Friday, February 29, 2008

Telecom Immunity Threatens the Constitution

George W. Bush and other Republican leaders have admitted that they oppose the extension of the "Protect America Act" passed by the House of Representatives because it does not give immunity to those telecommunications companies who willingly handed over the personal data of US citizens based on nothing more than a request from the Administration. Their reason? They claim that those telecommunications companies might not cooperate next time.

More than one blogger has pointed out that, if telecommunications companies were given warrants and subpoenas, they would have to cooperate next time, or suffer severe consequences. But I haven't seen anyone else make this point: we citizens don't want those telecommunications companies giving up our private data based on nothing more than a request from the government.

In appealing to one fear, the fear of terrorists, Bush and his enablers overlook a greater fear woven into the US Constitution: An authoritarian government represents a greater potential threat to its citizens than any potential terrorist. That's why the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution says:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The "Founding Fathers" knew from experience that a government's powers are so vast, the potential for abuse so real, and the possible damage so grave, that restrictions on the government's powers had to be established. And one of those "safety clauses" was a requirement that the government be forced to show "probable cause" before searching and seizing our effects. I submit that this would include our electronic "effects".

Alex Budarin

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