Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Spying, Privacy and Partisan Truth-Burn

So, the Bush Administration has been using the NSA to spy on Americans who are suspected of having terrorist ties. And they’ve been doing so without securing the proper court approval. Is this wrong?

My first instinct when this story broke was to throw my hands up in disgust. I make no secret about my distaste for the ridiculous amount of surveillance to which we’re routinely subjected. Both our government and the corporate world are quickly making privacy obsolete—but most people are unconcerned, willing to sacrifice privacy in return for promises of safety, convenience and a dollar off on dish soap.

So I initially viewed the actions by the Bush administration as just another pillow pushed over the face of privacy. Sure, today such spying might be conducted as part of the war on terror. But tomorrow, after we’ve all come to accept that government agencies can, without court approval, riffle through our e-mails searching for keywords, who’s going to stop another president or governor or mayor from using such authority and technology to find evidence of other crimes, real or imagined? Could my very questioning of such powers subject me to scrutiny?

That line of reasoning is probably paranoid. But without privacy, there is no freedom. I think a little paranoia in defense of privacy is allowed.

But this whole NSA flap may not be as bad as I initially thought. Or it could be worse. Read what The Washington Post says and it sounds like we’re entering a dark new era of authoritarian rule. But read the ever-partisan but generally smartly written RedState rebuttal and Bush’s actions don’t seem all that unreasonable.

This is what I like to call the partisan truth-burn. After both sides have their screeching say, the truth is unrecoverable. I honestly don’t know if this issue was a blindingly illegal usurpation of power or a necessary and prudent move to ensure our intelligence gathering doesn’t fall woefully behind as it did in the years leading up to 9/11.

What I do know is that we shouldn’t let spying without court approval become routine. In fact, if the feds are getting so many leads that they can’t do the paperwork to obtain court-approval fast enough, let’s change the law or up the manpower to fix the issue. Skirting the law (or brazenly breaking it, as some claim) is not a smart or sustainable solution.

I’m quite pleased that our government is monitoring Americans who have suspected terrorist ties. After all, it was British citizens who were responsible for the attacks in London last year. But I don’t want the need to catch the bad guys pervert the rules meant to protect the rest of us good guys.


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