Saturday, February 04, 2006

Insights Into the Secret World of Eavesdropping

An NPR story that is worth a listen: Madeleine Brand talks with Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping, about the investigation into the NSA program and other intelligence gathering activities.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Wiretapping Battle Gets a Hearing in the Senate

On Monday, Arlen Specter of The Senate Judiciary Committee, will open hearings over the super secretive warantless wiretap program. The hearings will help determine if the president's actions were legal or illegal. Supporters of the president say warrantless wiretaps are agressive and appropriate, while many Democrats chalk it up to presidential overreaching.

You might recall that the program was leaked in a report to The New York Times. Since that time, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have attempted to repair the damage, with mixed results as evidenced by recent polls.

The administration consistently argues that the Constitution gives the President, as commander in chief, the authority to do what he sees fit to protect the country.

The message from the White House clearly seems to be saying that Republicans are more committed than Democrats to protecting Americans against terrorism. Speaking at a National Republican Committee meeting, Karl Rove, suggested that the NSA wiretapping program would be at the heart of the GOP strategy in the upcoming midterm elections: "President Bush believes if al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why," Rove said. "Some important Democrats clearly disagree."

Is this accurate? Democrats in Congress, including Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, say that they want the president possible to find terrorists. The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman of California, has pointed out that the White House has asked Congress to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) several times since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks...and Congress has always agreed. Democrats have some Republican allies, including Specter, and fellow GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina.

NPR concludes that Democrats suspect the President's reluctance for amending the law -- and thereby ending the debate over the legality of the program -- stems from not wanting to lose the political issue, and possibly the precedent for expanding presidential powers in other areas.

We won't make any progress until we can overcome our very different views of what core issues are at stake. Is it protecting ourselves against terrorism regardless of the cost? We can't let fear allow us to give up core values, such as civil liberties, that make us American.

Postscript: Of interest to fellow Nebraskans, from NPR.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

House votes to extend Act

Yesterday the House voted to extend the Act to allow time for the Congress and Senate to hammer out a deal. Later today, the Senate is expected to vote to extend the provisions until March 10. UPDATE: NPR carried this story too.

Reported in a number of news outlets yesterday, Senators who blocked the renewal of the Act in December are concerned with privacy and civil liberty issues:

Sensenbrenner said amendments approved in the House in December would add 27 new safeguards against potential abuse.

Democrats, however, said the issue wasn't whether to extend the Patriot Act, but how best to strengthen it without compromising constitutional rights.

"None of us want to be hit again," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). "But we do want to protect our civil liberties." (source)

This is putting all that stuff you learned in your government high school class into action.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Colleges Fight FCC's New Online Wiretapping Rules

A group of colleges, libraries, and technology companies has asked a federal court to overturn a ruling, issued by the Federal Communications Commission, that facilitates Internet wiretapping. The 71-page brief, filed by organizations such as Sun Microsystems,, the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of American Universities, and the American Library Association, has been sent to the US Court of Appeals arguing that the FCC has overstepped its bounds.

The ruling these groups want overturned could require ISPs and colleges to rewire their networks so that federal investigators can more easily track individuals' Web browsing and e-mail use. College and library officials argued that the rewiring would prove prohibitively expensive, and that it would inevitably lead to violations of their network users' privacy. (Sources: CNET News & Wired Campus)

More on CALEA and its possible impact later...

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House prepares to extend the Patriot Act

The House will likely vote later this afternoon to extend the Patriot Act until March 10. The hope is that this 5 week extension will give the Senate and Congress time to hammer out a compromise.

Source about extension: NY Times

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State of the Union Speech

I've always enjoyed State of the Union speeches. Why? I think I like the applause, cheering. President Bush surprised me by talking about US dependence on foreign oil and the need to explore alternative fuel switch grass and a few others.

He also defended his use of surveillance. I recommend checking out the resources on NPR about the debate over domestic surveillance.

If you'd like to read the transcript of President Bush's speech, it's also available.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

FBI backs down when a librarian demands a warrant

The Chronicle has reported that the FBI wanted to seize 30 library computers at a public library in Newton, Mass. According to the article, an e-mail threat had led to an evacuation of more than a dozen Brandeis U buildings on Jan. 18.

The FBI agents alledged that someone had used the public library's Internet connection to send the threatening e-mail. The library director, Kathy Glick-Weil, told agents they could not take the machines without a warrant. Fortunately for her, David Cohen -- Newton's mayor-- supported her.

Finally the FBI officials sought a warrant for a judge while Glick-Weil allowed an FBI examiner to work with IT from the library to narrow down what computers might have been used. They decided that three of the computers might have been used. The FBI warrant allowed the agents to take away these computers and view only the threatening e-mail message as well as the messages sent immediately before and after that message.

According to the Chronicle article:

Mr. Cohen said in an interview on Monday that he and Ms. Glick-Weil demanded the warrant because the FBI agents did not indicate that anyone at Brandeis faced a "clear and present danger." If there had been such a danger, Mr. Cohen added, agents probably would have seized the computers without even asking for them.

"We were able to both protect public safety and also protect the rights of people, the sense of privacy of many, many innocent users of the computers," he said. "Had we given them the computers, they would have gotten to see e-mails from ordinary citizens doing ordinary things and would not have preserved privacy."

Some have lashed out arguing that officials handled the situation irresponsibly, but the mayor reported he received many positive comments from people who supported his actions. Personally, I think the library director is very lucky to have a supportive mayor.

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Feingold to Gonzales: "You've got some 'splainin to do"

Senator Feingold charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he avoided answering questions about the possibility of warrantless wiretapping of US citizens.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Feingold: "demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005."

In fact, the President did authorize warrantless searches on US citizens post-9/11. According to the Post article, Gonzales -- who was White House counsel at the time the surveillance began -- "acknowledged his role in affirming the president's authority to launch the surveillance effort." The article concludes with a statement from Feingold, "It now appears that the Attorney General was not being straight with the Judiciary Committee and he has some explaining to do."

Gonzales is scheduled to testify Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and will likely be asked to about the legal rationale behind the program.

This is a deception that begs the question, what else don't we know about? It's one thing to hoodwink our opponents, like Hitler at Normandy...but isn't it something else to hoodwink the American public as well? Or is it a necessary evil if we want to protect ourselves from terrorists and terror?

This again comes down to the same issue, how can we safeguard ourselves reasonably without sacrificing civil liberties?

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Judge Alito

The New York Times reports that Alito is sworn in as Justice after a close vote in the Senate. 58 to 42. This is a victory for President Bush and he will address the nation tonight.

Here's some background on Alito's rulings from a previous post.