Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Gore's MLK Day Speech

If you haven't read or seen (Realplayer) former Vice President Al Gore's speech yesterday in Washington, I would urge you to check it out. It's long, but excellent. He starts out talking about the recent NSA Wiretapping scandal, and branches out into the larger theme of expanding presidential power and increasing executive secrecy. I had trouble deciding what to excerpt from it, because it's all great, but here is where he reminds us all of Martin Luther King Jr's own experiences with wiretapping.

On this particular Martin Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped-one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government during that period.

The FBI privately labeled King the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" and vowed to "take him off his pedestal." The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and tried to blackmail him into committing suicide.

This campaign continued until Dr. King's murder. The discovery that the FBI conducted this long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of Dr. King's life, was instrumental in helping to convince Congress to enact restrictions on wiretapping.
I've talked a bit about the wiretapping before, and I still have come up with only two possible reasons that the President and the NSA might want to avoid having to go through the FISA court. Either they want to tap so many phones that they cannot physically prepare the paperwork for the court fast enough, or they want to be able to go on fishing expeditions and eavesdrop on people even the notoriously lenient FISA court would refuse to approve. Either possibility is chilling, as far as I'm concerned.