Turns out we’re already living in a surveillance state.

The new FISA “compromise” bill that the Senate is about to pass makes me angry just to think about, but deep down I’ve long suspected that our government pretty much spies on us with impunity already. This Baltimore Sun news article pretty much confirms that suspicion:

“There’s virtually no branch of the U.S. government that isn’t in some way involved in monitoring or surveillance,” said Matthew Aid, an intelligence historian and fellow at the National Security Archives at The George Washington University. “We’re operating in a brave new world.”

[…] The Bush administration argues that the privacy and civil liberties protections in place for surveillance not covered by the FISA rules are “unprecedented.” In addition to the data-mining, use of financial transaction databases and satellite imagery, the surveillance includes monitoring the travel patterns of airline passengers.

[…] But critics say the safeguards don’t always work. Some blunders in the use of such protections have become public. New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright wrote in January about one such experience. In 2002, while he was researching The Looming Tower, his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on al-Qaida, two members of an FBI terrorism task force arrived at his home. Why, they asked, had his daughter been speaking with someone in the United Kingdom who was in touch with suspected al-Qaida operatives?

It wasn’t his daughter, he told them flatly. Wright himself had made the calls. And the person he contacted was a British civil rights lawyer who had asked him not to speak with her clients, some of whom are relatives of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant.

“My daughter is no terrorist – she went to high school with the Bush twins,” Wright said. “I was taken aback. They were apparently monitoring my phones.”

Wright said he was particularly surprised because he was aware of protections supposedly in place to conceal his name and other identifying information that would have been gathered during the creation of transcripts of the call.

Wright said he doubted the government would have been able to get a warrant for the information, and he said he didn’t know how the FBI obtained his daughter’s name, let alone got the impression that she was communicating with the British lawyer.

It’s somewhat ironic to note that the new FISA bill actually has more civil liberties protections than the other domestic spying programs that aren’t covered by it. It makes me feel foolish for getting so worked up about the new FISA rules because, really, the cows got out of the barn a long time ago. There’s been reports of various abuses and misuses of these programs for years now and every time a government agency gets new powers, such as the FBI and its “security letters” thanks to the Patriot Act, it’s usually not too long before we hear about them being abused. If anything I suppose I should be angry that the new FISA bill provides the government with even more power it can abuse, not that they haven’t abused the system under the old rules already. They’re just trying to make it quasi-legal to do so now that everyone knows about it.

ArsTechnica.com reports that the new FISA law is worse than you think.

Remember last month when the Democrats took their pussification to new heights by passing the new FISA law that would grant the Telecoms immunity from prosecution as a compromise? As it turns out giving the Telecoms immunity is the least of the problems that bill creates:

The new FISA compromise: it’s worse than you think – ArsTechnica.com

The 114-page bill was pushed through the House so quickly that there was no real time to debate its many complex provisions. This may explain why the telecom immunity provision has received so much attention in the media: it is much easier to explain to readers not familiar with the intricacies of surveillance law than the other provisions. But as important as the immunity issue is, the legislation also makes many prospective changes to surveillance law that will profoundly impact our privacy rights for years to come.

Specifically, the new legislation dramatically expands the government’s ability to wiretap without meaningful judicial oversight, by redefining “oversight” so that the feds can drag their feet on getting authorization almost indefinitely. It also gives the feds unprecedented new latitude in selecting eavesdropping targets, latitude that could be used to collect information on non-terrorist-related activities like P2P copyright infringement and online gambling. In short, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 opens up loopholes so large that the feds could drive a truck loaded down with purloined civil liberties through it. So the telecom immunity stuff is just the smoke; let’s take a look at the fire.

Go read the full article as the law is stunning in terms of major changes it makes to what criteria the government must meet in order to spy on someone and how long they can do it before they have to submit to judicial oversight. The fact that the Democrats helped to rush it through the House without any real debate is simply astounding as noted by the folks at Ars:

Democratic leaders have worked hard to portray the legislation as a compromise, but close examination of its provisions suggests that it is an unvarnished victory for President Bush and his allies in Congress. The legislation eliminates meaningful judicial oversight of eavesdropping between Americans citizen and foreigners located overseas and effectively legalizes dragnet surveillance of domestic-to-foreign traffic. It stretches out the judicial review process so much that the government will in many cases be able to complete its surveillance activities before the courts finish deciding on its legality. And Democratic leaders have capitulated on the immunity question, agreeing to language that would almost certainly lead to retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecom companies.

What the fuck is up with the Democrats? Why the hell are the bending over, lubing their asses up, and yelling “bring it on” to the Republicans? Just what is it they hope to accomplish with this legislation if (or when) they gain control of the Presidency? They sure seem to have something up their sleeves with as eager as they are to go along with the Neocons on this issue.