Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Making Lemonade

Looking on the bright side of things, the Bush administration's most recent foray into the realm of totalitarianism-lite will likely clear up one small matter for readers of TIA: the origin of this blog's name. I'm sure most of you informed readers (cough, cough) immediately got the cheeky ironic tone of "Total Information Awareness" but for the rest, here's the necessary clue from Senator Jay Rockefeller, commenting on the revelation that President Bush ordered surveillance on US citizens in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA):

"As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveiliance." [emphasis added]
(I leave the rest to your investigative powers, and the utility of the all-powerful Google. Kneel before Google!)

The above quote came via Kevin Drum, who has an excellent round up of the legal issues at play, as well as a concise summary of each. His sources include this post by Orin Kerr of The Volokh Conspiracy (first pointed out to me by reader Patrick in a discussion on another blog). Very balanced and worth the read.

Drum doesn't stop there, though. In a subsequent post, he begins asking the right questions about the underlying motivations for circumventing FISA in the first place. Drum, commenting on the justifications for disregarding FISA put forth by the Bush administration, states:

None of these quotes makes sense if the NSA program involved nothing more than an expansion of ordinary taps of specific individuals. After all, the FISA court would have approved taps of domestic-to-international calls as quickly and easily as they do with normal domestic wiretaps. What's more, Congress wouldn't have had any objection to supporting a routine program expansion; George Bush wouldn't have explained it with gobbledegook about the difference between monitoring and detecting; Jay Rockefeller wouldn't have been reminded of TIA; and the Times wouldn't have had any issues over divulging sensitive technology.

It seems clear that there's something involved here that goes far beyond ordinary wiretaps, regardless of the technology used. Perhaps some kind of massive data mining, which makes it impossible to get individual warrants? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Lots of people have suggested that the NSA program has something to do with Echelon, a massive project that vacuums up communications of all kinds from all over the globe. The problem is that Echelon has been around for a long time and no one has ever complained about it before - so whatever this new program is, it's something more than vanilla Echelon. What's more, it's something disturbing enough that a few weeks after 9/11 the administration apparently felt that even Republicans in Congress wouldn't approve of it. What kind of program is so intrusive that even Republicans, even with 9/11 still freshly in mind, wouldn't have supported it? [emphasis added]
No answers yet, but very good questions. And gratuitous mentions of TIA makes the heart skip a beat - Poindexter's too I'm sure. Either way, this story is definitely something to keep an eye on.

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