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'It Can't Happen Here' Just Did

June 11, 2013 in Economics

By Gene Healy

Gene Healy

As a Senate candidate in 2003, Barack Obama called the PATRIOT Act “shoddy and dangerous.” Once safely in power, Obama started demonstrating his remarkable capacity for “growing in office” — expanding federal powers while piously moralizing about their potential abuse.

As a senator, he voted to reauthorize the surveillance law in 2006; and as president, signed another PATRIOT renewal from Europe via presidential autopen in 2011.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has long warned of a “secret PATRIOT Act” — a classified interpretation of the law that allows the administration to undertake massive data collection on American citizens.

Last week, we got a glimpse of what he meant, when a National Security Agency contractor revealed that the agency has assembled a database of at least seven years’ worth of Verizon customers’ call records — a practice that apparently extends to other carriers.

We needn’t resort to hyperbolic examples like the East German Stasi to understand the dangers here — there’s a relevant comparison much closer to home.”

“Nobody is listening to your calls,” the peevish president said last week; they’re “sifting through this so-called metadata,” trying to identify potential leads.

About that “metadata”: It allows the government secretly to track who a target communicates with and where he’s physically located. That knowledge can be used to unearth who’s leaking to reporters, when and where political opponents are meeting — even who’s sleeping with whom.

The NSA’s massive call-records database is thus a potential treasure trove for bad-faith political actors — it can be used to ferret out the sort of information that governments have historically used to blackmail and control dissenters.

We needn’t resort to hyperbolic examples like the East German Stasi to understand the dangers here — there’s a relevant comparison much closer to home. A series of congressional investigations in the 1970s taught Americans shocking lessons about Cold War-era surveillance abuses.

In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee tasked Deputy Attorney General Laurence Silberman with reviewing former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s secret files.

Silberman was revolted by what he found: Hoover had let the bureau “be used by presidents for nakedly political purposes” and engaged in “subtle blackmail to ensure his and the bureau’s power.”

In his book The Secrets of the FBI, Ronald Kessler quotes one of the FBI director’s former top lieutenants: “The moment [Hoover] would get something on a senator,” he’d send an emissary to the Hill to “advise the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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