There’s been much in the mainstream media this week about the New York Times reporting that Bush via executive order — and not judicial warrant — authorized the wiretapping of American citizens. The political blogosphere, such as Kevin Drum, is discussing the issue in greater detail, commenting on the obvious conclusion that the spying Bush authorized is probably part of some new data-mining system of surveillance, something quite different than garden-variety phone tapping.
Forgive my lack of surprise, but isn’t this what the NSA has been in the business of doing for years? And yes, the focus on American citizens without court order is disturbing, but isn’t it known that the U.S. trades intelligence with foreign spy programs in order to get around all these pesky congressional laws?
Here’s what I wrote in Filmmaker‘s Super 8 column back in 2000:
Echelon and Carnivore. A vast intelligence network is created that eavesdrops on virtually every telephone, cable and fax communication made in the world. Nation-states secretly band together to keep the network running, trading one another’s spy data in order to circumvent their own laws against wiretapping. And, increasingly, governments collude with big business by using this surveillance for corporate espionage, all under the redefined guise of “national security.” The next William Gibson novel? No. Echelon, an automated global “interception and relay system” was begun in 1971 as a project of the American, Canadian, Australian, British and New Zealand governments, but recent technological innovations have expanded its power tremendously. It is now thought to intercept up to three billion messages a day, subjecting all of them to artificial-intelligence programs designed to flag a myriad of suspicious intents. And while Echelon is run by the shadowy folks at the National Security Agency, the good old FBI has come up with Carnivore, a program — run on Windows, of course — that dials into Internet Service Providers and sifts through all their e-mail messages for similar nefarious purposes. (For further info on our digital Big Brothers, check out Epic.org.)