One of the foundational principles that allows democracy to function ethically is transparency. The current administration has already done far too much to compromise this principle in the name of national security. Now we are witnessing a pitched battle over legislation in Congress that would seem to have more to do with protecting monied special interests than the individual citizen. The Senate and the House of Representatives have each passed a bill to renew authorization for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but they differ on one critical point; immunity for possible illegalities on the part of telecommunication corporations. The Senate bill includes immunity that House rejects. FISA is good legislation that pre-dates 9/11 and establishes a rapid response judicial system for the government to get warrants for surveillance. But apparently the actions of the telecoms have violated the provision of FISA. Whistle blower Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician has testified before Congress that he participated in providing access to Internet transmissions traveling over AT&T's network, that was, in his words, “a huge, massive domestic dragnet on everybody in the United States."
In his State of the Union address, President Bush made a veiled threat of an impending threat and almost canceled is African trip all to protect immunity in the FISA bill. Why is there a need to protect the telecoms from their past actions? Indeed, what are those actions? If they violated the letter of the law in the spirit of true patriotism then why not bring the truth to light and allow the court of public opinion to pass judgment?
Why should we believe that we are being kept safe when ricin and an “anarchist manual” are found in a motel room in Las Vegas? This is exactly the sort of thing we were told the war on terrorism would protect us from, but authorities are saying there are no links to terrorism in this case. It is right that we protect our security, but at what cost?Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Essential liberty in a democracy must include the rule of law. Before the current so-called war on terrorism, our nation found ways to maintain the rule of law while still maintaining clandestine operations to provide for security. Why is is that all we have now is assurances that the government is protecting us from unseen threats and appeals to expand the scope of its power to do this work in secrecy? Where is the evidence to justify this trust? Our essential liberty is being attacked in the name of temporary safety, we must not succumb to fear. Let the truth come forth and defend itself in the name of liberty.