Saturday, May 20, 2006

Call Monitoring

In the days since USA Today broke the story about the NSA's efforts to analyze telephone traffic, I've come to the conclusion that, for the moment, I'm not upset by it. The content of the calls is not being monitored; only the traffic itself is being analyzed to see if patterns can be discerned. If the NSA can discover potential terrorists who might be operating in the US, or using US-based telephony equipment, good for them. And good for us. Unlike the previous furor over wiretapping, no actual eavesdropping is taking place. In that instance, I think the administration was wrong not to obtain warrants to listen to the phone calls of American citizens.

The problem for in this instance is precedent. Given the very real threat of terrorism, I think it's only prudent to use a technique that doesn't actually step into American's private lives. But given this President's flouting of law and flaunting of executive privilege, I'm not sure where he would draw the line. Would he decide at some point to apply the same techniques in order to, say, prosecute the continuingly ill-conceived drug war? What's to stop the administration from analyzing phone records to determine who's making calls to many different drug stores searching for ephedrine (used to make crystal meth)? Or, for that matter, to determine who might be paying a little less tax than they ought to, or...

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