Checks and Balances

Hiawatha Bray, a reporter and apparent government apologist who doesn’t seem to understand the 4th amendment to the constitution, notes on Dave Farber’s IP list:

In all the fuss about the NSA spying issue, it’s sometimes forgotten that there are real bad guys out there, who badly need to be spied on. Here’s a story that makes the point, from today’s London Times.

Speaking as plainly as possible, noted security expert Steve Bellovin responds, and I agree 100 percent with what he says. I’m sure all patriotic Americans also agree; after all, we spent most of my life fighting the Communists who, we were told at the time, spied on their people in a way that should be unimaginable to freedom loving Americans.

The issue has never been whether or not there are bad guys or even whether or not there should be spying. The issue is the authorization to do so, and the checks and balances on surveillance requests.

The Fourth Amendment recognized this, more than 200 years ago. It doesn’t outlaw searches; it does, however, require an outside check on what is to be searched and why. Without such checks, we’re open to arbitrary abuses of executive power. We’ve already seen the claim that the government is using the phone call databases to track down leakers. Is this legal? I’m hard-put to think that it is, since they’re using the very sort of broad spectrum fishing that is specifically barred by the Fourth Amendment. (By the way, don’t make the mistake of thinking that traffic analysis is new, and hence unanticipatable by the framers of the Bill of Rights. I recently stumbled on a report of a spy, noting who was meeting, how frequently, and how many messages were sent out following such meetings. This was in 1603.)