Sunday, May 14, 2006

Why We Don't Trust Government Spying

Knight-Ridder: Government has long history of abusing personal information

WASHINGTON - President Bush has assured Americans that their government isn't spying on them, but history explains why many remain uneasy about this week's news that their phone records have been turned over to federal agents.

The government has a long track record of abusing personal information that's gathered in the name of national security. From the Red Scare in the 1920s to illegal wiretaps during the Nixon era, Americans have struggled to find the right balance between individual rights and collective security.

"The potential for abuse is awesome," a Senate investigation committee concluded in a 1976 report detailing illegal wiretaps, break-ins and other abuses that government agents committed in the 1960s and `70s.

The Senate panel, known as the "Church committee" after its chairman, Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, warned that technological advances would make it even harder for the government to stay within acceptable limits of respecting privacy rights, especially when the nation is at risk of attack.


In some cases, intelligence-gatherers try to use the information they collect against their enemies. In one of the most notorious examples, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover launched a campaign to discredit King that included an attempt to get him to commit suicide.

After gathering evidence of King's extramarital affairs, the agency sent a compilation of incriminating audiotapes to King's wife and sent him a note suggesting that he take his own life.

"King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. ... You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy fraudulent self is bared to the nation," the note said.

1 comment:

Rust Belt said...

Now, I don't trust them any further than I can throw 'em (sorry for the bad cliche), but legally speaking, aren't they within the law. The court has refused to extend a warrant requirement to the installation of pen registers (Smith v. Maryland).

Now, I suppose this can be distinguished on at least two grounds, (1) there is no specific suspicion leading to the placement of these pen registers, (2) they are recording call length in addition to just the number dialed. But, would a court extend protection based on either of those two grounds?

That is of course a consideration outside the basic question of whether we should allow this sort of activity on the part of the government. Thoughts?