January 2006


The Bush administration has done it again: issuing subpoenas to electronic search engine vendors, like Google, Yahoo, and MSN, to turn over random records of what people have been searching for on the Internet. Is Orwell's 1984 such a cliche that people forget that it was a warning?

The Bush administration has been moving aggressively to obtain more and more information about ordinary citizen's use of the Internet. The most recent attack on personal privacy has been the Justice Department subpoena of Internet search engine vendors, such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN to turn over random records of peoples' searches. Previous attempts to collect this kind of mass information included the demand for public libraries to turn over their records of which books we read. The libraries refused. In this latest case, only one of the major search engine companies, Google, refused.

Under provisions of the US Patriot Act, supposedly enacted to keep us safe from terrorism, the government says it is fulfilling law enforcement goals. A lot of these goals sound like quotas, where the success of programs is figured in increased prosecutions, rather than decreased crimes. I don't know about you, but when my 13 year old son does a school project and searches for "Bin Laden" I do not want his name to come up on an FBI watch list. I don't believe that my son's query about Bin Laden should have any relevance to anybody's law enforcement goals.

Of course, the administration is asking for these records for the "best of reasons." In this case, as in most others when governments try to do something illegal, they pick a law nobody can dare to complain about: the law prohibiting child pornography. Who is going to complain about someone enforcing that? But if they can get access to a virtually unlimited amount of personal information about all of us on the pretext of enforcing that law, they have a precedent that will allow them to demand the same kind of information in pursuit of any kind of law breakers. Child pornographers today... who's next? Probably not terrorists, unless you classify peace activists as dangerous terrorists.

It all comes back to the same black kernel of a lie that I have written about before: preemptive law enforcement. Influential members of the Bush administration want to prevent crimes by jailing people before they commit crimes. They claim the right for the President to issue an unlimited number of wire taps and other surveillance of US citizens on his own authority. These same folks have asserted the right of US operatives to kidnap people in foreign countries and hand them over to governments who will torture them on our behalf. Thus far, we have only seen reports of non-US citizens being extraordinarily rendered, but who knows at what line in the sand these people will decide to stop. They certainly claim the right of the President to redraw that line in the sand without the consent or oversight of either the legislature or the judiciary.

I still do not grasp how people who are allegedly conservative, who believe in the Constitution as the central and inviolable gospel of the nation's heritage, can stand back and let people trample it underfoot as Bush, Cheney & Co do. I get angry every time I hear prominent members of the Bush administration, their voices pontificating about their need to protect the nation at its own expense... "Stop throwing the Constitution in my face, it's just a g*******d piece of paper." How can anyone with a shred of conservative spirit support a president who said this out loud?

There are things that some people regard as wrong and other people regard as right. There are other things that are just plain wrong. Spying on your own citizens, without any proof that they are in any way guilty of any indictable offense under the law, is wrong. Transporting people, who have never been convicted of any crime into the custody of other governments for the purpose of torture, is wrong. Allowing the President to circumvent the Constitution and rule as an all-powerful unitary dictator is wrong.

How do I know if this or that is wrong? Here's a good test. If it was wrong when the Nazis did it in Germany (1933-1945) then it's more than likely wrong for our government to do it, anywhere, anytime, for any reason. Period.

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