August 07, 2007

A Good Question

Re: FISA etc, Atrios wants someone who can to ask:

Have the phone and email conversations of any American journalists, US federal officeholders, or federal campaign workers ever been intercepted without a warrant?

Posted by binky at August 7, 2007 01:17 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Free Speech | J. Edgar Hoover | Liberty | Politics | The Ever Shrinking Constitution


I'd think the answer is almost certainly yes. Is that somehow especially bad?

Posted by: Armand at August 7, 2007 04:37 PM | PERMALINK


I don't disagree, but I'd like to at least have an iota of something to point in that direction.

I'm still puzzled by the FISA thing. As best I can tell, the Dems were negotiating with McConnell (the DNI, not the Senator), when the White House pulled the rug out from under both of them. The White House came up with its own language, and the Dems (in both houses) folded and passed it unamended (except by the 6-month sunset).

The big, huge unanswered question (for me) is simple: what the heck were the Dems so worked up over that they needed to pass this NOW (as opposed to four weeks from now)? I just, plainly, don't get it.

Posted by: baltar at August 8, 2007 01:26 PM | PERMALINK

An unusually high proportion of the Democrats who caved are members of the Intelligence Committee. Maybe the administration showed them something that has them worried about a peculiarly pressing threat.

I have no idea if that's true - just throwing it out there as a possibility.

Posted by: Armand at August 8, 2007 01:52 PM | PERMALINK

OK, but then why aren't they out saying something like that ("It really is important, but we can't tell you why"), and why did McConnell (who fuckin' heads the ONI) cut a deal that left most of the bill OFF the table?

Not saying you are wrong, but you might be.

Posted by: baltar at August 8, 2007 02:02 PM | PERMALINK

Baltar -- I'd agree, it'd be nice to know more. But of course our ignorance is tainted by the fact that obfuscation and dissimulation are the principle tools of the Administration in interacting with the electorate in any situation they can characterize as associated with national security, which, during a putative global war on terror where your neighbor might be at the heart of the next lethal attack, is pretty much anything. In the absence of answers to the sort of limited questions that might begin to inform the debate, and in light of the many times the administration has been caught in outright falsehoods, I don't think they're entitled to anything more than our unremitting presumption of their improper, or at least constitutionally suspect motives.

Armand, I'm a little perplexed by your question. Of course, all unwarranted intrusions on individual privacy are equally troublesome as a matter of constitutional law, and in that sense are created equal. But there are additional constitutional issues that attach to the individuals, or categories of individuals Atrios focuses on:

Journalists are protected by the First Amendment, and their ability to communicate confidentially (assuming no illegality sufficient to provide probable cause to seek a warrant) is essential to their function in our polity; federal officeholders is an overbroad term, but legislative deliberations and matters incident to that, such as phone conversations with constituents or peers, are protected from executive intrusion absent such a warrant, and indeed may be protected even against such a warrant (see the recent ruling in the Jefferson case). Of course, it's not as clear that executive branch officials are similarly protected, as the protection for legislators is specifically enshrined in the constitution. But then we're not talking about, by and large, Bush snooping on his own administration (although the US Attorney thing is troublesome on this level).

As for campaign workers, well, they may have no more protection than the average man on the street, at least on the face of the constitution, but the peculiar threat to democracy presented by the chilling effect of such unwarranted surveillance -- recalling, of course, Watergate -- is considerable nonetheless.

Am I missing some nuance to your question?

Posted by: moon at August 8, 2007 02:04 PM | PERMALINK

No, you aren't missing it - I just think it's bad enough if it applies to "regular" people. And relatedly, I think privileging some of the classes here is silly/dangerous (who decides who is and isn't a campaign worker or journalist - does it rely on a paycheck from The Man?). Do I understand that that's done? Sure, but unless you are talking about members of Congress, I don't know that I agree that that practice/norm/set of laws is really appropriate.

Posted by: Armand at August 8, 2007 04:36 PM | PERMALINK
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