Drug war and terrorism war as excuses for expanded government surveillance

Interesting article in tomorrow’s New York Times: Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry by Eric Lightblau, James Risen and Scott Shane.
We’ve long talked about the increase in government abuse of Constitutional rights and privacy in the name of the drug war. With 911, terrorism was added to the mix, with each feeding the other in terms of giving the government excuses to ask for, or take, more power. Recent revelations are showing just how much the drug war and terrorism war are tools in the search for greater authoritarian reach.

The N.S.A.‰s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before, according to government and industry officials, yet that alliance is strained by legal worries and the fear of public exposure.
To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified.

And this began before 911.

The government‰s dependence on the phone industry, driven by the changes in technology and the Bush administration‰s desire to expand surveillance capabilities inside the United States, has grown significantly since the Sept. 11 attacks. The N.S.A., though, wanted to extend its reach even earlier. In December 2000, agency officials wrote a transition report to the incoming Bush administration, saying the agency must become a ‹powerful, permanent presenceŠ on the commercial communications network, a goal that they acknowledged would raise legal and privacy issues. [..]
In the drug-trafficking operation, the N.S.A. has been helping the Drug Enforcement Administration in collecting the phone records showing patterns of calls between the United States, Latin America and other drug-producing regions. The program dates to the 1990s, according to several government officials, but it appears to have expanded in recent years.

Interestingly, the demands went far enough to set off warning bells within some companies.

At least one major phone carrier Ö whose identity could not be confirmed Ö refused to cooperate, citing concerns in 2004 that the subpoenas were overly broad, government and industry officials said. The executives also worried that if the program were exposed, the company would face a public-relations backlash.
The D.E.A. declined to comment on the call-tracing program, except to say that it ‹exercises its legal authorityŠ to issue administrative subpoenas. The N.S.A. also declined to comment on it.

On Monday, the Senate will discuss a bill to grant immunity to the telecom companies for spying on Americans (thereby essentially shutting down any chance of finding out the truth about government abuses).

[Thanks, Tom]

Update: More from Glenn Greenwald who has been indispensable on this topic.

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