As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Federal Judge - Hey Bush, Hang On To Those Emails

The primaries are around the corner, but there's still a lot of loose threads with the criminal lawbreaking of the current Administration, and today, there was some movement on one front.

A federal judge Monday ordered the White House to preserve copies of all its e-mails, a move that Bush administration lawyers had argued strongly against.

U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy directed the Executive Office of the President to safeguard the material in response to two lawsuits that seek to determine whether the White House has destroyed e-mails in violation of federal law.

This is key for a couple of reasons.

For one, we still haven't gotten to the bottom of what happened to 5 million magical disappearing emails, and ensuring oversight will prevent this and future Administrations from trying that trick again, as well as strengthening the fight to actually find those emails destroyed since 2003, by getting the courts on the record that this is a crime in violation of the Federal Records Act. The White House may now have to explain in a public setting what happened to those prior missing emails. We don't even know what those emails relate to, but it's likely they have at least something to do with the Valerie Plame case, as the dates line up with when then-White House Counsel Abu Gonzales was told to preserve all relevant documents and then didn't inform the staff officially until 12 hours later.

The second reason that this ruling has broad relevance is because of what happened about a month ago at an intelligence conference in San Antonio.

As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information.

This was one of those inadvertent moments of telling the truth that crop up from time to time in the Bush era (think: "it'd be a lot easier if this was a dictatorship, so long as I'm the dictator.") The goal of the Administration is to eliminate the Fourth Amendment and provide unchecked surveillance powers to the executive in the name of national security, though what those powers would actually be used for is anybody's guess. And the proof for how this debate is completely phony can be seen in today's ruling. The White House has no problem asking 300 million Americans to willingly give up any reasonable expectation of privacy, but zealously guards THEIR OWN, even though the consensus through hundreds of years is that their records must be preserved for history.

It's also completely ridiculous that the White House is claiming that they simply lost those 5 million emails when we know that they have the technology to do this:

The central witness in a California lawsuit against AT&T says the government is vacuuming up billions of e-mails and phone calls as they pass through an AT&T switching station in San Francisco.

Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, helped connect a device in 2003 that he says diverted and copied onto a government supercomputer every call, e-mail, and Internet site access on AT&T lines.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the class-action suit, claims there are as many as 20 such sites in the U.S.

At the least, the White House emails are in this system.

This claim that we must give up some privacy for security is maybe the most pernicious of the Bush era, with far-reaching effects for the future of American civil liberties. They are floating this idea that, because we use our credit cards in e-commerce and our real names on Facebook, somehow government spying must be OK. Yet they fail to allow for the most secure possible oversight, through the National Archives, when it comes to their own communications.

"Those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it's not for us to inflict one size fits all," said Kerr, 68. "Protecting anonymity isn't a fight that can be won. Anyone that's typed in their name on Google understands that."

"Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety," Kerr said. "I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but (also) what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn't empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere."

Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that defends online free speech, privacy and intellectual property rights, said Kerr's argument ignores both privacy laws and American history.

"Anonymity has been important since the Federalist Papers were written under pseudonyms," Opsahl said. "The government has tremendous power: the police power, the ability to arrest, to detain, to take away rights. Tying together that someone has spoken out on an issue with their identity is a far more dangerous thing if it is the government that is trying to tie it together."

That's why we have to pay attention to what happens in the next 14 months, on all fronts, rather than just hope for better in the future with a new President . The precedents that are being set now will carry over for decades, and we must continue to completely reject these claims of unchecked surveillance coupled with official secrecy.

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