Invasions of Privacy

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Laura Rosen hits on something that’s been bugging me about the passport story too:

Seriously, what am I missing? Isn’t there some bizarre sort of cognitive dissonance going on in seeing the reactions to the two cases? How much more intrusive is it to have federal law enforcement and intelligence scouring ordinary people’s phone records, emails, bank records than a State Department contractor sneak peaking into presidential candidates’ passport files, with the sort of information available in any credit check, and which is prompting a rush of Congressional investigations? Why do ordinary people have no recourse, no remedy, no way to demand accountability for the violation of their privacy, no recourse even to demand that they be notified the government has surveilled their communications and bank records, when the presidential candidates, who have volunteered after all for an extraordinary degree of public scrutiny to become the leader of the free world, get recourse, apologies, Congressional investigations and law suits?

It looks like the House is at least standing up for the letter of the law, if not specifically for civil rights, in its opposition to the Senate version of the RESTORE Act.  Preserving the ability of ordinary citizens to file suit against telecommunications companies that likely broke the law is a big step forward for the House.

Now, if we could only preserve the ability for ordinary citizens to sue drug companies when medications go wrong, we might be getting somewhere.

Accountability in an election year

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Jane at FDL informed us that Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama will be voting “no” for the cloture in the RESTORE Act (FISA reform bill) this afternoon. Tim over at OpenLeft commented on the expectations game for the two presidential candidates:

Look, it’s certainly great news they will be voting the right way here, but let’s be honest, so is Jay Rockefeller. This isn’t a tough vote. And frankly, they were gonna be back in D.C. anyway for the State of the Union.

And while we should be doing everything we possibly can to ensure we have the 41 votes necessary to stop cloture, it’s a vote that I don’t think is in doubt at this point (hope I don’t have to eat those words).

The real test of their leadership on this issue will come on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

That seems about right, but there’s one problem: there’s no real accountability on this issue this year, unless it comes during the primaries. While I’d love to see the media showcase any opposition to the RESTORE Act (in its current form) I doubt we’ll see much in the next week before Super Tuesday. However, regardless of what happens during the primary, there’s no way to really hold either candidate responsible: Democrats will coalesce behind the nominee regardless of their leadership (or lack thereof) on the FISA bill.

I agree with something Matt said yesterday:

One more reason to think that the weakness and conflict-aversion of the congressional Democrats is a bigger source of their low approval ratings than is any alleged overreaching. The President is very unpopular and people are apparently desperate for Congress to play a bigger role.

It would be something to see one of these Senators step up on this issue and really use the weight of their candidacy to lend support to Sen. Chris Dodd and his filibuster efforts. But you can color me skeptical: while there’s plenty of incentive for them to take a stand, there’s little in the way of a downside if they acquiesce.