FISA Fear-Mongering

Ken AshfordWiretapping & Surveillance1 Comment

White House Spokesman Tony Fratto, urging Congress to pass FISA legislation (which will, among other things, give telecom companies retroactive immunity for breaking privacy laws) told Congressional Quarterly yesterday:

“We’re exactly three weeks away from the date when terrorists can be free to make phone calls without fear of being surveilled by U.S. intelligence agencies”.

I have two points to make from this statement, quite separate and apart from the fact that the statement is untrue and not-so-subtly designed to gin up fear:

(1)  If we know they are terrorists, why don’t we just get them?  Why surveil them?  The answer is because we don’t know they are terrorists.  You see, even from the government’s perspective, that’s why one taps phones: to find out who the terrorists are.  And necessarily, you are going to being tapping a lot of phones from people who turn out not to be actual terrorists.  So watch for this Orwellian language game and remember: they won’t actually tap terrorists’ phones;  they’ll be tapping whoever’s phones (yours?) in order to find the terrorists.  Big difference.

(2)  If the U.S. intelligence agencies are that concerned about tapping so-called "terrorists", maybe it ought to pay its phone bills:

Telephone companies cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau’s repeated failures to pay phone bills on time, according to a Justice Department audit released Thursday.


And at least once, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation — the highly secretive and sensitive cases that allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies — "was halted due to untimely payment."