Friday, January 19, 2007

Presidential Authority

Two interesting pieces of news. The peoples' number one enemy George W. Bush is being forced to back down from his surveillance program, while the Venezuelan legislature grants progressive hero Hugo Chevaz approval to rule by decree.

Don't worry. The fact that progressives are attacking Bush for wanting to rule by decree during a war, and progressives granting rule by decree to Chavez is not hypocracy. Since progressives have no beliefs beyond the single object of grabbing absolute power, they are incapable of hypocracy. In the material dialectic, words are weapons. Progressives are just using the same weapon in different ways in two different countries at the same time. Unfortunately, since progressives pretty much deny all of the underlying foundations of reason, it is impossible to talk about Chavez. We can, however, talk about Bush.

Quite frankly, I think Bush has completely mishandled the wire tapping issue. For some bizarre reason, Bush wants to relive the Watergate era. After Watergate, Congress demanded that a court be part of any wiretapping or surveylance program. This fits in quite well with the separation of powers mandated by the US Constitution. For some unfathomable reason, Bush has this weird notion that he can use the war in Iraq to cut the courts out of the process. His idea is that wiretapping should be done solely on the executive authority.

Bush is essentially playing a suicidal game of chicken with the courts and hoping to use the war to justify a questionable change in procedure.

On this issue, I have to concede that the stuff the Bush administration is doing is stuff that actually has to be done.

The driving problem behind the wiretapping issue is that changes in technology have made the old wiretapping methods obsolete. The wiretapping laws were established for analog communications in a day when there was a telecommunications monopoly. Analog telecommunications worked by creating a direct connection between two callers. Since it was relatively easy to identify a call, you could have a system where you gave a warrant to listen to a conversation from a particular group, and you could very easily indentify the connection and listen to the call by tapping the wire. (Hence the name wiretapping).

In the digital age, everything is packetized and often encrypted. There are thousands of more switches in play. Steams of data can change from switch to switch.

The other problem is that computers have made it childplay to hide messages inside other messages. For example, I could be varying the spaces between words in this brainfart blogpost to communicate to my terrorist cell to issue my diabolical commands. muuahaha!

Ooops, I didn't mean to mention my plans to take over the world in public.

Because everything is packetized, encrypted and mixed together, you can't just wire tap by tapping a wire. If you tap the fiber optic wire between here and Iran, you won't just get a series of discreet communications separated by frequency. You will get a whole jumble of data packets.

To reassemble the packets, you have to read the headers of every packet on the line. That is just the way that routing works. In many cases you have to look at the content of the packet to figure out what it is.

Since we can't just tap a wire, the best way to handle the problem is to write everything to a massive data warehouse then set down to reassemble communications, so that you can identify the ones that came from the people you have warrants to watch.

The idea of storing the data is somewhat problematic for the original thinking on privacy. Even if the intention is just to reassemble the data streams belonging to people identified in warrants, the method captures data from innocent third parties.

I have less problem with the storing data since technologies like email work by storing then moving data. IMHO, the CIA's effort to grab all data from foreign sources isn't the problem, the problem is on what they choose to listen too. The controls need to be on the process of turning raw data into information.

In my opinion, the way to handle this is to separate the snooping processing into two legal processes and three technical processes. The first legal process would indentify who we want to watch. In the case of war, the brush may be broad. We are intested in any Al Qaeda and Hezbollah communications to the US. The first technical process would simply concern gathering the data. The second technical process would analyze the data to isolate communications for the groups we are watching. This second group would pretty much have free reign on opening files to see what is in them. The second legal process would sit between this analytic team and the snoops to make sure the snoops only get the stuff warranted and that the data analysis team deletes the neutral stuff.

I think Bush is on the wrong track. He wants the folks using the information to have full control over gathering analyzing it with no court supervision.

On the political end, Bush's insistence on rehashing Watergate has been horrible for his party. Since Reagan, the Republican Party has been a mix between classical liberals and conservatives. The privacy issue is very important to the classical liberal. Groups like Cato are in a lather over the privacy issues. Bush and the Neoconservatives have systematically been driving the classical liberals out of the Republican Party, leaving them trapped between two extremes.

Progressives love the wiretapping issue. It is dividing their enemy. When progressives grab power, they will be able to use all of the bad precedences set by Bush to help them establish a Chavez style totalitarian regime in the US.


Scott Hinrichs said...

Thanks for the insight. You don't just provde criticism; you provide a reasonable solution. Right now nobody in a position of power is even thinking in this direction.

The Deseret Spectacle said...

"Progressives love the wiretapping issue. It is dividing their enemy. When progressives grab power, they will be able to use all of the bad precedences set by Bush to help them establish a Chavez style totalitarian regime in the US."

Wow, that's some objective, thoughtful analysis. To think most progressives have no idea they're participating in the eventual rise of a "Chavez style totalitarian regime" right here at home.