The revelations this week that Big Brother was building a master database of telephone calls were startling and cause for concern. Readers of this blog will recollect that I supported the Bush administration in bypassing the special Foreign Intelligence (FISA) courts to obtain warrants on suspected terrorists. This new program, however, goes a lot further. Suddenly we aren't just collecting information on suspected contacts of terrorists, we're collecting information on everyone.
Polls suggest a majority of the American people support even this new program. But I think that misses the point. I'm not worried that Bush and his cronies are going to start spying on my activities (actually, if they do, I'd really be worried because these top brains are wasting their time on my boring life!). I do worry however that a very real scenario exists 10 years down the road that a politician will influence could use this database to discredit or blackmail his opponents.
And where does surveillance stop? Reports have indicated that our intelligence services have been spying on Quaker, vegetarian and peace groups. Is there any evidence that any of these groups support a militant process?
That is one thing that's great about America - our checks and balances. I'm willing to sacrifice some of our liberties for protection from the evildoers, but at some point, the Bush administration line starts to get old. That power can easily be abused towards an end was evident in two cases this week. One was the revelation that the NSA blackmailed Qwest that failure to provide the records they requested (which Qwest wanted a court order for) could result in them being blacklisted for federal contracts. The other was down in North Carolina, where the police arrested a cab driver for an old unrelated shoplifting charge, which gave the impression of witness intimidation (the cab driver's testimony was supportive of defense claims in the Duke rape case).
I don't mean to suggest that all this needs to be done in the open. I certainly appreciate national security concerns, but checks and balances can be achieved by a closed-door session of Congress, or even just relevant committees, developing guidelines for what's permissable. That's the least we can do to prevent the good ol' US of A from becoming to a Putin-ocracy!