Bad news, as the Senate overwhelmingly voted to legalize President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program and also decided not to amend a bill that would prevent telecom companies from getting immunity for giving the government access to phone records of millions of people.A quote from an article from Wired that talks about this reads:
“The bill, which expires in six years, allows the government to install
permanent wiretapping outposts in telephone and internet facilities
inside the United States without a warrant. However, if those wiretaps
are used to target Americans inside or outside of the country, the
government would have to get a court order. However, if the target is a foreigner or a foreign corporation, and they call an American or an
American calls them, no warrant is required.”
In other words, Americans are screwed, but international students and other foreigners are even more screwed.Being an international student at an American university myself sensitizes me to this problem. Consider this ability to wiretap all our phone and internet traffic without requiring a warrant in the following context:
- the government is already tracking every move of international students and visitors.
- the university is asking students to provide their cellphone number so that they can be contacted in cases of emergencies.
- while the university has good privacy policies in place
- they have to comply under the Patriot Act if the government asks them to disclose private information (including cellphone numbers)
- the government also has the phone records from the telecom companies
- the government doesn’t even need a warrant or court order if it decides it wants to wiretap foreigners
You do the math. International student? Check. All his/her personal and not-so-personal information? Check. Cellphone number? Check. Phone records showing who is calling who at what time for how long from where? Check. Permission to wiretap and spy at will? Check. Civil Liberties? Uhm.
On a smaller side note, it is interesting to see how the presidential candidates have voted on this. McCain voted in favor of giving telecom companies immunity. Obama voted against. Clinton decided to abstain from voting. It’s too bad I don’t get to vote in this country.