Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thom Hartmann Interviews the ACLU's Michael German on "Whole-Body-Imaging" and Greenwald Comments on our Surveillance State

I've been posting about the insanity of making this technology mandatory in airports for the past few weeks, so to get the whole story, you can go here, here, and here.

For today's purposes, let's get right to this outstanding discussion between Air America's Thom Hartmann and the ACLU's Michael German:

As I continue to point out here, before we all run to hide in our closets, gladly give up our civil liberties and freedoms, support wars on nation's that did nothing to us, and sign off on wasting HUGE amounts of money on ineffectual security systems, consider this: Your chances of getting hit by lightning in one year is 500,000 to 1 while the odds you’ll be killed by a terrorist on a plane over 10 years is 10 million to 1. At what point does the ever increasing list of passenger indignities end?

Now, in addition to us beleaguered travelers going shoeless, beltless and waterless, nail clipper-less...we’ve got to be electronically strip searched too? Here are a few other factoids to consider when determining whether we want to be electronically violated every time we try and fly, as pointed out by blogger Brad Friedman:

“If you count the Ft. Hoot shooting as a terrorist attack (which it wasn’t, and isn’t even considered one by experts), 16 people have died in the United States as result of terrorism in 2009. The other three deaths include the Little Rock military recruiting office shooting (1), the Holocaust Museum shooting (1), and Dr. George Tiller’s assassination (1), the last two coming at the hands of right-wing extremists. Now let's compare that to the 45,000 Americans that died because they didn’t have health insurance and 600 died from salmonella poisoning."

So let's scrap the whole meme that we should live in fear and that we must give up our constitutional rights in order to be safe from a threat that is a fraction of that posed by lightning, salmonella, and the health insurance industry.

I want to leave you with the words of perhaps the most articulate defender of civil liberties we have today, Glenn Greenwald:

Every debate over expanded government surveillance power is invariably framed as one of "security v. privacy and civil liberties" -- as though it's a given that increasing the Government's surveillance authorities will "make us safer." But it has long been clear that the opposite is true. As numerous experts (such as Rep. Rush Holt [1]) have attempted, with futility, to explain, expanding the scope of raw intelligence data collected by our national security agencies invariably impedes rather than bolsters efforts to detect terrorist plots.

This is true for two reasons: (1) eliminating strict content limits on what can be surveilled (along with enforcement safeguards, such as judicial warrants) means that government agents spend substantial time scrutinizing and sorting through communications and other information that have nothing to do with terrorism [2]; and (2) increasing the quantity of what is collected makes it more difficult to find information relevant to actual terrorism plots. As Rep. Holt put it when arguing against the obliteration of FISA safeguards and massive expansion of warrantless eavesdropping power which a bipartisan Congress effectuated last year:

It has been demonstrated that when officials must establish before a court that they have reason to intercept communications -- that is, that they know what they are doing -- we get better intelligence than through indiscriminate collection and fishing expeditions.

The failure of the U.S. Government to detect the fairly glaring Northwest Airlines Christmas plot -- despite years and years of constant expansions of Surveillance State powers -- illustrates this dynamic perfectly. As President Obama said yesterday [3], the Government -- just as was true for 9/11 [4] -- had gathered more than enough information to have detected this plot, or at least to have kept Abdulmutallab off airplanes and out of the country. Yet our intelligence agencies -- just as was true for 9/11 -- failed to understand what they had in their possession. Why is that? Because they had too much to process, including too much data wholly unrelated to Terrorism. In other words, our panic-driven need to vest the Government with more and more surveillance power every time we get scared again by Terrorists -- in the name of keeping us safe -- has exactly the opposite effect. Numerous pieces of evidence prove that.


The problem is never that the U.S. Government lacks sufficient power to engage in surveillance, interceptions, intelligence-gathering and the like. Long before 9/11 -- from the Cold War -- we have vested extraordinarily broad surveillance powers in the U.S. Government to the point that we have turned ourselves into a National Security and Surveillance State. Terrorist attacks do not happen because there are too many restrictions on the government's ability to eavesdrop and intercept communications, or because there are too many safeguards and checks.

If anything, the opposite is true: the excesses of the Surveillance State -- and the steady abolition of oversights and limits -- have made detection of plots far less likely. Despite that, we have an insatiable appetite -- especially when we're frightened anew -- to vest more and more unrestricted spying and other powers in our Government, which -- like all governments -- is more than happy to accept it.

Read the full article here.

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