The firestorm surrounding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act (FISA) is just the latest battleground in a debate that has raged throughout the war on terror — whether the threat of another attack on U.S. soil justifies unfettered government surveillance of most of its citizens in hopes of finding the few evil seeds that hide among us.
As my colleague Dennis Fisher wrote this week, the bill would grant retroactive immunity to telecoms that aided in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. The bill’s passage would effectively prevent the public from ever discovering the details of that program, privacy experts told Dennis. In a follow-up posting in this blog, Dennis noted the increased likelihood that Congress will let the current extension expire tonight rather than try to work out a compromise between separate bills passed by the House and Senate that would extend the legislation for several years.
“Democrats in the House, who are opposed to a provision in the Senate version of the bill that would grant retroactive immunity to telecoms that aided in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, apparently decided simply to not act on the legislation,” he wrote. “Bush and Republican Congressmen ripped the Democrats for their decision, saying that it places the country at greater risk of terrorist attack.”
I must admit I’m torn on the issue. On the one hand, we are in a war where a small band of radicals are hiding in the shadows, bent on unleashing more death and destruction, including the variety where nuclear and biological weapons may be used. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that wiretapping is a necessary evil to catch enemies who play by unconventional rules.
On the other hand, I have no doubt the Bush Administration has used the threat as an excuse to trample on our basic rights, stoking our fear to get public approval. It’s maddening to me when people are duped, by their fear, into giving the government carte blanche to invade any private space it wants in the name of security. That’s what the terrorists want, isn’t it?
Here’s what some bloggers have to say:
Phantom Lady, a conservative FISA bill supporter and keeper of the Frustrated Incorporated blog, ripped at Sen. Hillary Clinton for not showing up to vote on the issue, Sen. Barack Obama for voting against it (though she praised him for at least showing up to vote); and she praised Sen. John McCain for voting for it. In the entry, she uses this nugget from the Rush Limbaugh website:
“Congratulations to Senator McCain. He made sure he was there while fighting off this challenge from Governor Huckabee. He voted to preserve the powers of the intelligence agency in the executive branch to defend and protect this country. Also, hats off to Senator Obama. He showed up. He voted. He voted against it. In so doing, he demonstrated he is not fit to lead this country as commander-in-chief. He has voted against every reasonable authority that has come before him in the form of legislation in terms of intelligence and protecting this country. But at least Obama showed up. At least he voted. At least he told the country he’s incompetent.”
A blogger named Scarecrow took the opposite view in the Firedoglake blog, writing that House Democrats finally said enough and called George Bush’s bluff. “The President had threatened to leave the country in an intelligence blackout if Congress did not accede to his demands for sweeping warrantless surveillance and telecom immunity,” Scarecrow wrote. “But this time, for the first time, Democrats said, “we don’t believe you.” That moment of courage may well define the fall campaign.”
Errington Thompson wrote in the Where’s the Outrage blog that the House has finally stood firm and that it’s confusing as to why the Senate bowed to the White House.
“Mr. Bush’s rhetoric is simply tiresome,” Thompson wrote. “The terrorists this and the terrorist that. Are we so lame that we can’t do anything without trying to figure out what the terrorists will do? Hell, don’t we need to be more worried about our own homegrown crazies?”
I realize this week’s topic runs astray of what I usually set out to do — write about the latest IT security issues and point to blogs where IT pros can go for guidance. But this is a case where telecoms are helping the government in what many consider an invasion of privacy. The reach of the telecoms stretches to practically every enterprise, and that’s where there IT shops face a potential security quandary.
A big part of IT security is about keeping hackers from breaking into company networks and accessing sensitive information. But what do you do when it’s the government breaking in, all in the name of national security?
Please share your thoughts on this one.
About Security Blog Log: Senior News Writer Bill Brenner peruses security blogs each day to see what’s got the information security community buzzing. In this column he lists the weekly highlights. If you’d like to comment on the column or bring new security blogs to his attention, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.