"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Friday, September 08, 2006

What you can do

A follow-up to my previous post: it's tempting for us, when we learn of some government policy that we disagree with, to throw up our hands and say "what can I do? I'm only one person, and I have no power to make any difference."

But that's not true; our system of government gives each and every one of us a direct voice in the legislative process through our elected representatives in the U.S. House and Senate. It's the duty of these lawmakers to listen to their constituents, and cast their votes accordingly. So, if you feel strongly enough about warrantless surveillance, I urge you to contact your elected representative to make your opinions known. Chances are that they may not agree with you; in my own case, Texas Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn are both staunchly conservative Republicans who are not likely to oppose the White House on this particular issue. Nevertheless, it behooves me to tell them what I think and hope that if enough other people do the same, it might have an impact. What matters most to politicians is votes, and they need to realize how many votes they will lose if they continue to support legislation that destroys our Fourth Amendment and First Amendment protections.

The most effective way to express yourself is by letter; it's more permanent and direct, and officials tend to give written comments greater weight than they do telephone calls and e-mail. There are two specific pieces of legislation in question: In the Senate, the Cheney-Specter bill (S.2453) is officially known as the "National Security Surveillance Act of 2006", and would legalize the president's claim of inherent, exclusive power to wiretap Americans at will and indefinitely without any individual, independent checks. In the House, the Cheney-Wilson bill (H.R.5825) is called the "Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act", and would allow the president to secretly search Americans' homes and listen to their phone calls without warrants.

Both of these bills would make warrantless surveillance of Americans the rule rather than the exception. And the bills would also allow the NSA to capture and read any emails sent by Americans, as long as the government does not know if all the recipients are physically located in the U.S. -- a standard which is virtually impossible to prove.

All of us realize that the threat of terrorism is very real. However, when we enact laws to expand surveillance powers to track terrorists, all residents, not just the terrorists, are affected, and the potential for abuse is massive. The main problem with these two bills is their total reliance on executive branch supervision (i.e., the sole discretion of the president) rather than any meaningful review by a neutral court or judge of the highly intrusive surveillance techniques that these laws authorize. This is simply wrong, and I urge you to send a message to your elected officials that you are not about to hand over your constitutional rights, which generations of Americans have fought and died for, out of fear.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin: "They who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither."


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