The End of Privacy

 By Elliot Cohen

Amid the controversy brewing in the Senate over Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform, the Bush administration appears to have changed its strategy and is devising a bold new plan that would strip away FISA protections in favor of a system of wholesale government monitoring of every American’s Internet activities. Now the national director of intelligence is predicting a disastrous cyber-terrorist attack on the U.S. if this scheme isn’t instituted.

It is no secret that the Bush administration has already been spying on the e-mail, voice-over-IP, and other Internet exchanges between American citizens since as early as and possibly earlier than Sept. 11, 2001. The National Security Agency has set up shop in the hubs of major telecom corporations, notably AT&T, installing equipment that makes copies of the contents of all Internet traffic, routing it to a government database and then using natural language parsing technology to sift through and analyze the data using undisclosed search criteria. It has done this without judicial oversight and obviously without the consent of the millions of Americans under surveillance. Given any rational interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, its mass spying operation is illegal and unconstitutional. 

But now the administration wants to make these illegal activities legal. And why is that? According to National Director of Intelligence Mike McConnell, who is now drafting the proposal, an attack on a single U.S. bank by the 9/11 terrorists would have had a far more serious impact on the U.S. economy than the destruction of the Twin Towers. “My prediction is that we’re going to screw around with this until something horrendous happens,” said McConnell. So the way to prevent this from happening, he claims, is to give the government the power to spy at will on the content of all e-mails, file transfers and Web searches.

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