Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rand Paul filibuster

I normally try to stay away from political-type posts, but I was riding my exercise bike today I came across Rand Paul's filibuster over the CIA director nomination on C-Span. While I'm normally not a fan of actions like this that add to gridlock - I appreciate what Paul was doing, and hope the focus he puts on privacy and rights gains some traction. His particular focus was on the usage of drones, but the bigger argument he stressed was about privacy, rights to privacy, and the scope of personal freedom and governmental security concerns.

I'd thought about this for a while - especially as it regards to terrorism and post 9-11 realities. I was particularly concerned about things like wire-taping, holding suspects indefinitely without charges, enhanced interrogation techniques / torture, and just the general framework of how you adapt to real and dangerous asymmetrical threats while still maintaining a free and open society.

I believe it was Newt Gingrich who I saw speaking about this quite a while back - and he proposed a dual law enforcement system with a "wall" between it and the normal law enforcement system. I could be misattributing to Gingrich, but I liked the model proposed where certain asymmetric threats like terrorism are prosecuted under a different set of laws - outside of the normal judicial system. Additionally, if increased surveilence is needed - it should be very clearly and restrictively defined as to how any data collected can be used so that this type of surveilance does not turn into "fishing" expeditions for other agendas. For example: with drones it would probably be easy for law enforcement to track any of us 24 hours a day for our entire lives, and use NSA data to sneak into all of our phone conversations, and probably eventually at some point have so many microphones set up that even just basic conversations we have everyday are captured somewhere. Facial recognition technology is being employed in places already to identify people, and as technology gets better anonymity in public is going to be greatly reduced.

When I've talked to friends about this, worrying about computerized monitoring of phone calls (is it so crazy to be concerned given the ability of computers to mass translate speech now?), they say "well, if you're not doing anything wrong what are you worried about?". The thing is that the people in power running those systems don't always use them the way they're supposed to. For example, Martin Luther King had has reportedly had a 17,000 page FBI file and had running wiretaps on him from 1958 until his death. Any chance info uncovered was used improperly to intimidate and put leverage on him? Or, Richard Nixon and staff utilized wiretaps to find information on political enemies and this ultimately led to his resignation. So the question to me isn't whether we should be concerned about privacy - I think it's pretty clear we should assume that those in power have a tough time respecting privacy when it's inconvenient to do so. As a result it makes sense to me to say that if this power to invade privacy is going to exist, very clear rules about how this power is used need to be designed.

If this requires a constitutional amendment, the so be it (it'd probably be a good national debate to have) but we've seen cases such as the Rico statute where the law is modified to see a pattern of behavior as constitution a criminal enterprise - and this in particular was used to target mafia crime families. It addressed how do you prosecute an enterprise that exists, but those running the enterprise only give orders - but never carry out the crime themselves? This sounds alot like the the asymmetrical aspects of terrorism where you have certain leaders who incite or command dangerous activity, but don't carry out the activity themselves. To me it would seem cleaner if we would have a constitutional amendment clarifying how we deal with these types of situations where it seems some basic rights like Rand Paul mentions are potentially being infringed - especially the right to privacy. I don't think there's any way to stop what technology is going to be able to do in the future, but we can carve out how that technology can and cannot be used and how it relates to civil rights.

edit: Gail Collins had a good op-ed in the NYTimes about this filibuster also.

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