Saturday, February 02, 2008

Cato for Tyranny?

Knowledge is Power (motto of the U.S. Information Awareness Office).

On Friday, Congress gave the "Protect America Act" a fifteen-day extension. This is a terrible piece of legislation, totalitarian in nature. It’s part of an effort that, if successful, will eventually ensure that the federal government intercepts and monitors all electronic communications. (Yes all electronic communications.) The average American seems to be unfamiliar with things like IAO, TIA (Total Information Awareness), and ADVISE (Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement), unfortunately.

But at least one would hope those with a special regard for liberty and limits on government power would be in the fight to stop the total information state. Unfortunately, Cato Institute V.P. for Legal Affairs, Roger Pilon, has written a dreadful editorial in favor of the PAA, as well as legislation that would remove from the courts citizen lawsuits against telecoms who knowingly and willingly helped the NSA (National Security Agency) to intercept and monitor millions of private communications of citizens, without warrant, probable cause or suspicion, judicial oversight, or anything other than a mere wish to do so. Pilon’s editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal on the day of the vote, and was obviously timed to influence the vote.

Cato ought to expel Pilon from its ranks. If Vladimir Putin argued that he ought to have the power to intercept and read the personal communications of all Russians, we’d all agree this was his KGB training in action, and lament the return of the Soviet police state. Pilon’s position is equally totalitarian. His claim that this is all a matter of foreign policy is complete nonsense. Foreign policy is the conduct of relations with foreign governments, while this concerns the police powers to intercept and monitor citizens’ communications. These powers are quite limited, including by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It’s not the case, incidentally, that only communications with abroad have been swept up. There’s evidence that NSA was intercepting entirely domestic communications en masse. But if these court cases are shut down, as Pilon wants, no citizen will have recourse to the courts in these matters, and we’ll have no way to establish this.

This legislation is a real nightmare. For an excellent discussion of the dangers see the short op-ed by Dennis Fisher of Information Security magazine.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has excellent resources on NSA’s warrantless spying and the amnesty proposals for telecoms who happily participated. For those interested in the damning technical details, see in particular the testimony of AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein. And there’s a good discussion of ADVISE at FindLaw.

Tom Palmer documents that most people at Cato are opposed to Pilon’s view, but for Cato to have allowed this editorial to go out under its name, on the day of a key vote, is too much. The message: look, PAA must be OK, even the libertarians at Cato approve of it.

This is not some small difference of opinion over difficult issue with good arguments on either side. This is limited government under law vs. the unrestricted total information state. Cato needs to correct this, and now.


P.S. The IAO symbol portrayed here appears to be something the Federal Government itself developed and and actually used. And if it didn't, it should have.

honestly, I do not understand the noise around this issue. Isn't Mr Pilon entitled to his own analytical views on the topic? Is there a "line of conduct" and a "line of thinking" at CATO? I always thought that their strength was (a) their diversity, (b) their international horizon. They gain much more by having two scholars arguing on the same issue (which happens frenquently) than by having someone who produces papers nobody reads. They are movers and shakers. It should stay that way. NV
NV, there's ample reason to believe that the federal government knowingly violated the law, in fact billions of violations, with no pressing reason to do so. The nature of the violations is particularly chilling for liberty, and KGB-like in nature. On the day of a key Congressional vote, Pilon published an op-ed calling for Congress to pass retroactive immunity for some of those who are being sued for helping the government break the law. This isn't some difficult academic debate; Pilon endorsed the creation of a police state. I donate to Cato, and am mad as hell about this.
Charles, I understand that you may disagree and why. I was always grateful for the many things that I learned from CATO papers and conferences on economics and individual freedom in the past. All this coming, most of the time, from people who have helped, initiated or implemented reforms. People who know what they are talking about, i.e. “movers”.
From time to time though, I am also getting hysterical outburts, especially when reading the papers by Ted Galen Carpenter. I find some of his understanding of international affairs... from “another planet”. But the truth of the matter is that I also WANT to read it, yes I NEED to read it. It makes me think. That's where you also need "shakers".Incidentally, putting think in the tank is also the title of these remarks:
I can understand a vigorous libertarian debate about monetary policy, or foreign policy, or tax reform, etc.

But a libertarian debate about whether America needs unrestricted, unsupervised KGB-like domestic spying? And whether or not Americans should be deprived of their rights to go to court over violations of the law? Are you kidding?

If we were debating tax reform, I'd not be upset if one libertarian argued for a flat tax, another for fair tax, another for abolition & replacment with user fees. But I'd consider it out of line for someone to publish, in Cato's name, a "libertarian" defense of massive tax increases across the board.

Pilon's egregious article wasn't a contribution to a debate, it was timed to influence a Congressional vote on the PAA and related issues. America is going down a very dangerous path by formally institutionalizing wholesale, blanket domestic spying. I cannot imagine Hillary or McCain reversing this course. This kind of legislation must be stopped now, and Pilon has gone to the side of the police state with his editorial.
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