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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 11, 2014

 
What if Chris Christie had access to the NSA?

by digby

Yesterday on Ari Melber's show on MSNBC (which is really good, by the way) he and Glenn Greenwald chatted a bit about the Chris Christie scandal. And they both pointed out something that people should probably keep in mind as they think about the current ongoing conversation regarding civil liberties: imagine Chris Christie with the power of the NSA.

Here we have a politician who, at the very least, fostered the kind of political culture that encouraged his people to abuse the power of the office and particularly to exact retribution against his political enemies. We know this sort of thing has happened at the federal level many times in the past from J. Edgar Hoover to Dick Cheney. It's happening in New Jersey right now. And it's happeeing at the hands of someone virtually everyone understood until now to be a front-runner for the presidency. He even had a ton of donors and supporters among Democrats.

If he became president, it's clear that he would feel perfectly comfortable using these hardball tactics against his opponents. Or, perhaps more realistically, he would have felt perfectly comfortable letting people --- specifically politicians --- believe that he would do it. We know the NSA is collecting information on everyone. It's not hard to see a scenario in which a president Christie would drop that into a conversation. And since that stuff is all classified the person he brought it up to (thratened with) couldn't talk about it. Even if they did Christie could say he was "joking." But it's the fact that all that information is being collected and it's just sitting there waiting to be accessed that creates the threat.

Before google searches and email and text messages and phone locating services ever existed, we did not require the post office to copy every letter and send it to the government just in case they might want to look at it years later. Librarians have fought against government intrusion into the privacy rights of their patrons for years. In fact, this is the official policy of the American Library Association:
The Council of the American Library Association strongly recommends that the responsible officers of each library, cooperative system, and consortium in the United States:
Formally adopt a policy that specifically recognizes its circulation records and other records identifying the names of library users to be confidential. (See also ALA Code of Ethics, Article III, "We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted" and Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.)

Advise all librarians and library employees that such records shall not be made available to any agency of state, federal, or local government except pursuant to such process, order or subpoena as may be authorized under the authority of, and pursuant to, federal, state, or local law relating to civil, criminal, or administrative discovery procedures or legislative investigative power.

Resist the issuance of enforcement of any such process, order, or subpoena until such time as a proper showing of good cause has been made in a court of competent jurisdiction.
I don't think there's any law requiring libraries to keep information about its patrons' reading habits for periods of years just in case the government wants to look at it either. This idea of having the information available "just in case" is really quite new. And i don't think we've thought through the implications of that.

I'm sure that president Obama isn't ordering politically friendly NSA and FBI supporters to find damaging information against his political rivals. And I'm sure he isn't even hinting that he is, even in a joking fashion, when he is engaged in important legislative negotiations. But somebody could. Chris Christie could. And I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Chris Christie, under political pressure, could easily order the surveillance of dissenters. And think about this: he is a former US Attorney, with friends throughout federal law enforcement. I'm sure most of them are as honest as the day is long. And I'm also sure there are a few who aren't.

Finally, since the NSA cannot even point to any terrorist plots that have been successfully foiled with this massive collection, this little demonstration in political thuggishness up in New Jersey this week from the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association and an early favorite for the GOP presidential nomination should make even the supporters ask themselves whether or not these programs are really worth it. Just because the technology exists to keep this information doesn't mean we should do it.


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