only one; they promised to take our land, and they did" - Ma pĂya LĂșta
In a recent Rolling Stone magazine interview, you spoke of this administration's commitment to civil rights while simultaneously insulting the intelligence of those who are concerned with civil liberties. It is this administration's actual record on civil liberties, a record that is in fact worse than the preceding one, that is both clearly inexcusable and dangerously irresponsible.
The civil rights movement that you spoke about, and as we recognize today, would not have been possible without civil liberties. While laws were clearly misused to try suppressing that movement, those efforts failed largely because the United States at the time was institutionally committed to essential core legal principles that included privacy, the freedom of speech and association, due process, and the presumption of innocence. Although each of these fundimental legal principles had been challenged on a reversible basis by the Bush administration, it is your justice department that has worked tirelessly to make those temporary transgressions become a permanent and enduring part of the institutional law of the United States.
Perhaps most people think of your administration's more dramatic statements on civil liberties made like asserting the right to target for assassination American citizens abroad on the whim and statement of a government official alone. This is not the most important, and certainly not by far the only, threat to civil liberties today your administration has engaged in. Other important actions include efforts by the United States Department of Justice to explicitly use state secrets to dismiss lawsuits of those seeking redress from the unlawful practice of rendition and torture at the hands of private contractors, and to establish state secrets as an institutional protection for those carrying out unlawful actions on behalf of the United States government in general, including telecom companies that had facilitated widespread illegal domestic intercept in the past.
Equally troubling are the recent raids on the homes of domestic dissidents and peace activists. As already reported by your own justice department, many of these investigations of domestic dissidents were improperly initiated without any actual evidence whatsoever, and often using knowingly false statements. Yet, this fact did not stop the FBI from engaging in "terrorism raids" on peace activists across the country or afterward asserting "state secret" privilege when challenged to actually justify these actions.
Perhaps the most disconcerting departure into a society based on the presumption of guilt is the effort of this administration to seek a new law to mandate that government backdoors exist in all communication services and software. This effort wishes to both expand upon and fully institutionalize the illegal use of domestic surveillance as practiced by the Bush administration.
They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they kept
only one; they promised to take our land, and they did
When we speak of introducing backdoors into communication systems, such back-doors rarely remain secret and often present themselves to abuse not only by national governments, but also by private corporations and even individuals. Such mandates do not make a society more secure, but in fact less. Perhaps most terrifying is adding backdoors to operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, already known to be insecure and defective by design, which simply further increases their vulnerability and the dangers inherent in their continued use.
This is a very real danger, one that can be lethal. Whether we speak of a compromised airline alarm system that resulted in an plane crash in Spain, a battleship rendered dead in the water, or an alarm system failing on an oil rig in part contributing to a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, innocent people are put to great risk by enactment of this policy. While these accidents resulted in part from the shoddy workmanship of an already poorly designed operating system being used in inappropriate places, imagine the further possibilities for deliberate mischief by exploitation of any such guaranteed and mandated backdoor facility.
In the United States the 4th amendment did not come about simply because it was impractical to directly spy on everyone on such a large scale. Nor does it end simply because it may now be technically feasible to do so. Communication privacy furthermore is essential to the normal functioning of free societies, whether speaking of whistle-blowers, journalists who have to protect their sources, human rights and peace activists engaging in legitimate political dissent, workers engaged in union organizing, or lawyers who must protect the confidentiality of their privileged communications with clients. Privacy is ultimately about liberty while surveillance is always about control.
What is most troubling of all about the expansion of illegal domestic surveillance is how this will reshape the institutional nature of society. To fully appreciate the effect of such surveillance on human societies, imagine being among several hundred million people who wake up each day having to prove they are not "terrorists", however that may be whimsically defined at the moment, compounded by the impossible task of doing so without being accorded the right to face their accusers in summary 'proceedings' or even to be informed of the alleged 'evidence' produced by whatever arbitrary, secretive methods such agents of repression use, and where their prosecution is carried out under the shroud of "state secrets" that all such police states use to abuse their own citizens. Such is a society who's foundation is built on the premise of everyone being guilty until proven innocent and where due process does not exist; a society where the ends justifies the means. It is the imposition of such a illegitimate society that we choose to openly oppose, and to do so in this manner.
Thank you for your time and attention,
David Alexander Sugar
GNU Telephony Project