Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Republicans and Democrats want national surveillance state

Jack Balkan sees the US Congress's recent passing of the "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008" (the act granting telcos immunity for facilitating the Bush administration's mass illegal wiretapping) as another step in a worrying trend whereby the Republicans and Democrats are systematically turning the US into a surveillance society.

"Sandy Levinson and I have noted previously that we are in the midst of the creation of a National Surveillance State, which is the logical successor to the National Security State. And we have noted that, like the National Security State before it, the construction of this new form of governance will be a joint effort by the two major parties... both major political parties are committed to the build up of surveillance programs and technologies for purposes of security and the delivery of government services. We are going to get some form of National Surveillance State. The only question is what kind of state we will get. As of right now, it looks like we will get one that is far less protective of civil liberties than we could have gotten...

Indeed, the fact that Congress is now giving the President the authority to do much of what he was probably doing (illegally) before suggests that Bush's illegal program has to a large degree been ratified by Congress... It is true as a formal matter that Congress has not officially approved of what Bush has done, and it has granted immunity only to the telecom companies, and not to those Administration officials who, in effect, conspired to violate FISA. But at this point I am doubtful that the next Administration will try to prosecute former officials for violating FISA, especially now that Congress has effectively blessed the formerly illegal programs. If this is not a ratification in form, it is surely one in substance."

Dan Solove agrees.

I've been particularly dismayed at the Democrats' strategy in dealing with the FISA Amendments. Why bother to try to negotiate a FISA compromise with a presidential administration that has shown nothing but contempt for the law to begin with? The Bush Administration, instead of going to Congress and requesting a change in the FISA, went ahead and blatantly violated that law. And the Administration said it would continue to violate the law, so what's the pressing need to fix the FISA, especially when negotiating with an Administration that only will meet you about 2% of the way? Why force Obama to make a difficult choice about voting on the law, risking either looking weak on security or like a sell-out? Why not wait a few months and then pass a law with a new administration, one that will hopefully be easier to negotiate with? And how is this law any more binding on a president who says he has the right to violate a law based on his Article II powers?

Future presidents can learn a lot from all this -- do exactly what the Bush Administration did! If the law holds you back, don't first go to Congress and try to work something out. Secretly violate that law, and then when you get caught, staunchly demand that Congress change the law to your liking and then immunize any company that might have illegally cooperated with you. That's the lesson. You spit in Congress's face, and they'll give you what you want."

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