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Opening Arguments

Over the line?

Here's another issue that will surely get sucked into the great partisan divide. Many Republicans who gave President Bush a pass on it will be outraged at the Obama administration, and many Democrats who excoriated Bush for it will give Obama a pass:

The Obama administration is secretly carrying out a domestic surveillance program under which it is collecting business communications records involving Americans under a hotly debated section of the Patriot Act, according to a highly classified court order disclosed on Wednesday night.

A senior Obama administration official said on Thursday morning that the business records of Verizon customers sought in the court order disclosed by the newspaper The Guardian “does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls” and “does not include the content of any communications or the name of any subscriber,” but rather “relates exclusively to metadata, such as a telephone number or the length of the call.”

The official emphasized that “all three branches of government are involved in reviewing and authorizing” any domestic intelligence collection under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and that any surveillance activities under it are overseen by the Justice Department, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the FISA Court “to ensure that they comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.”

The issue is serious enough, though, that we should at least attempt to debate the pros and cons on the merits rather than our political predispostions. The central question back in the Bush years remains the question today: In our attempts to balance security and freedom, when do we go too far in chipping away at our vicil liberties? I don't know if this does, but it sure seems awfully close. Anytime someone claims a blanket authority to do something, as opposed to a specifically tarrgeted and justified individal search, there is the danger that the authority will be abused. And this is an administration that has shown a talent for ovverreach, as it did on swooping down on The Associated Press in its search for a leaker. Maybe this will stay a search for megadata and they really won't listen to specific conversations, but their claim that they will always comply with the Conctution and laws of the land comes off as "We're from the government and we're here to help you" BS.

Now, here's the really scary one:

The FBI is unhappy that there are communications technologies that it cannot intercept and wants to require that software makers and communications companies create a back door so they can listen in when they desire.

But a team of technology experts warns the move would hand over to the nation’s enemies abilities they are not capable of developing for themselves.

The Washington Post reported the issue is being raised by the FBI because “there is currently no way to wiretap some of these communications methods easily, and companies effectively.”

The solution, according to the FBI, is to fine companies when they fail to comply with wiretap orders, essentially requiring all companies to build a back door for wiretap capabilities into all their communications links.