Not if, but when.

I’m glad to see that Andrew Sullivan, who describes himself as a libertarian but for so long didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the NSA leaks, has finally woken up and rediscovered a central premise of that ideology:

I’ve watched the debate closely and almost all the checks I supported have been proven illusory. The spying is vastly more extensive than anyone fully comprehended before; the FISA court has been revealed as toothless and crippled; and many civilians have had their privacy accidentally violated over 3000 times. The president, in defending the indefensible, has damaged himself and his core reputation for honesty and candor. These cumulative revelations have exposed this program as, at a minimum, dangerous to core liberties and vulnerable to rank abuse. I’ve found myself moving further and further to Glenn’s position.

What has kept me from embracing it entirely has been the absence of any real proof than any deliberate abuse has taken place and arguments that it has helped prevent terror attacks. This may be too forgiving a standard. If a system is ripe for abuse, history tells us the only question is not if such abuse will occur, but when.

Precisely. And as Sullivan goes on to note, one of those ifs materialised yesterday when Greenwald’s partner was ludicrously and enragingly detained at Heathrow under British anti-terror legislation.

But what hits me hardest about this latest development is that the real news in that Guardian write-up really isn’t and shouldn’t be news at all. And that’s the fact that we even had laws sitting on the statue book in this country that permit the state to detain people for up to nine hours and apparently confiscate their digital property, without the need to justify suspicion of probable cause, without the detained having the right to a lawyer being present, and with the refusal to answer questions constituting a crime. How reckless could we have been in crafting legislation so powerful, vague and thus inevitably ripe for abuse? And why did we have to wait until now for this to explode into a political issue worthy of national debate?

Greenwald, as always, nails it:

They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism: a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop “the terrorists”, and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name.


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