A secret room packed with data-mining equipment. A "special job" commissioned by the government's spy agency. A technician who claims to have seen it all and whose bosses now deny there was anything to see.
The Washington Post's story on lawsuits challenging the National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program has all the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster movie set in a dystopian future.
But the really scary part is that the operations described in the lawsuits –- particularly the class action suit led by the privacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation alleging that AT&T collaborated with the NSA to operate an illegal "dragnet" tracking the communication of millions of Americans -- have been going on without judicial oversight from 2001 through January of this year.
A panel of judges will rule tomorrow on whether the suits can go forward, but already the mere of court records has been eye-opening.
"So far, evidence in the case suggests a massive effort by the NSA to tap into the backbone of the Internet to retrieve millions of e-mails and other communications, which the government could sift and analyze for suspicious patterns or other signs of terrorist activity," the Post reports.
Naturally, both AT&T and the federal government are denying the existence of the Mission Impossible-style data-mining room. AT&T describes the employee who claims to have seen it as "a line technician who ... never had access to the 'secret room' he purports to describe." Anybody who's ever killed two air-conditioned hours in a movie theater knows that's just what the evil villains always say.
The outcome of the judges' decision "could determine whether the courts will ever rule on the legality of surveillance conducted by the NSA without judicial oversight between 2001 and January 2007."
But don't get excited. It's not like it will make the government stop reading your e-mail.
Gonzales' Power Grows
The Los Angeles Times reports that Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales may soon get new powers to kill death row inmates faster.
The Justice Department is putting the final touches on regulations, slipped into last year's Patriot Act reauthorization, that would allow Gonzales to "fast track" procedures that could shave years off the time that a death row inmate has to appeal to the federal courts after conviction in a state court.
The timing on this one is rather breathtaking. On one hand, you've got a bunch of states that have recently issued moratoriums on the death penalty because a series of botched executions have turned people's stomachs enough to call lethal injection procedures into question. And then, on the other, you have Gonzales' testimony before Congress on the politically-motivated firing of U.S. attorneys, which led to howls for his resignation.
Add the additional concern that, as the Times puts it, "there is a major conflict of interest for the nation's top law enforcement officer to judge the qualifications of lawyers defending people whom government officials are seeking to put to death," and you've got a potentially disastrous cocktail.
But when has distaste for cruel and unusual punishment, bad judgment or conflict of interest ever stopped Alberto Gonzales?
Is Elvis Leaving Building?
Elvis' corpse turns 30 this week, and to celebrate USA Today takes a look at his current imprint on digital culture. The results are a little bit, well, sad. For one thing, the anniversary "has not produced the avalanche of album reissues and book tributes of past milestones." And for another, the King lost his crown of topping Forbes magazine's list of top-earning dead celebrities last year to Kurt Cobain —- whose corpse doesn't even have a head!
But as we all know, nobody makes a comeback like the King. As evidence that one might be in the offing, the paper notes that a recent Viagra ad is set to the tune of "Viva Las Vegas." As author Alanna Nash, author of "Elvis and the Memphis Mafia" puts it, "This is just the calm before the second coming."
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