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Why The Protect America Act Lawsuit Link Matters

Jim just laid out a good summary of the timeline of the link between the Protect America Act and at least two dozen civil liberties lawsuits. It’s essential to pay attention to those details, because they’re the details that are sorely lacking in the official government explanation of why the Protect America Act was rushed through Congress in just three days last week.

The official explanation, that the legislation had to be rushed into law before the congressional August recess to protect America from terrorist attack, when the government intelligence agencies have reported that there is no credible specific threat of a terrorist attack within the United States, is clear nonsense.

Still, it’s not just enough to point out that the Bush White House and the Congress have been dishonest about the reasons that the Protect America Act was rushed into law without adequate time for consideration. The reason this story is important is much more basic, and much more disturbing, than just another lie from George W. Bush, or just another law passed with unwise hurry.

The reason that this story is important is found at its beginning: The Protect America Act, and the civil liberties lawsuits that it thwarts, were provoked by the discovery of a government program to gather information on American citizens’ private and very personal use of the Internet. The National Security Agency has been running an illegal and unconstitutional program to spy on your online activities. Only now, with the Protect America Act, Congress has made that program legal.

This story isn’t about a few international intercepted telephone calls between Osama Bin Laden and the Muslim man with a beard and a ticking time bomb who just moved in down the street from FBI headquarters. This is about you and what you do online.

Think of all the things you do online, the web sites you visit, the personal information you transmit, the emails you send, the private things that you buy, the financial information you access. Furthermore, think of the private phone calls that go through many of the same communications systems as the Internet, hooked up to that NSA electronic surveillance operations seen by Mark Klein at the AT&T hub near San Francisco. Think of what someone could do to you if they had unrestricted access to all that information, even if you’re proud of everything you’ve ever said or seen online.

Think Total Information Awareness. That’s what Mark Klein did when he saw what the National Security Agency was up to in his workplace. Here’s an excerpt from the Frontline interview with Mark Klein:

“You might recall there was a big blowup in the news about the Total Information Awareness program, led by Admiral Poindexter, which caused the big upsetness in Congress, because what Poindexter was proposing to do was draw in databases from everywhere — and this was in The New York Times — draw in Internet data, bank records, travel records, everything into one big conglomeration which could be searchable by the government so they could find out everything about what anybody’s doing at any time of day. And all this would be done without any warrants. This is how it was presented by Poindexter himself in The New York Times, and that caused a great upset, brouhaha, in Congress…

We obviously started to speculate, because the stuff that was being talked about by Poindexter was he wanted to get, without warrants, huge databases so he could do searching and connect the dots, whatever that means, on everybody without warrants… And funny thing, by coincidence, here this NSA guy shows up in our office at the same time. And the Total Information Awareness Program is involved with the NSA and with DARPA, which is the Defense Projects Agency.

So I began to connect the two, because it seemed quite logical at least that if they are looking for large amounts of Internet data to sift through and vacuum up, what would be a perfect place? It would be in the Internet room at a place like AT&T. And lo and behold, the NSA guy shows up…

Then I started learning that it’s not only a new room; it’s a room that all the technicians cannot go into. Only the one guy — a management guy, no union people — a management field specialist with security clearance obviously given to him by the NSA, only he could go into this room, which was being built on the sixth floor, right next door to the phone switch room.”

Your very right to have a private life and to use the technology of the present day without having the government looking over your shoulder the whole time is what’s at stake.

You have the right to read this web page without Alberto Gonzales knowing that you did. That’s why this matters.

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