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How you view secret wiretaps (authorized or not) depends upon how you view the role of government.

The naive view can be summarized as "you have nothing to fear if you aren't doing anything wrong". This presupposes a benign government working in the public interest. Along with this is the general willingness to excuse those cases of overreach that come to light. "It was just a mistake by over eager individual officials". I call this the civics 101 view of life, as taught in middle school.

The sinister view can be stated as that governments are always seeking to consolidate their power and that openness and the rule of law are the only defenses.

I've argued before for this latter view: Here's one of my essays as an example:

Surveillance vs Civil Liberties

History has shown that there is a steady progression from secret policing being started in response to real or perceived foreign threats which then morphs into a more general police state in which any political dissent is taken as a sign of a threat. There are numerous examples from around the world and the US has not been immune either.

I suggest looking at the history of the Palmer Raids during the WWI period, or the internment of the Japanese-Americans during WWII or the red-scares of the McCarthy era. The FBI spied on ML KIng and many others, not because they represented a threat from foreign powers, but because they were a threat to the status quo.

There is no objective evidence that the level of secret spying going on in the US is proportional to any foreign threats, but there is plenty of evidence of the civil rights of peaceful citizen groups being abridged when they have opposed the present administration. For a fairly recent example, just look at the mass arrests of protesters in NYC during the last GOP convention. The purpose was to stifle free speech.

The burden of proof is on the government, to show that their programs are benign.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 02:28:19 PM EST
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I will have a respectful and open minded look at your essay, but I'm a hard sell.  I understand that you  believe that those who take government power for granted are naive.  In general I would agree, but I would also argue that the same view can be had of those who contend incessantly that "government" is always abusing its power/responsibility.  

More to the point.  I suspect that neither of us are really in a position to state categorically that there is or is not "objective evidence that the level of secret spying going on in the US is proportional to any foreign threats..." particularly with regard to FISC issued wiretapping warrants.  I haven't been involved with such matters for quite a few years, but I do know that in the past there was more than enough reason for this court to exist and for the warrants it issued.  Has the "war on terror" changed everything.  I can't say for certain, but I will state that  despite the historic examples of law enforcement/intelligence abuse you mention, the US does have a "built-in" system of self examination and correction that tends to react against government abuse of civil liberties.  The FISA itself is an example of such a correction, as pointed out earlier.  I see no historical or current evidence that would lead me to believe that the US is in fact morphing into a police state.  What is happening is public and official attention rightfully focused upon selected instances of abuse which over time should result in corrective action.  There is and never will be a perfect society or a perfect government.    

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 11:22:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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