Column: Another Step To An All-knowing Government

This story was written by Eddie Smith, Daily Mississippian


The U.S. Government and telecoms have their hands inappropriately far down each other's pants.

Case in point, last Wednesday's Senate vote to expand federal surveillance powers and prevent communications providers from being sued for following illegal government directives. If the newly updated Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act isn't the death of the 4th Amendment as some civil libertarians claim, it is yet another step towards an all-knowing, all-seeing government. God is in the details, and George W. Bush has unlocked many of them in signing the 2008 FISA Amendment Act.

Under the new FISA, the federal government's wiretapping powers have been expanded. Tactics that had previously been used by the Bush administration, including intercepting e-mails and telephone calls without a warrant, have been legalized. You don't have to be a suspect to have your transmissions intercepted; all you have to do now is communicate with a foreigner. Dialing overseas? Then plan to forfeit rights that have been the foundation of our democracy since 1789.

If that sounds like esoteric alarmism, you're probably right. Maybe the government will never listen to a word you say, maybe none of this will ever affect your day-to-day life. But it's important to know that they can. Moreover, the precedent has been set for congress to approve illegal tactics pioneered by a lawless Wild West cowboy-style executive branch. Shame on Bush for taking a blackout pen to the Constitution, the Congress for encouraging him to do so, Senators Obama and McCain for failing to rise against this legislation, and the entire Mississippi Congressional Delegation for voting against the Bill of Rights.

Today's technology makes Minority Report seem prescient. Any cellphone acts as a tracking device these days, and Americans simply can't get enough big-brother-by-proxy. The Amenrican government lusts for priceless information that the omniscience of wiretapping provides under the guise of a war on terror. A prohibition on bulk data collection failed in the Senate, so it would be perfectly legal for the Pentagon or the CIA to set up a massive dragnet on the 18 million non-citizens here in America today. Since correspondence between Americans and non-citizens is also fair game, one degree of separation means tens of millions of Americans are vulnerable to surveillance. Not to mention that any data physically moving across the border is fair game for the government to collect. Privacy is becoming obsolete at the rate of Moore's Law.

There is nothing more between the government and your cellphone provider as there is between that company and all of your sensitive information. Where you are, who you're with, what you say, what you read and some of what you see is stored in "the cloud." If data goes over fiber optics, the government would have it in hand had it nothing better to do. The infrastructure exists for whatever sort of police state another crooked administration can dream up, and the law provides precious little barrier. If truth is stranger than fiction, Dick Cheney is more creative than George Orwell.

Knowedge is power. Sure, go ahead, let's hope the feds can use it to find Osama. Then use it to bust drug kingpins and corporate criminals and Dickie Scruggs. Pretty soon your traffic ticket will arrive in the mail, complete with a photo of your license plate and evidence to show that you crossed the line 0.82 seconds after the light turned red. America, land of the free, home of the brave.

In a country with a more imprisioned citizens than any other democracy, human-rights violations in Guantanamo, a failed nation-building conquest and an economy that's headed down the slippery slope, doesn't Washington have anything better to do than legalize a dragnetand smackdown lawsuits from the ACLU? Maybe you click it to prevent a ticket, block your teenagers from RedTube and never dial long distance. Nothing to hide means nothing to fear, the fearmongers say. But for anyone who's ever lived fast and loose, drank a beer on a Sunday, or sinned and omitted, you have something to fear. Henceforth, big brother is watching you, and your parents aren't the only ones who'll find out. Prepare to be unreasonably searched.
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