The Ultimate Party Line   Leave a comment

I’m starting to like Rand Paul. I didn’t at first. I never much liked sons/daughters following dad into the family business of politics and Lisa Murkowski, Mark Begich and George W. Bush solidified that dislike in me. I also don’t care for his dad, Ron Paul. I like some of the ideas he espouses, but there’s something about the man that just doesn’t sit right and I’ve learned to trust my gut on some things. So, at first I didn’t like Rand Paul because of principles that had nothing to do with the man and then I didn’t like him because, whenever Rand opened his mouth, he seemed to make the conservative movement look foolish. Of course, that may well have been media manipulation of his message … or maybe he was just new and wet behind the ears.

Lately, however, he’s starting to sound really good. The fact that the Huffington Post hates him doesn’t hurt his stock with me, but he’s also saying intelligent things.

Rand is completely correct in stating this is a generational problem. There was a time when electronic communication was new technology and viewed by people of my parents’ generation (Greatest Generation) as somehow different from talking face-to-face. Even the telephone seemed different enough to not be covered by the Constitution. That was the rational of the Supreme Court in the 1979 Smith versus Maryland decision, that the use of electronic media somehow set aside our right to privacy. There were people who objected then – me, for example – but mostly people thought that if the Supreme Court rules something than their ruling IS the Constitution. Well, when the Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott wasn’t equal to his fellow Americans, was that Constitutional or was the Supreme Court acting in a politically motivated manner? I think we can all agree that it was the latter.

We live in different times from 1979. My parents’ phone was on a two-party line back then. Privacy did have a different flavor to it when Mrs. McGowan could listen in. I had a more-or-less real-time conversation with a friend last night over email. That’s not uncommon. People today use email, telephone, text, Skype, Facebook, etc., to communicate. The idea in Smith was that when you transmitted the electronic data (phone numbers) to the telephone company, you were putting that information into the public domain. Agencies could connect numbers and recognize potential connections, but there was no ability to routinely record the conversations attached to those numbers. It took a massive amount of technology to access what was said and the SCOTUS had ruled in Katz versus the United States that the conversation was protected unless on issue of a warrant, which were not easy to get. That seemed reasonable. If your brother had grown up to be a bank robber, but you still talked regularly to him, that connection was a part of public record, but if you showed no signs of being a criminal, a judge was not going to issue a warrant to tap your telephone, though they might take his.

The Patriot Act changed that. Now the warrant applies to all the traffic on a particular carrier and the warrants are automatically renewed without a hearing by a judge, who by all accounts rubberstamps the FISA request anyway. The conversations are automatically recorded, held in cyberspace for a period of time while computers analyze them for key words and then, if the computer decides it sounds interesting, a human being listens to or reads them – all without a warrant based on a reasonable belief that you might be a criminal.

The possibilities – well, probabilities — for government abuse are enormous.

Just think about it in light of the IRS scandal involving the targeting of “tea party” organizations. Depriving organizations of money is obviously effective, but consider if this system could be used to interfere with more loosely based tea party groups that are trying to organize low-cost gatherings – such as classes to study the Constitution or the Austrian economists. If you could use that technology to harass people and create a chilling effect …?

In case you think this is a problem with the current administration or Democrats in general, here is an article that runs down how we feel about violation of our privacy when it’s the “other party” doing it.

Yeah, in 2006, many Republicans thought it was a dandy idea to spy on American citizens provided it was a Republican administration doing it. It is clowns to the right and jokers to the left in a major dance of situational ethics. It is not a partisan issue because members of both parties do it and members of both parties are violating our constitutional rights.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court has ruled 35 years ago before this technology existed, regardless of which party is in power at the moment, it was always wrong for the government to listen to our conversations without an individually issued warrant, but the point was moot when they lacked the technology to do so. Now they have the technology and we need to assure that they aren’t able to legally use it against us and then we need to dismantle the bureaucracy that would want to use it against us because … let’s be clear on this … the technology exists and as long as you have crooks in control of the government, they will use it against us.

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