Friday, May 12, 2006

American Pragmatism?

The latest Washington Post poll on the 'latest' revelation about NSA operations reveals that a strong majority of Americans do not have a problem with the NSA poring through telephone records to see if there are patterns to calls that might help uncover terrorist cells.

The way I understand the NSA program is that they take the actual records of calls - the origination and destination numbers as well as the call durations and analyze them. They do not monitor the contents of the calls themselves.

In other words, they're creating a database to model calling patterns. It's a huge database, involving hundreds of millions of calls and potentially includes most every American, but is this a civil rights violation, let alone an act that is unconstitutional? Well, to those on the far left, the answers are unequivocably yes and yes.

Here's the thing. Let's say that this issue winds its way through the courts. The Supreme Court rules that this program does not violate the US Constitution or other federal law. What happens then? The same folks on the far left will raise a stink that this court has done no different than the Court did during World War II when it deferred to the Executive Branch on matters of national security despite the fact that civil rights of Americans were infringed in a real and very tangible fashion - the relocation and interment of Japanese Americans and certain other individuals in camps.

Now, what would happen if this winds its way through the courts and the Supreme Court determines that this program is unconstitutional or violates federal law. We'd have yet more calls for impeachment and further undermines the Executive's ability to prosecute a war and defend this country against terrorists and enemy regimes. What would happen should this country be attacked after these programs have been exposed and shut down? Where will the fault lie?

On President Bush of course - not on those who actually leaked the classified information to our enemies via the press or on those who pushed the matter into the courts to stymie the ability of the Executive to carry out his other obligations under the US Constitution.

The truly curious thing about this poll is that while most polled think that this program is good or acceptable, they also think that the media did the right thing by releasing details about the poll:
47. Do you think it is right or wrong for the news media to have disclosed this secret government program?

Right Wrong No opin.
5/11/06 56 42 1
One has to wonder whether there should have been a followup question clarifying whether it was right or wrong for the media to release this information if it hampered the ability of the goverment to act against potential terrorist threats.

In from the Cold does an analysis of the polling data and notes:
This poll is encouraging in several respects. First, it demonstrates that the American people have a deeper understanding of the war on terrorism--and what needs to be done--than most politicians and pundits give them credit for. Secondly, it suggests that General Hayden may have an easier time in his confirmation hearings than first believed. Senate critics may want to review the poll before using the hearings to air their gripes on NSA's surveillance efforts. The American people clearly don't have a problem with these programs, and senators placing themselves squarely against these efforts (and General Hayden) run the risk of alienating voters, in an election year.

Finally, there's actually some good political news in the poll for President Bush. On a day when another survey places his overall approval rating at 29%, the ABC/WaPo poll proves that the American people will support President Bush, when he does the right thing. If Mr. Bush would offer viable plans for securing the borders and addressing other critical issues, he would see his poll numbers rise, not decline.
He also brings up the issue of data mining and analysis along with the Able Danger program (which has yet to be fully explored despite some hearings in Congress on the matter).

Also blogging with roundups: Sister Toldjah, Michelle Malkin, and Rick Moran.

Powerline notes that Qwest, which chose not to go along with the NSA data collection program, has a rather curious privacy policy:
We share information within our Qwest companies to enable us to better understand our customers' product and service needs, and to learn how to best design, develop, and package products and services to meet those needs. . . . Currently, our primary lines of business include local and long-distance services, wireless services, cable services, dedicated web hosting, Internet access for businesses and consumers, on-line services, and directory publishing. We also offer other products and services, for example, Frame Relay, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), telephone equipment, voice mail services, and directory advertising."
"As a general rule, Qwest does not release customer account information to unaffiliated third parties without your permission unless we have a business relationship with those companies where the disclosure is appropriate."
So, Qwest doesn't have any problem giving over customer account information, which is far more comprehensive than the NSA request, to unaffiliated third parties where they have a business relationship when appropriate but not to the NSA where the request is in furtherance of US national security.

SC&A note that this program does nothing more than build on the materials that have been collected and evaluated for decades.

All Things Beautiful who refuses to get excited over an old story, Pamela thinks that the fixation on trying to get Bush is going to get folks killed because there are real threats out there - like Iran, and Dr. Sanity is thankful that most Americans are indeed sane. And the media outlets are quick to say that the American people are fickle and can change their opinion at any moment. [ed: how about after a terrorist attack that could have been prevented had these programs not been corrupted by leaks to the media?]

I think it's interesting that there are some folks are pooh poohing this particular poll and call the results questionable because of the timing:
The whole point of having political leaders and pundits is to articulate a point of view and provide support for that view in order to persuade Americans of its rightness. That process changes public opinion on every issue, all of the time, often dramatically. None of that has occurred here. Let's have a few days of debate over whether Americans actually want the Government to maintain a permanent data base of every call they make and receive -- to their girlfriends and boyfriends, their doctors and lawyers, their psychiatrists and drug counselors. And let's have a debate about whether the law prohibits this program. And then let's see where public opinion is.
Well, I think that puts the horse before the cart. I'd rather see the program described first accurately instead of spun into something that it's not. Most people read headlines, and the headlines are a world removed from what the contents of some of the more comprehensive articles say about the program. Once we know what this program does, then we can get to the next step.

Also, I find it condescending that some folks think that the pundits and political leaders should be the ones to articulate the point of view instead of making that determination for themselves. Sorry, but I don't take my cues from the editorial pages of the NYT or the NYP. Or any other editorial page for that matter.

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