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

Monday, March 10, 2008


I guess that Eliot Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap asking for a prostitute to be sent from New York to Washington, DC. The law is pretty clear on this and that's a violation of the Mann Act.

However, the Mann Act is occasionally used for political purposes. And the bigger story here is how normal it is for federal wiretaps to be used in prostitution cases. We have this situation where the Terrorists are lurking and ready to kill us in our beds at night, according to Republicans, and let US Attorneys are spending their time on this. And after reading this report in the Wall Street Journal, I think it's not much of a leap to consider how these wiretaps could be used for partisan political purposes.

Here's the way the whole thing works, according to Gorman: into the NSA's massive database goes data collected by the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Treasury. This information includes data about email (recipient and sender address, subject, time sent), internet searches (sites visited and searches conducted), phone calls (incoming and outgoing numbers, length of call, location), financial information (wire transfers, credit-card use, information about bank accounts), and information from the DHS about airline passengers.

Then the NSA's software analyzes this data for indications of terrorist activity. When it hits upon a suspicious pattern, the NSA "feeds its findings into the effort the administration calls the Terrorist Surveillance Program and shares some of that information with other U.S. security agencies.”

Here's a more in-depth explanation:

"Two former officials familiar with the data-sifting efforts said they work by starting with some sort of lead, like a phone number or Internet address. In partnership with the FBI, the systems then can track all domestic and foreign transactions of people associated with that item -- and then the people who associated with them, and so on, casting a gradually wider net. An intelligence official described more of a rapid-response effect: If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city -- for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans -- the government's spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city.

The haul can include records of phone calls, email headers and destinations, data on financial transactions and records of Internet browsing. The system also would collect information about other people, including those in the U.S., who communicated with people in Detroit."

You can't tell me that such a massive drift net can't be employed in a situation like this, and to furthermore take down every single Democratic politician in the country if they ever got so much as near trouble. It's really not a conspiracy; this stuff is publicly available and out there.

At the very least, we should continue to question the enormity of the national surveillance state that we have created over the last several years. I don't personally think prostitution should be illegal; it's a victimless crime and it should be properly regulated rather than the shadow environment in which it exists today where exploitation is rampant. If it remains a crime, certainly it should be prosecuted. But let's prioritize the criminal justice system. And let's keep heavy oversight over this surveillance state which is spinning out of control.

...In this context, I'd say that fixing FISA is of paramount importance.

...I completely agree with this and I wish we'd shuffle off those Puritan bonds of history, but these are the laws we have:

If I were in charge of writing laws, I do not believe that anyone belongs in jail for procuring or (certainly) selling sex for money, or that any criminal offense more severe than a ticket for the purchaser should be involved.

If poor sex workers are thrown in jail under existing laws, then affluent white johns sure as hell should be too. This goes double for people who have positions that might allow them to work to repeal laws they don't feel are just.

... Glenn Greenwald also has some worthy thoughts. Our discomfort as a nation with sex and morality really becomes pronounced at moments like this.

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