Thursday, February 09, 2006

Public Split on NSA Wire Taps

The latest AP-Ipsos poll shows the public evenly split on the legitimacy of the NSA surveillance that has come under fire of late. The same poll last month showed a strong 56% disapproval rating, however it is now 50-50. (ABC: Poll: Surveillance Wins Some More Backers). If nothing else, the polls show that the public is gradually coming to accept the President's message with regards to the need for this surveillance.

I must admit, I'm of mixed emotions, not only with regards to the surveillance itself, but more importantly with the public's acceptance of it. That we need to drastically improve our intelligence gathering is not open for debate. I doubt anyone would disagree with the assertion that our ability to track terrorists and disrupt their plans for further attacks could use dramatic improvement. Rather, what is open for debate - and rightfully so - are the methods used to gather that intelligence.

Certainly, eavesdropping on communications between suspected terrorists is warranted, even if one party is in the United States. That's not the question. It's whether or not it can ever be legal to do so without a court order and that is precisely where I'm of mixed emotions. You see, the law does provide the flexibility to wiretap for up to 72 hours without a court order. After that, however, depending on how you interpret several Executive Orders, it becomes very much debatable. My concern here is that the NSA could easily have obtained warrants in those 72 hours had they chosen to take that route. That they chose not to raises questions in my mind.

More disturbing, however, is the fact that we as a nation seem almost eager to give up basic rights for the illusion of increased safety. The fact that 50% of the people don't even question the wiretapping is disturbing. The fact that the majority of people readily accept surveillance cameras on our highways is disturbing. The fact that people readily accept random searches in subway stations is disturbing. These all constitute a gradual erosion of our rights; each one rather subtle and innocuous, but taken together they represent a very disturbing trend.

Now, before some of my readers harp on the vileness of the Bush Administration, let's not forget that his predecessor issued Executive Orders giving the police the right to conduct warrantless searches. Even Jimmy Carter issued Executive Orders authorizing warrantless wire tapping. This trend is not unique to the Bush Administration, nor is it unique to Republican Administrations. In fact, you'll be hard pressed to find an administration in our lifetime regardless of party that did not gradually chip away at our constitutional rights.

That is what disturbs me the most. We as a people have become extremely soft. As comedian Dennis Miller once put it, our founding fathers went to war over a tax on their breakfast beverage. We, however, are perfectly willing to give away all of the rights they won with blood just to have the illusion that we're marginally safer than we were yesterday.

To me, every camera installed at an intersection or on a highway is another skirmish won by the terrorists. Every backpack searched in a subway station is a victory for al Qaeda. Every American that unquestioningly accepts the NSA surveillance without asking "why?" and without questioning the decision not to obtain a warrant within the 72-hour grace period furthers the cause of those that wish to destroy our way of life.

So yes, I'm of mixed emotions. I want to see the scum waging war against this country eliminated from the gene pool. But at the same time, I want to make sure that, in defeating them, we don't also defeat ourselves. There is far more at stake in this war than the potential for more terror attacks. Let's take care that our own quest for safety does not bring about a victory for the terrorists.

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1 comment :

Alan Fraser said...

Wiretaps and anti-bacterial dish detergent fit into the same category and are symptomatic of a nation that cringes in the face of virtually anything and that fear is being milked by an administration that knows better how to play it than any that has preceded it.

The perspective is what amuses me. The threat of being killed by a terrorist is close to a zero and yet people are terrified of it. The threat of being killed by a drunk driver is significant and yet people ignore it. They're not only cringing milksops, they're also unbelievably stupid.