Thursday, January 19

Coincidence? I hope so!

I think it's dangerous to believe W is just plain stupid, but some days I understand why so many people wish it so.

Anyone who thought data mining was slowed down when John Poindexter slunk off a couple of years ago needs awakening. The MSM washed its hands of the story when Senate Democrats leashed the TIA, but the Administration pulled a favorite executive trick -- apparently they just renamed the project & handed it off in some dark corner of bureaucracy. I wonder if anyone's got a timeline?

The only reason the White House "briefed" a handful of Congresscritters was the Power of the Purse. What a scene those briefings must have been! "Sit down. Shut up. Here's what we're doing. You can read this report but you can't take notes, you can't ask questions, & if you tell anyone outside this room that this conversation even happened you'll be guilty of a felony. We need X amount of money in the Intelligence budget, and you'd better pass it."

The part that makes the Unitary Executive seem smart is that apparently the spying program kept costs low by getting the FBI to run down their "leads". And maybe that's where coincidence bows out: right after a revelation of FBI weariness at invading the privacy of innocent Americans, the Bureau brandishes "a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period".

This standoff has been in the cards for years, but I just can't understand how the Justice Department can argue while the NSA flap approaches a rolling boil (439 hits for "public hearings in Congress on surveillance" as of this afternoon). Does somebody think every civil liberties advocate in the country will be so tied in knots that no one will notice?

First we get told it's For National Security, and next we'll be told it's For the Children. "Protecting the general welfare" is a duly Constituted aim of the U.S. Government, but citizens don't need protective custody.

The true beauty of the Google subpoena is that the government is requesting the information specifically as evidence in a case brought against them by the ACLU in 1998. I suppose Google's competitors are glad to see the rich kids have to pay mouthpieces -- or has the FBI been strongarming everyone? Apparently Google's just the first to holler. According to this article, the government's motion says everybody else who's been asked has rolled over.

Supposedly the data is "only" needed to demonstrate that without Federal law, there's no way to prevent some people from having access to some information from which society would like to protect them. The protective purpose (keeping kids away from the porn) is understandable, but once "penalties of up to $50,000 per day and up to six months imprisonment" get involved, I'm reasonably certain the enforcement mechanism is going to involve some intense surveillance. There's no solid definition of "harmful to minors" (some might include this) , so prosecutors will have to start out either by evaluating material online & then identifying everybody who saw it or identifying all minors & then evaluating everything they see. Either way, there's going to have to be some serious data mining.

What does that say? Plenty, I suspect, and little to the good. Perhaps the random "lawyers for the U.S. Justice San Jose" are off the reservation, and they counted on Google to make a fuss so the Senate could grill Gonzalez -- but that's damned unlikely. Likelier is that the Justice Department has gotten so big nobody thought about Google and NSA at the same time -- a comfortable "our enemies are just stupid" kind of explanation, but certainly believable.

What I don't want to believe is that these events coincide by the power of pure authoritarian arrogance: the Security State wants to gather as much data as possible about everybody, all the time, with no legal oversight, to be used for any purpose whatsoever. If that objective is so central that it must be sought at every turn, in every forum, regardless of political consequences, then I desperately hope that W is stupid about one thing: stupid in believing that no institution or power in the world can succeed in frustrating him.


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