Wednesday, January 04, 2006


A Reasonable Search?

There is a new argument out: BushCO's datamining activities are Constitutional because they are "reasonable" and the Constitution only bans "unreasonable" searches.

Aside from the issue of who decides a search is reasonable (I am not a lawyer, but I always thought that you knew a search is reasonable if you could get a warrant for it! no warrant? why not? ... the search must have been unreasonable!), there is the issue of how do you decide if a search is reasonable.

The defense of BushCO is that what they are doing is datamining not actually wiretapping -- so it isn't as if your privacy is being violated by having someone listen in on your conversation. The subtext being that if you've not done anything wrong, why would you care if a computer is listening in on your conversation: it isn't as if the computer is going to snicker at your personal business.

Unfortunately, the media have been negligent in checking on whether this argument itself is reasonable. Look -- in my research I make forays into the field of dataming. I've even published results in this field. And I can say with professional confidence that datamining is not always reasonable! There are false negatives. There are false positives -- remember the joke from the CONTELPRO (before my time, but I know it) days about the Hollywood executives being tracked as terrorists because someone listened in on a phone call with key words like "[that movie] bombed" and "[that other movie] exploded"? If what BushCO is doing is to be considered reasonable, before they can actually use the results of these searches to catch bad guys, they need to justify (in court, to Congress, to the public ... but to someone other than themselves) their reasonability with some statistical evidence that the false positive and false negative rates (or better, recall and precision) are acceptible. If BushCO cannot justify what they are doing, they are not only wasting resources and time which could be directed toward actual catching of terrorists, but they are tainting whatever cases could have been made against the people against whom we are spying. As for the argument, we have to give up liberties in a time of war: did Congress declare war? And what of the "original intent" of our Founding Fathers (where are the "conservative" justices now?)? Didn't Ben Franklin say "those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither"? Does BushCO feel we deserve neither liberty nor security?

Indeed, all of this fooling around by BushCO does make one question whether or not they really do want to fight the "war" on terrorism. By shrouding our fight in secrecy, they have made it impossible for us to judge whether or not they are actually getting results (which makes their defenders' comments about "what BushCO's doing may be keeping us safe, but we don't know 'cause it's a secret" so much pissing in the wind and telling us all it's raining), which begs the question: how come they are not, in the stereotypical Texas style, bragging, in some reasonably concrete way, about how well their methods are working? The fact is that they either have no results (in which case their methods are not reasonable and hence are not Constitutional by their defenders' arguments) or they don't even know whether what they are doing is working! And if they cannot even track it themselves (forget about justifying it to the rest of us), how can they improve what they are doing to keep us safe?

This sheds new light on BushCO's argument that revealing the existence of probably illegal searches hinders our fight against terrorism. Are Al Qaeda et al. really going to change their communication techniques making themselves harder to catch 'cause they now know we are listening in? No -- presumably any group clever enough, and violently paranoid enough, to pull off 9/11 is already assuming their conversations are monitored anyway. But what BushCO is tellingly arguing is that revealing the existence of these searches is giving aid and comfort to the enemy: by revealing that BushCO is doing this (and yet has not been able to successfully prosecute real terrorists), the leaker has publically revealed that BushCO has no strategy nor intends to have a strategy to really fight the organized crime that is global terrorism. At one time those in the admin (or at least defending the admin) who really do care about fighting bad guys (e.g. the neo-cons who supported McCain in 2000 and opposed Bush until the latter got the nomination thanks to religious right funded dirty tricks) could at least think the Chimperor was just wearing an invisible suit. But now it is obvious to all -- US citizens, terrorists, etc. -- that BushCO really has nothing. And that is why some neo-con types are quite bona fide in their criticism of the leaker for giving comfort to the enemy. 'Cause the leaker, by showing BushCO -- law enforcementwise -- has no clothes, showed that we really are not fighting to win the war on terrorism.

Of course, it should be pointed out that there is no incentive for BushCO and those making money on the war on terrorism to actually win it, now is there? We "won" the Cold War (well, actually, the other side folded) and look at what that did to the financial backers of BushCO. A war on terrorism that is unwinnable will prevent such losses by the military industrial complex. Am I saying they planned 9/11? Hell no! They didn't have to -- it was inevitable, especially with BushCO turning a blind eye to Saudi terror networks. Heck -- Hitler was probably right: it was leftists who burnt down the Reichstag. But conflict of interest does not require conspiracy. If people would read their Eisenhower, they would know that folks like me are not wide-eyed conspiracy theorists but just pointing out a simple (what those on the right in other contexts -- like trying to destroy welfare programs -- call "simple economic truths") truth about how judgment is clouded by self-interest.

But now that clouding of judgment -- coming with an ideology that says judgment is pointless anyway -- is hurting our security. I hope the electorate finally comes to realize this and throws these BushCO bums out!

Cool guestbook, interesting information... Keep it UP
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