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The NSA Spying Scandal and Improbable Cause

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From http://www.flickr.com/photos/38888473@N04/6407934335/: Inspector Clouseau
Inspector Clouseau by sol revolver

I have previously written and spoken that the view expressed by some people to the NSA spying scandal that "I have nothing to hide" is a very serious mistake. If you allow the government to conduct ubiquitous, warrantless surveillance over the nation and the world, then you are allowing your rights and everyone else's rights to be destroyed to ever dissent and organize against authorities. I won't repeat that argument here but want to expand upon another aspect of this issue in this piece. It's called "Improbable Cause."

Let me begin with an analogy: if a set of murders were committed, with all of the earmarks of a serial murderer's work, and the police sent a detective to the crime scene, what would you expect that detective, if he was any good and not some Inspector Clouseau, to do in conducting the investigation?

Would you think it strange if besides his insisting that the suspects list include not only those who had a motive to kill the victims, but also everybody else in the entire world?

Would you object to this way of solving a crime and demand that this detective be taken off the case?

If the entire police force and political authorities of your city backed up this particular detective's methods and lauded him for his work, would you begin to think that there was something wrong with the officials running your city?

If in the course of this detective's investigation he rounded up thousands of innocent people and tortured them to extract confessions from them and killed many of them, would you object?

If because he tortured these thousands of suspects and suspected that they might want to get revenge in some form because they were tortured, he refused to release these innocent people and was holding them indefinitely, many of them for over ten years (because this detective still hasn't solved the crime), would you object to this?

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If you knew because a whistleblower revealed this to the world, that this police department and the political authorities were recording and listening in on everyone's electronic communications, would you be outraged about not only the unbelievable invasion of privacy but the fact that enormous resources were being employed to go after everyone in the entire world when there was a specific set of murders that was supposed to be the reason for this dragnet?

If, in response to the whistleblower's revelations, authorities finally admitted what some had been warning about that "yes, we have been monitoring everyone's electronic communications, but it's for everyone's good and we are being very careful not to abuse anyone's rights and only going after criminal suspects," would you smell a rat, a great big mountain of dead rats?

If this whistleblower were indicted for his whistleblowing and declared by authorities to be a traitor and someone who ought to be executed, would you think authorities had gone mad?

Or would you say in response to authorities' outrageous demands and actions: "I have nothing to hide, thank you for keeping us all safe"?

What the U.S. government has done, supposedly in response to terrorism and 9/11 (and I say supposedly because these policies based on "improbable cause" began before 9/11 and before any other major anti-U.S. terrorist incidents), is move from employing the legal and Constitutional standard of "probable cause" (the Fourth Amendment standard) to "improbable cause" as its guiding principle. To even say the phrase "improbable cause" is to make apparent its absurdity. What sense does it make to employ "improbable cause" as a guiding principle for governmental policy?

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It makes absolutely no sense if your objective is to actually solve a crime. It only makes sense if your actual objective is not to solve a crime but to keep the crimes unsolved and to keep the danger of further crimes in the forefront of everyone's consciousness. It only makes sense if your real goal is to clamp down and repress the entire population of the world.


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Cal Poly Pomona Sociology Professor. Author of "Globalization and the Demolition of Society," co-editor/author (with Peter Phillips) of "Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney." National Steering Committee Member of the World Can't (more...)

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