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Why Should I Worry If I’m Not Doing Anything Wrong?

Here's Reason #4,739 in an ongoing series:

F.B.I. Data Mining Reached Beyond Initial Targets

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 — The F.B.I. cast a much wider net in its terrorism investigations than it has previously acknowledged by relying on telecommunications companies to analyze phone-call patterns of the associates of Americans who had come under suspicion, according to newly obtained bureau records.

The documents indicate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used secret demands for records to obtain data not only on individuals it saw as targets but also details on their “community of interest” — the network of people that the target was in contact with. The bureau stopped the practice early this year in part because of broader questions raised about its aggressive use of the records demands, which are known as national security letters, officials said.

The community of interest data sought by the F.B.I. is central to a data-mining technique intelligence officials call link analysis. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American counterterrorism officials have turned more frequently to the technique, using communications patterns and other data to identify suspects who may not have any other known links to extremists.

The concept has strong government proponents who see it as a vital tool in predicting and preventing attacks, and it is also thought to have helped the National Security Agency identify targets for its domestic eavesdropping program. But privacy advocates, civil rights leaders and even some counterterrorism officials warn that link analysis can be misused to establish tenuous links to people who have no real connection to terrorism but may be drawn into an investigation nonetheless… (more)

Despite evidence to the contrary, we're trained to believe that innocent people are never caught up in law enforcement investigations. And should the unthinkable occur, the movies show us that they will be exonerated in the end. The movies don't generally show us whether they are restored to their former status – with family, reputation, livelihood, and back pay intact – but we seem to presume that will be the case.

We also want to believe, with all our hearts, that law enforcement agencies never overreach, never push that proverbial envelope, never outright break the laws they're intended to enforce. I'm not sure why we hold tightly to the tenet that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” except when it comes to agencies like the FBI, but we do. Hell, there are people who listened to every excruciating minute of the US Attorney hearings, which branched off into the highly questionable hiring/firing practices throughout the Justice Department, and still insist that no one broke any laws – even after Monica Goodling admitted she did.

So we know that the FBI misused its authority by issuing National Security Letters, that it was forced to stop using the them (at least as far as we know) after its misbehavior was made public, and that a judge just declared the portion of the Patriot Act dealing with NSLs to be unconstitutional. Or we do if we've been watching the news or reading the paper. But do we really know it, in the part of ourselves that should be outraged about it?

I'm not sure we do, and that is even more frightening than the story itself. We've been told over and over that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. Do we really think the best way to solve that problem is to give them up?

Tuesday is the sixth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. Six years out, we have an administration that has no problem stepping all over the civil liberties of citizens and a Congress that can't seem to summon the backbone to rein in the excesses. We have a president whose stated philosophy includes accruing as much power as possible to the executive branch (all the while pretending that some parts of the executive branch aren't actually part of the executive branch, except when said parts need to take advantage of a grossly inflated concept of executive privilege) and a Congress that is terrified of being blamed in the event of another attack. We're mired in the midst of one preemptive war and to all appearances contemplating another one.  Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden is still making videos (if that's really him), and the Taliban has made a comeback in Afghanistan.

I don't think I'd call that progress.  But then again, why should I worry?  I'm not doing anything wrong.

Cross-posted at Birmingham Blues. 

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