patrick J. Leahy pointed out, and it also shows that money runs certain aspects of politics. So next time you're talking to grandma on the phone to say hi, don't forget to shout out your friends at the NSA. Peace.

Photos - NSA headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland (, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) (, "Wait, who's listening to us? Anyway, have you found a good girl yet?" (

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