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On the Gradual Loss of Liberty in the Bipartisan Age of Privileging Security

I can outsource my commentary on the Administration’s moves to make their entire assassination program a state secret, to wiretap the whole Internet and to track every bank transfer in and out of the country to Marcy (here and here) and Glenn. Clearly we don’t have much intra-party disagreement on depriving civil liberties at the highest levels of the US government. Nearly a decade on, 9-11 still gets used as a pretext for tracking virtually every communication or transaction that Americans make, and for using deadly force on even US citizens without the benefit of oversight or due process.

I’ll just throw a couple thoughts in here. First, the Obama Administration has had ample time to formulate a policy on wiretapping in the age of the Internet. They had the opportunity to study it from the beginnings of the campaign in early 2007. Only now does the White House plan to submit legislation to Congress on this next year – just in time for a new, more conservative Congress to take over in Washington. Whether Democrats win or lose the House and Senate, the next Congress will certainly be more receptive to the interests of the liberty-depriving crowd, despite the con game of the tea party movement and their alleged libertarian concerns. This is the same movement that has partnered with telecom agencies over wanting to end net neutrality protections. There may be a disconnect between screaming about a government takeover of the Internet, and legislation which calls for… a government takeover of the Internet, or at least the capability to spy on it, but I’m not sure it will occur to any of the hard-right supporters. They’ve placed security above liberty every time.

Second, with respect to the assassination program and the state secrets privilege: the Administration isn’t really making their asserted right to kill anyone and everyone anywhere in the world a secret. They’re actually becoming more brazen, as witnessed by a genuine airstrike in Pakistan today:

Pakistan disputed NATO’s claim Monday that its forces have the right of hot pursuit across the Afghan border after coalition helicopters launched airstrikes that killed more than 50 militants who had escaped into Pakistan following an attack on an Afghan security post.

Pakistan said it had strongly protested to NATO over the airstrikes, which a coalition spokesman justified on grounds of “self-defense.” Pakistan is sensitive about attacks on its territory, but U.S. officials have said they have the right to cross a few miles (kilometers) into Pakistani airspace if they are attacked and in hot pursuit of a target.

Pakistan denied Monday such an understanding exists.

To believe NATO, you’d have to take the claim at face value that the same militants who struck the Afghan security post were the ones who fleed across the border. But it’s less the situation than the assertion of a right that should scare everyone. NATO attacked inside a sovereign country’s border with a made-up mandate. For the moment, the assertion extends to hot pursuit and a few miles inside Pakistan. Tomorrow it will be for any “plotting” inside Pakistan, and a few more miles. Then it will be based on raw intelligence reports. And before you know it, “secret” drone attacks will have morphed into an air war over Pakistan, resembling the bombing campaign in Cambodia in the 1970s.

This slow extension into more and more aggressive techniques mirrors the extension of more and more “security” programs that invade privacy. First it was just big international bank transfers and suspected terrorists’ phone conversations. Then it’s every transfer of funds and the entire Internet and phone network. What’s next?

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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