Can citizens find and punish illegal wiretappers?

Legal, non-violent, direct action can succeed where Congress has failed

The U.S. Senate seems poised to pass an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Security Act that will retroactively protect telephone companies that made illegal wiretaps for Bush Administration. Senators Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd have filibustered the bill but their principled action has no chance. It’s not like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The pro-wiretapping faction has more than the 60 votes needed to force a vote, reports The Nation. Majority Leader Harry Reid will send the bill to the floor despite his supposed personal opposition. Apparently, he lacks either the courage to just say no, thus forcing the cracen Senate majority to remove him before voting their cover-up.

On this Fourth of July weekend this knowledge makes me heart sick. But I’m past the point of being sad. And I don’t want to get mad, or even. I want to get active.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. The Tenth Amendment reserves ultimate power to the people. Let’s form some hybrid of grand jury and/or citizen posse to re-establish the rule of law in this regard — to defend our rights and the Constitution in this case in which our elected representatives have let us down.

Here is what I will do: I will send this note to the leading groups already involved in this fight, notably the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and suggest that interested parties form a new ad-hoc web site as a center of direct action. The mandate of this direct action website should be simple while clearly spelling out both the goal and the range of permissible tactics.

I think the goal should be to force the Congress to investigate the illegal wiretaps and report to the people.

The methodologies should as imaginative as the American people themselves. I will hint at a few below after suggesting one ironclad requirement — each and every action should be legal and non-violent. And by non-violent I mean that not just a prohibition against physical or verbal assault. Not so much as a strand of wire should be touched. We are right and they are wrong. Dirty tricks subtract from our moral authority.

The image of Gulliver being tied down by the Lilliputians (see above or click here) suggests the theory behind this approach but as for tactics, here are some starter thoughts. What if we knew there were legal declarations that telecos are required to keep in district offices. Or what if we learned of state regulatory hearings, of the sort that common folk regularly avoid, but we might be able to persuade a couple of activists to take the day off from work to attend and speak. Would it be legal to organize a 411-day in which thousands of Americans dialed directory assistance, and ask for a supervisor? The Constitution allows Americans to petition the government for a redress of grievances. But perhaps, to paraphrase the Doors’ in the Soft Parade: YOU CANNOT PETITION AT&T WITH PRAYER!

I’m not sure, the whole point being to put our head together in a way that has never before been possible in human history to coordinate a series of action directed at the lawbreakers themselves. And to continue these small but persist actions so as to cost them little bits of money that will — if we are united and determined — add up to big bits of money. And that should eventually get the attention of their shareholders who may step in an perform the investigations and take the corrective of Congress seems incapable.

As for why make this suggestion on this issue, I suspect anyone who has read this far already knows. Because this is how the Nazis started. A lot of people get their knickers in a twist when the other N-word is used, so lets not get hung up on labels. Maybe this is just a period of compassionate fascism.

But whatever it is I don’t like it. And this is where I’d to draw the line between mere discontent and direct action. Alone, I am nothing. But if we band together, quickly, I am certain we can succeed. I’ll circulate this and report back if there is interest. Meanwhile, if you like this idea, do what you can to circulate it and begin the process of forming this ad-hoc group.

(On an ironic note, I found the above graphic at the bottom of a White House web page headlined, “Governing with Accountability.” From this I infer that these guys have a sense of humor, because otherwise their self-identification with Gulliver would suggest they see themselves as beleaguered — which would be so clearly irrational as to suggest they have a bunker mentality. And I do not wish to further inflame the situation.)