Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Who Will Fight For Our Rights?

As we all know by now, King George has been assembling a database of all of our telephone calls. The phone companies, with one lone dissenter, willingly complied. But don't worry about your silly privacy, the King assures us the program is focused solely on terrorists.

First, Qwest, the lone dissenter, wins the steel spine award for telling the King's minions to buzz off. They did what all red blooded Americans would have done - told the soldiers if they wanted the information, they would need a warrant. The King did not get a warrant, so Qwest did not turn over the information. From the USA Today story (with my comments bracketed and in bold):

Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said. The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.

Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side [What kind of doublespeak is this? Patriotism means enabling the government in its attempts to stick its big nose into every single American's home? Holy police state Batman, we are in it deep]: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. [How nice, the feds are deciding how to spend our money not based on the competence of the company, but on whether that company is willing to rat out its customers. This is called bribery: The feds are telling the company that if it wants the contract (the quid) it must hand over the callers (the pro quo).] Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," ["We can't go to the court because they might do something unPatriotic, like apply the law to the executive branch. But we all know if the King orders it, it must be legal. So come on, how 'bout it?"] one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. [How bad must this be if they did not think Osama Bin Ashcroft would approve?] A second person confirmed this version of events.

Do I need to tell you who you should do business with in the future? How do we get these guys in Alabama?

Second, when King George tells you he is focused only on terrorists, remember what sort of facts his kind think indicate terrorist activity:

Focused and committed
Team-oriented and disciplined
Familiar with their physical environments
Employ a variety of vehicles and communicate by cell phone, email, or text messaging
Try not to draw attention to themselves
Look like students, tourists, or businesspersons
Travel in a mixed group of men, women, and children
Avoid confrontations with law enforcement
Use disguises or undergo cosmetic surgery

Do you know anyone who does NOT meet at least two or three of these criteria? Don't forget that if they do decide you are a threat, you get arrested and sent to prison. Maybe tortured. But no lawyer, no trial, no due process, those things would threaten national security.

Do you feel safe knowing the government is tracking all your calls and using criteria like this to determine whether or not you are a terrorist?