Tuesday, August 7, 2007

I'm Rap-a-Tap-Tapping on Your Line....

It's a fun tradition in the US to try and ram as many new laws and proposals through Congress at the end of July. Why? Because all those go-getter lawmakers have visions of sipping margaritas on Nantucket throughout August! Ah! Summer....! We've worked so hard, and now we need a break...! I wonder what Ted will be wearing when we come back from recess? It's so exciting! I can't wait to try boogie-boarding with Nancy! ...what's this piece of paper in front of me? Hell...just sign it so I can get back to my brochures!

The result of all that party planning? The Protect America Act of 2007! (Oh, I wish I was making that name up.) Now, instead of all that trouble that our President got into for trying to protect us through unlawful wiretaps - we just eliminate the law! Yay! No more issues.

The PAA now gives broader authority to the NSA to tap into phone calls, email and internet traffic without having to bother the higher courts for pesky permission. (It effectively re-writes the 1978 wiretapping law that was giving the Bush administration such indigestion - the law should be renamed the Always Protect President's Right to Ignore the Constitution Act...A-PPRIC. Catchier, I think...and it will look better on those 1984-esque posters I expect to start seeing in government buildings any day now.)

This law didn't go into effect without a few objections - and it has been given a 6 month horizon...I suspect that at the end of the 6 months there will be a vigorous attempt to re-instate using distorted statistics on how many lives this law saved, but I digress. (If you want to see who caved in the senate, see this. If you want to see who caved in the house, see this.)

What the PAA really is, if you read between the lines, is not so much an attempt to track terrorist conspirators communicating between American and non-American phone systems, but a way in for the RSA to tap into VoIP calls -- something that they currently do not have the authority to do. Perhaps its the summer doldrums, perhaps it's the heat, but there has been very little mentioned about the passage of this law. It made the papers the day it went through, and there has been some well-thought out public comments about the introduction of this law, but very little backlash.

Ok, so I'm sitting on the beach with my summer reading drinking my margarita like everyone else, but I do have one or two little sniggling questions: what was the justification for giving the President and the NSA this sort of sweeping authority? Also, where was the fire? What was the rush to get this thing through this year....?