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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Having a Big Brother Sort of Morning

The day has definitely started off on a science fiction and fantasy sort of bent. First, NPR played some Dr. Who music between news segments this morning. Then, as I was driving home from the morning school drop-off for our exchange student, a black cat ran across the road in front of me. And we're on a Monsters, Inc. repeat-loop today, so it's all Sully, alla time.

I've been up since 4:30 am this morning with my barfing toddler (she can't seem to shake this nasty creeping crud she's had for the last coupla weeks, and I'm exhausted), and although I'm grateful for the existence of coffee, I've reached that icky tongue-coated jittery stage from forcing myself awake this morning at such an ungodly hour. Started surfing around my usual blog reads for the morning, and had this deja vu feeling that I was caught in one of those Philip K. Dick meets George Orwell sorts of dreams.

But I'm not. I'm wide awake.

The federal government is trolling the internet and beyond, in an all-day, all-night crawl, storing everything in its path and sifting through the datapile, compiling file upon file, according to the Christian Science Monitor. (via TalkLeft.) All without any adequate oversight from Congress or any set privacy protocols or research into appropriate privacy technology. Shocking, I know. Completely unexpected from this bunch, I hear ya. Pardon me while I get more coffee to go with my heaping helping of shock.

It's one thing to suspect that something like this is going on. It's another thing entirely to know there is documentary evidence that it is, indeed, an ongoing project and that members of Congress have no clue what the Administration is actually doing because they haven't been adequately briefed. Again.

You remember Total Information Awareness? Well, it's back with a vengeance.
"We just don't know enough about this technology, how it works, or what it is used for," says Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "It matters to a lot of people that these programs and software exist. We don't really know to what extent the government is mining personal data."...

"It isn't a bad idea, but you have to do it in a way that demonstrates its utility - and with provable privacy protection," says Latanya Sweeney, founder of the Data Privacy Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University. But since speaking on privacy at the 2004 DHS workshop, she now doubts the department is building privacy into ADVISE. "At this point, ADVISE has no funding for privacy technology."...

Neither the proposal - nor any other she has seen - provides any funding for provable privacy technology, she adds.
Think this doesn't apply to you? Think again. The GAO reported that there were over 200 Federal datamining efforts -- with only 14 of those concentrating on counter-terrorism efforts. (Just in case you missed it, we had a fantastic discussion in the comments yesterday about a number of tech issues and the NSA domestic spying. Just FYI.) According to a privacy expert at Carnegie Mellon, 87 percent of Americans can be identified solely by their date of birth, gender and five digit zip code -- sound like some information you've filled out on any websites lately when you were buying porn sex toys erotic literature celebrity sex tapes a Bible?

And there continues to be a hitch in the oversight giddy-up -- one that the Bush Administration has exploited to the hilt in this NSA/HSA/DoD domestic spying fiasco. Because this was a super secret program related to high level national security matters, and because the Administration started its power grab in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when emotions and fears were running high, everyone involved in oversight appears to have bent over backwards to work with the Bush Administration, assuming that there would be checks and balances later on when things calmed down a bit -- except that never happened with the Dick Cheney Power Round-Up Gang, now did it?

Surveillance is an effective and important tool -- but it is an awful lot of power to be placed in the hands of a single branch of government. And its potential for misuse with no adequate oversight is enormous. "Trust me" isn't exactly the phrase that I would use to describe George Bush, Dick Cheney and the Crony Gang.

How in the hell are people charged with oversight supposed to keep their eye on the ball when they only get little glimpses of it -- and then can't talk to each other about it, under penalty of prosecution for revealing national security matters? (You think Dick Cheney didn't think about that before the power grab started? Please.) Despite registering protests with their briefers about legality and scope questions, and then later with the Administration, members of the Gang of 8 were ignored.

Now we learn from the WaPo that two separate judges who have headed the FISA court during the time of this domestic surveillance program told the Bush Administration flat out that what they were doing was likely unconstitutional and illegal -- and that evidence obtained via this program was not to be used in their court as the source of probable cause in order to preserve the integrity of the FISA process.

What sort of oversight is it when the people who are supposed to be looking out for the public interest can't even compare notes to check and double check this malignant, lying bunch of power-hungry cronies in the White House? Every parent knows that mom and dad need to compare notes once in a while to be sure they are on the same page. The way we are doing oversight on national security matters at the moment, it's like mom is in Topeka with a tin can and dad is somewhere in Siberia with nothing but an old walkie talkie and some corroded batteries.

It's pathetic is what it is.

"Hello, Constitution hotline? I'm a member of the American public. I'm just wondering when my long-term interests get considered by the powers that be? Do my individual rights factor in at all -- or has everything been thrown the hell out the window in the name of some short-term security by a bunch of Republicans who are scared silly by a very tall man hiding in a cave in Pakistan with his dialysis machine? I'd like to lodge a complaint on behalf of our nation's Founders."

And then there is this bit that Eriposte caught at the LeftCoaster: when the FISA court gave King George his blank check to spy on people involved with terrorists right after 9/11, the definition of who that might be was left awfully open-ended. Eriposte wonders if those on the "no fly list" and the "terrorism watch list" might be one and the same.

You know, I seem to recall Ted Kennedy having some difficulty flying at one point, don't you? Curious. I'd be interested to know if other Democratic politicians have had the same difficulties in the last five years.

It's convenient that now the Administration has gotten its hand caught in the domestic wiretapping jar, it's now so willing to publicly appear to cooperate with Congress. How magnanimous, and what a great attempt at PR, but I'm not buying it. This Administration will allow oversight only so far as it needs to do so to cover its political ass -- and no further.

I smell a rat by the name of Rove giving some political cover to Heather Wilson and her hotly contested race in NM. (Hotline says the race is a "dead heat," btw.)

Let's see: you're Karl and your boss is already caught spying domestically and you have to do some public damage control -- why not use this as an opportunity to allow a Republican in a questionable district to claim a hollow victory for the rubes back home? Might as well manufacture your own silver lining, especially when no one is going to ask you the tough questions when your party controls both houses of Congress, right?

The President's staff promised the media that his morning speech today would give specific information about how NSA spying has thwarted a terrorist plot in the US. He did not do so, but the networks played the whole speech all the way through without interruption nonetheless. The President did refer to "Liberty Tower" in Los Angeles (never mind that he likely meant Library Tower, which isn't even its name any longer -- it's a bank building now) -- but gave no specifics or anything that might link this to the NSA in any way. me. Suuuuuure. (Nice of the President's staff to rush out to all the major networks to correct their boss, isn't it?)

But it's not all scary news. The WSJ (via Kevin Drum) says there is opportunity knocking on your door for helping your local phone company enable the government to spy on your friends and neighbors. Is it me, or do you sense a Bush Pioneers business opportunity here?

Well, booyah, cut me in for a slice of the profit pie! The hell with the Constitution, and screw the folks next door, there's money to be made!

(Oh, and in case you thought you knew the half of it? Nope. Georgia10 at DKos has more on foreign power wiretaps -- and how much more this Administration has been using them compared to its predecessors in office, including all those Presidents from the Cold War era.)