Will the National Surveillance State Prevail Again?
By Scott Horton
Late last week, the House Democratic leadership (which is to say, Congressman Steny Hoyer) announced a “breakthrough” in discussions with the White House and the Republicans which would produce a “compromise” in the long fight over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I have taken several days to look over the legislation and have some comments.
First, the debate over FISA is of vital significance to our country. The issues are simple. They go to protection of our democracy, now under unrelenting attack by the Bush Administration. Repeatedly, official spokesmen for the administration have mischaracterized the FISA statute, misstated the import of their own proposals, and have used fear as a tool to try to ram through ill-considered legislation that would undermine one of the fundamental principles of the American republic: the notion that the Government’s intrusion into the private dealings of its citizens can occur only after a check through the judicial branch. [more...]
Most relevant to this blog:
In a sense, the entire experience with the FISA legislation works to demonstrate the darkest fears that James Madison articulated about war and fear-mongering and their ability to undermine the essential checks-and-balances of the United States Constitution. In 1798, at the height of the Quasi-War with France, which was shamelessly manipulated by the Federalists for partisan purposes, Madison wrote to Jefferson:
The management of foreign relations appears to be the most susceptible of abuse, of all the trusts committed to a Government, because they can be concealed or disclosed, or disclosed in such parts & at such times as will best suit particular views; and because the body of the people are less capable of judging & are more under the influence of prejudices, on that branch of their affairs, than of any other. Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions agst. danger real or pretended from abroad.
In a like manner, the Bush Administration’s “war on terror” has provided a pretext to transform the American republic into a new form of state. In place of the Founders’ carefully counterposed checks and balances, the Bush Administration offered a new, unfettered executive capable of unilateral action even when encroaching upon the hitherto guarded rights of the citizens. The Bush Administration’s concept was of a National Surveillance State, in which a supposedly benevolent and protecting executive would move towards omniscience through the marvels of new and intrusive technologies.