All Maine Matters

January 2006



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Warrantless Searches
by Bob Stone

One of the benefits of American citizenship is the protection against unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed under the 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Simply stated, we citizens cannot be snooped on by any governmental unit without the government going to a judge to obtain a search warrant upon proving that there is a possibility that we are engaged in illegal activity.

Americans value the protections of the 4th Amendment. It was of great concern to read the New York Times report that a giant federal snooping program had been instituted after 9/11. The NYT report ignited a mainstream media firestorm with opportunistic politicians jumping in to criticize the President for implementing a massive program that violated the wonderful and revered protection of the 4th Amendment.

One of the bits of wisdom that has sunken into this writer’s very thick skull is that “things are often not as the first appear.” Sure enough, as more information became known about the “spying on Americans” program, it became obvious that this was not a program that Americans needed to worry about. In fact, it is a government program that we might want to thank the President for implementing.

When thinking of wire tapping, or snooping, we are led to think of the way it was presented to us in the movies in the 1960’s. A mysterious white van is parked down the street from the wire tapped criminal’s apartment. Several FBI agents sit in the cramped van, swilling down bad coffee and munching on powdered sugar donuts, all the while wearing big, black earphones, absent mindedly leafing through dog eared copies of Playboy magazine. When a phone call came over the wire tapped line, a reel to reel tape recorder captured every word.

Well, it is now 2006 and snooping is done completely differently these days. While the New York Times may be living in a pre 9/11 world, the bad guys and the good guys are using technology in a much more advanced way.

The bad guys, Al Qaeda for instance, want to kill as many Americans as possible. Americans are too free and too prosperous. We are infidels and need to die.

The bad guys use every bit of technology available to them. They use satellite phones. They use e-mail. They use cell phones. They use overseas phone networks to plan their next kill.

Fortunately, the good guys in the world’s intelligence agencies have compiled quite a listing of who the bad guys are. Sad to say, but the bad guys are both here in the United States and overseas. And the bad guys have a need to communicate with each other. It takes cash to maintain the cells, or death squads, in the United States. The AQ planners overseas need to give instructions as to the plans they are making for the infidels in America. And intelligence needs to be passed back to the planners overseas from the advance teams operating undercover in the United States.

We live in a digital world these days and all of this to and from communications takes the form of ‘bits’ of computer information that flows freely around the globe constantly. Envision massive ‘pipes’ of information, transformed into data, streaming into and out of the United States. The task of the intelligence agencies charged with figuring out what these killers are up to is to pick out the killers’ calls and e-mails from the trillions of bits of data moving through these data pipes.

No, the snooping is not done by thousands of people sitting around listening to telephone calls and reading printed out e-mails. The snooping is done by computer programs written to select out of this data pipe certain pieces of information that are tell-tale giveaways for the killers and their friends overseas. Things like AQ voice patterns, e-mail addresses and keywords like “bomb”, “dirty” nuclear and “bio” agents.

The gist of the snooping program is that, if you are calling known AQ bad guys overseas, or if they are calling you, the intel agencies want to know about those calls. And I want the intel agents to know about those calls from bad guys here in the USA and bad guys overseas.

What about all the other calls and e-mails in that data pipe? Aren’t those looked at as well? Aren’t Average Joe Citizen’s private conversations and e-mails being unjustly searched?

A great way to visualize what happens to Average Joe’s communications is to think of someone tossing a yellow Rubber Ducky off the Longley Bridge into the Androscoggin. The intel agencies on the South Bridge want to see that Rubber Ducky. It is yellow and it floats.

As the Rubber Ducky floats by the South Bridge, they use a net (computer program) to snare the yellow object from the river. All of the water that surrounded the Rubber Ducky flows on down to the sea. Included in that water (data stream of bits) might have been a phone call from Average Joe to Mrs. Average Joe about whether or not to pick up some milk on the way home from work.

If the intelligence people were not working around the clock to find and defeat the bad guys, we can be assured that the New York Times and every opportunistic politician from here to San Francisco would be calling for Bush’s scalp. Imagine the hand wringing if, God forbid, the killers were successful in pulling off another attack.

I am so pleased that this President is determined to find those Rubber Duckies. The ankle biters in the mainstream media will bark and yap, but he is doing the right thing.

Bob Stone is a retired banker and treasurer for Common Sense for Maine Taxpayers. He also maintains the political blog 13 Months in Maine, a day-by-day look at the Maine state gubernatorial race during the thirteen months leading up to the election in November of 2006.

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