Bruce Schneier, security expert extraordinaire, writes Uncle Sam is listening:
The fundamental issue here [in the spying scandal] is security, but it’s not the security most people think of. James Madison famously said: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Terrorism is a serious risk to our nation, but an even greater threat is the centralization of American political power in the hands of any single branch of the government.
Over 200 years ago, the framers of the U.S. Constitution established an ingenious security device against tyrannical government: they divided government power among three different bodies. A carefully thought out system of checks and balances in the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch, ensured that no single branch became too powerful.
This is about security. I’d be as worked up if Bill Clinton did it. I remember the way Clinton’s Clipper encryption/key escrow system was shot down, and rightly so. People thought it was silly to have an encryption system where the government had all the keys and the encryption algorithm was secret. It was bad policy.
In talking with Katie Couric this morning, Alberto “Bind, Torture, Kill” Gonzales first said the President didn’t need Congressional approval, then later suggested that they didn’t ask Congress because Congress wouldn’t approve. There’s a contradiction there, and it goes to the heart of Schneier’s point.
He speculates, expanding on DefenseTech’s theory, that Bush ordered NSA to turn Echelon inward. Echelon is a massive search engine for pretty much all the phone calls, emails, and other communications that NSA and other members of the UK-USA alliance intercept. It scoops up everything possible, then tries to filter out the interesting parts. If that’s true, every international call with an American participant was fed into Echelon, every call I made to Ms. TfK, ever call we made to her family abroad, every call to friends overseas, every call I made home when visiting Europe, has been sucked into NSA’s gaping maw, with no legislative safeguards.
Running things through a computerized search like this raises complex legal issues, and I’m sure legislative authority could be arranged for this program, with appropriate safeguards and oversight, if this is what happened. I think that could be done in an acceptable way. But it violates both the spirit and letter of existing law, and I want the Peeping Tom in Chief to do jail time for that.