Domestic Wiretapping Programs Should Not Be Secret

from the oversight-needed dept

A whistle-blower reports that an unnamed wireless carrier has provided a government facility in Quantico, VA, with unfiltered access to its core network. The whistle-blower says this gives the government direct access to private information such as text messaging and call records. He doesn’t name either the company or the government agency involved. But a 2006 lawsuit featuring similar allegations named Verizon Wireless as the culprit. And Threat Level says that Quantico, VA, just happens to be “the center of the FBI’s electronic surveillance operations.” When asked about this, a Verizon Wireless spokesman wrote “What you’re talking about sounds as if it would be classified and involving national security, so I wouldn’t be able to find out the facts.”

The idea that ordinary domestic surveillance activities are a matter of national security, and therefore immune from public scrutiny, is both wrong-headed and malicious. I guess the idea is that we don’t want to tip off the terrorists about our surveillance programs. And obviously, information about specific targets needs to be kept secret. But the terrorists have to already know that most communications channels can be intercepted. Moreover, it’s just not reasonable to expect that the broad details of our government’s domestic surveillance activities will remain a secret indefinitely. Despite the secrecy, we’re gradually learning about the scope of these programs. If terrorists didn’t know their calls were being tapped five years ago, they certainly do now.

The problem is that because details about these programs (and information about abuses) dribble out slowly over several years, Congress never has the opportunity to conduct meaningful oversight of them. For example, this week we also found out that abuse of national security letters, which was previously only reported to have occurred from 2003 to 2005, continued into 2006. Of course, the administration says they’ve fixed the problem and that no more NSL abuses will occur. But that’s what they always say when privacy abuses are uncovered, yet new examples keep popping up. The only way the abuses will stop is if Congress rejects the idea that domestic surveillance is immune from judicial and Congressional surveillance. The Bush administration needs to disclose the exact scope of its domestic surveillance activities so that Congress can have an open, public debate about the proper scope of government spying powers.

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Comments on “Domestic Wiretapping Programs Should Not Be Secret”

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jon says:

one can only imagine how they can use whatever information they want to their advantage. must be nice. it seems like the government is more concerned with controlling & manipulating the american populace (the masses) than fighting the war on emotion. Government’s number one priority: Control the masses. National Security comes next.

Mitch the Bitch says:

We get idiots spewing nonsense like this ad nauseum while the terrorists “welcome death”…

Wake up you fn morons or it’s going to be way to late, except of course your whining just before your fn head goes flying through the air…

Liberals and the media they control are the real enemies of freedom.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We get idiots spewing nonsense like this ad nauseum while the terrorists “welcome death”…

So you would prefer that we treat all people like criminals, remove civil rights, and basically stamp out everything that the US stands for, over a program that has been shown to have little benefit and which would work just as well with oversight preventing many of the abuses?

Your logic is faulty and your reading comprehension is reprehensible. Tim makes a few things clear: (1) The benefit to keeping the programs secret is practically nil. (2) The abuses of the system as it stands are widespread.

How that leads you to conclude that the system works is beyond me. Tim is not saying don’t fight the terrorists or don’t use tools available. He’s saying do it properly in a way that avoids abuses and is more effective. Why do you think this ineffective, abusive system is better than the other way?

DanC says:

Re: Technology vs. Privacy

This is a bit of a blanket statement. Encryption technology has allowed for an increase in privacy for those who take advantage of it. You can argue that it’s possible to break that same encryption using technology, but unless you’re using a poor algorithm, it is impractical.

Jess says:

Re: Re: Technology vs. Privacy

Encryption also raises the visibility of what you are doing and make you look suspicious. I would rather send anything sensitive by courier rather than email it. And, unfortunately, privacy is not something that is guaranteed by the constitution no matter what people say. While the government cannot enter your home without a warrant or invitation they can still look through the window to see what you are doing. And, besides, everything you do on the internet including email is a part of the public forum and therefore fair game, because laws about the internet are either hopelessly out of date or only cover certain parties, businesses, children and government agencies to name a few.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Good guys doing bad things

There are those who believe that bad things done by good guys are justified, because they keep the bad guys at bay. But the good guys are supposed to be better than the bad guys; if the things the good guys are doing are just bad as the bad guys, how exactly are we supposed to tell the good guys from the bad?

Evil Mike (profile) says:

Godwin's Law

Next up, it’ll be national IDs, and having to get permission to move from one state to the next…

Random para-military police officers constantly demanding to see your “papers” and jailing or shooting you if you fail to comply.

Every little step towards oppression brings us closer to eventual radical revolution by the oppressed. As soon as they realize their condition.

Like Abe said, “I used to think I had a really good job; but then I found out I was a slave.”

Anonymous Coward says:

“But the good guys are supposed to be better than the bad guys; if the things the good guys are doing are just bad as the bad guys, how exactly are we supposed to tell the good guys from the bad?”

Simple, the good guys are the ones in the white hats.

So you would equate listening in on calls to flying a plane into a building?

George Fragos (user link) says:

Missing the point

It was stated that the terrorists know cells can be tapped — true enough. However, being so open that they will know what we won’t do is valuable information for the terrorists. It let’s them know how to avoid being spied on. I agree that oversight is a part of checks and ballances. The problem is that oversight can’t be transparent in this case. People uninformed about the intelligence community think that a security clearance of some level is an entitlement. They don’t understand that the reason security works is because that “entitlement” is further controlled by demonstating a “need to know”.

DanC says:

Re: Missing the point

So the public should not be made aware that our government is violating some of the basic principles of our country because we don’t “need to know.”

This is the same lame excuse that the Bush administration gave us a year or two ago. Any criticism of their conduct “emboldened” the terrorists. It’s called fear-mongering, and it’s used to distract the public from the reality of what’s happening – the circumvention of the Constitution.

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