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    22 May 2006

    Getting to the core of the illegal NSA, et al, onion

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    The ongoing avalanche of information regarding the illegal wiretapping of Americans has another layer of the onion peeled of by the Wall Street Journal yesterday.
    In short, phone companies currently caught up in a controversy over reports that they gave the National Security Agency access to records of customers' calls are hardly the only businesses fretting over how to cooperate with the government in the war on terror. Internet and financial companies also are frequently targeted by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, forcing them into situations where they must choose between customers' rights to privacy and their own corporate desire to help the government without being seen as agents of the government.
    In other cases, companies have no choice but to surrender records. New powers granted to the government under the Patriot Act mean that Washington can secretly access people's records from businesses without having to provide any notification or seek a judge's permission. Companies are in fact prohibited by the law from disclosing that they had received such requests.

    Also reveled is the way the major telecommunication firms are able to claim (lie) that they have done nothing illegal, legally.

    From thinkprogress.org
    Ordinarily, a company that conceals their transactions and activities from the public would violate securities law. But a presidential memorandum signed by the President on May 5 allows the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, to authorize a company to conceal activities related to national security. (See 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(3)(A))

    That's convenient, no?

    In addition, Business Week offers another way to violate your privacy, one that goes far deeper than recently reveled.

    The Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security spend millions annually to buy commercial databases that track Americans' finances, phone numbers, and biographical information, according to a report last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Often, the agencies and their contractors don't ensure the data's accuracy, the GAO found.

    Buying commercially collected data allows the government to dodge certain privacy rules. The Privacy Act of 1974 restricts how federal agencies may use such information and requires disclosure of what the government is doing with it. But the law applies only when the government is doing the data collecting.

    "Grabbing data wholesale from the private sector is the way agencies are getting around the requirements of the Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment," says Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington and a member of the Homeland Security Dept.'s Data Privacy & Integrity Advisory Committee.

    People this is much larger than what we know so far. And it doesn't deal exclusively with terrorism but, it would appear, anything that calls into question government actions. These usually mean illegal government actions.

    These revelations have gone much further than deterring terrorists; in fact these programs haven’t been proven to have done anything to deter terrorists. Speculations that it has, as embraced by Rummy, Bush, and Gen. Hayden among many others, is just that; pure speculation. But it has placed a chilling fear on journalists and their sources whose job it is to reveal what horrible atrocities or illegal activities our government does in our name or to fight the so-called War on Terror.

    ABC reporter, Brian Ross (who's story is mentioned here), come out today on CNN saying (according to thinkprogress.org)
    [I]t makes me feel, in a way - and this is, I think, the disturbing part - as if we are drug dealers or terrorists trying to traffic in information, and should we be using bags full of quarters like old Mafia capos to avoid having our phone calls traced? I don't think I'm doing anything wrong; I don't think any other reporter is, either. we're trying to cover these stories, which are difficult, but which are very important.
    I'm working on a big story now with people who are confidential sources inside the Federal Air Marshal Service. They were all alarmed that they might be exposed as talking with me in violation of rules. So It's of great concern.

    They have a full transcript and video at thinkprogress.org.
    The Administration could at least be fair and use the NSA, FBI, and cooperative companies to reveal who blew the cover of WMD and Iranian nuclear weapons spy, Valerie Plame-Wilson. I think we all know why that isn't the case.

    Imagine if the mentioned (by Brian Ross) story is exposing serious problems with the US Air Marshals, but it is stalled due to this new war on truth, press freedom, and the age-old art of the leak. This could mean terrible consequences for some future passengers of a hijacked airline right? Something to think about...

    Remember: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom . . . of the press."

    Posted by Geoff

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