I have to admit that the amount of vitriol leveled at our Democratic Leaders over FISA on Kos yesterday is a bit jarring. It is one thing to dislike this bill as a matter of political principle; it's quite another to stop working for our candidate over what seems to be a trivial issue to me.
It's never been clearly articulated to me how combating telecoms immunity or warrantless overseas wiretapping is consistent with any core Democratic values. It's never been clearly articulated to me why Kos front-pagers spend an inordinate amount of time on an issue that I, a proud liberal, really don't care about.
So here's my reasons why FISA/telecoms immunity never mattered to me and why the controversy is puzzling. I'd like an explanation as to why people are so angry.
Update: I'd like to thank everyone who commented for a spirited discussion and defense of their position. While I remain unconvinced that this is the battle we need to be fighting in the face of the many other calamities and opportunities our country faces, I'm glad people took the time.
- Search and seizure requirements, from the beginning of our Republic enforcing customs duties off our coasts, have always had lower thresholds for reasonable action. To quote the unanimous decision in US v. Flores-Montano:
"searches made at the border... are reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border."
The executive of a sovereign state has always borne the responsibility to monitor and protect the border - and this includes the electronic border.
- Warrentless blanket monitoring of overseas communications is a reasonable and effective means of gathering intelligence - and its the only means of monitoring large amounts of intelligence. The NSA has been rumored to have a project called ECHELON for a decade that hoovers up overseas telecommunications traffic and uses machine learning algorithms (like your spam filter) to try to find relevant conversations for human review. No machine filter is perfect, of course, so a human is going to have to wade through a lot of garbage to find anything useful. Are they expected to get a warrant for every one of those?
- Sure, you can say it's fear mongering about terrorism to say any of that traffic belongs to al Qaeda. Unfortunately for the people who say terrorism is mere fear-mongering, the historical record is against you - and I guarantee you that another terrorist attack would do far more harm to civil liberties in this country than this bill.
- The idea of conversations being private in any way is becoming a quickly antiquated notion. The rise of VOIP communications like Skype means that your conversations don't just go through big companies and the government - they go through educational institutions, Silicon Valley non-profits, and any number of entities who log their requests. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy over the internet unless you encrypt your communications.
- Since when is demanding judicial wrath for petty crime by people helpless under the circumstances a liberal notion? Sure the executives may not have shown much courage, but at the same time, can't you feel for someone who's never served in government who suddenly has a bunch of suits show up and say "you're doing this in the name of national security, or else?" For that matter, no one has ever clearly articulated to me whether the guys down the food chain - the poor techie who's instructed to coordinate with the Feds, for example, could or should be sued or prosecuted?
- How does this have anything to do with (American) liberal values? Sure, we like the Constitution, but we're also for government intervention when it can help people, and that includes national security. We understand that the Constitution is a living document that has to reflect our common values in a time of rapid technological change. We understand that there are nuances to executive power - its not "all good" or "all bad." It depends on whether that exercise of power produces victims with a clear loss - like detainees in Guantanamo, or civilians in Iraq.
- Which brings me to my last point. Show me a victim of warrantless wiretapping that has anything on one of our disabled vets, our minimum wage workers, our suffering immigrants. How is this worth my time and attention as a liberal?