At the recommendation of Rewrite, two nights ago I listened to a podcast of the Bill Moyer’s Journal on domestic surveillance and wiretapping. With the renewal of the FISA Act’s domestic surveillance policies by Congress, the White House continues to have carte blanche to intercept all email correspondence, listen into phone calls, etc. of US citizens when communicating abroad. And this can all be done without a warrant (essentially a warrantless search against what is proscribed by the US Constitution and its jurisprudence). In other words, if you are US citizen and want to send me an email or call me on the phone and you don’t think the government should be listening, then don’t contact me.
Not only would these communications apply to emailing me, but would also include the following:
- An email sent from a US soldier in Iraq to his girlfriend back home.
- A phone call from a US study abroad student to her parents in the US.
- A US doctor traveling abroad who calls a patient in the US.
How about a conversation between a lawyer and his client?
After 9/11, President Bush declared a state of emergency and both the Congress and Judiciary have agreed that the US is at war. Once again, this state of war gives the US president (be it Bush or the next president) incredibly broad and unchecked powers to act without Congressional or Judicial oversight to ensure the nation’s defense. Because it is so hard to say exactly who the US is at war with, the US is having a field day. We can launch our own Christian jihad against the Muslim world, increase our military spending, and secure the world oil supply all at the same time while we do them all under the dual euphemism of “spreading democracy” and protecting our national borders. The problem is that a theoretical war against “terror” is “theoretical” and can theoretically last ad infinitum.
In the meantime, the government gets a free looksie at my phone calls and emails. My only doubt here is technical. To what extent is an email actually territorial? If I have an email address that was created in the US (or through a US based email provider), is an email sent between two US email addresses, even if one of the emails is sent while abroad, considered an intra-American or an international communication? Aren’t electronic file exchanges broken down into small parts and sent through various channels before being reunited at the final destination? That means that an email can be sent and leave traces in various jurisdictions in its path. And although the government says that it still needs a warrant for purely domestic communications, do we take its word for the fact that it’s not listening?
The authorities claim that when they receive correspondence between a grandson abroad and his grandmother back home, they will isolate that information, not pay attention to it, and destroy it. They shouldn’t have to stop listening for terrorists because they end up overhearing your personal conversations. Well, let’s just take their word for it. It’s the American way.
Let’s just hope they don’t misinterpret something they read or hear, lock me up at the border, refuse to allow me to be represented by counsel, review the evidence against me, or communicate with the outside world. That would be a real bummer, a necessary one to protect our great nation, but a total bummer.