Monday, January 09, 2006

Thought Incubator: NSA domestic spying

I've only had an initial reaction to the business of the NSA monitoring domestic communications, and, needless to say, I was not exactly thrilled with the idea of our government "spying" on American citizens.

As near as I can tell, placing a "wiretap" on a phone line usually requires a warrant from a judge assigned that responsibility -- but Bush's post-9/11 authorization allows the NSA to bypass the warrant and listen in on any conversation deemed "suspicious."

Ideologically, it's pretty frightening, particularly to anyone who's read 1984 or All the President's Men. But, as usual, matters have been made less clear -- instead of more clear -- by media coverage of the issue.

So here's what I need to find out: the specific verbiage of the law the president is citing as backup for his decision (even though the presence of a law/clause/loophole doesn't necessarily make something ethically right), the "triggers" established to cause the NSA to initiate a "wiretap" (which is an increasingly less-applicable word), and, perhaps most importantly, an argument as to why this "domestic spying" issue isn't a threat to basic American freedoms.

Additionally, I'd like to know what safeguards will be put in place to prevent the authorization from being used indiscriminately (and criminally) by this or any other administration. There must be oversight of some kind in order for this program to have any kind of legal legs, and if there isn't oversight (by an agency outside the Executive Branch), then I'd say the entire program is just waiting for corruption -- if it's not full of it already.

More specifics I need: who has been subjected to this surveillance and why? What has the intelligence gleaned from this surveillance accomplished? Why do I not need to worry about some NSA G-man listening in when I call home? And if I do, how can it be argued that my freedoms of speech and privacy have not been impinged?

Lots of research to do on this issue before I'll be willing to come down hard on either side. For now, I'm awfully leery of it, but I'm willing to reserve judgement until I get some unspun data on the subject.