My humblest apologies for a lack of good postings this weekend (or ever, depending on who is defining ‘good’). I was, actually, quite busy in the yard.
Which forced me to ignore some really good comments I’ve been receiving, in particular on the issue I raised last week about the American Medical Association and homebirths. I promise, I will get to responding to them soon, but not tonight.
However, I know that everyone says (including my co-blogger!) that I am supposed to be righteously indignant about the imminent passage of the new FISA bill. For reasons I can’t entirely wrap my mind around, I’m having trouble rousing appropriate levels of indignation.
Contrary to, for instance, the opinion well laid out by commenter “truth=freedom” here, I don’t believe that the FISA law should be revoked. I can absolutely imagine situations, especially with the modern technological situation, where the necessity to stop your work right in the middle of a case to get a warrant could be destructive to the case itself. You don’t need to envision the far-too-oft-used ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario to get there, either. If you watch The Wire, you learn about how easy it is for criminals to keep ahead of surveillance, by using disposable cell phones and dumping them every week or so. In that case, once you get the number, you want to be on it from minute one.
That said, the original requirements of FISA, that you file for a retroactive warrant within 48 hours of the beginning of surveillance, seems quite reasonable to me. According to Shane, the policy now is 7 days, which seems a bit long – how hard is it to fill out some paperwork? But still, the point, to me, is that the obligation to file for a warrant, even retroactively, helps ensure some oversight and some minimal standards in our wiretapping programs. An intelligence officer is going to be more careful that he or she is actually tapping an illegal communication if it’s going to have to be defended before a judge sometime soon.
The fact that the Bush administration feels it is too much of a burden to ever have to file a warrant is both terrifying and demeaning. Much like my opinion about the inevitable outcomes if you legalize torture under any circumstances, nothing I know of human nature leads me to believe that wiretaps will remain contained and appropriate if there is no oversight at all.
As for the much-discussed retroactive telecom immunity, I agree that it is absurd and insulting. However, does anyone out there think that Bush won’t find a way to, if nothing else, pardon every single person who may have been involved in any potentially illegal activity in his last days in office? Given that, I’m perfectly happy to let this issue slide. When Obama is president, we can have a comission to look into what, exactly, happened with the telecom companies. Even if nobody goes to jail, the embarrasment of a public airing of all of their sins will help them think twice about complying with illegal orders in the future.
So I guess that I am a pro-FISA, tepid-at-best supporter of the fight to prevent the retroactive telecom immunity, leaving me open to all manner of attacks from our most excellent commenters, as well as my most excellent co-blogger. Fire away.