Ashcroft on the road to Damascus

Who is the government? When one refers to "Big Brother" who exactly is being referred to? It would seem that the answers to these questions depends on who is asking and answering these questions, and at what point in time... This must be the explanation of the following paradox. When John Ashcroft was in the Senate he was a strong defender of civil liberties and one of those who stoutly (and successfully) resisted the passage of new surveillance powers for law enforcement. Now, as Attorney General, he has asked for and received the same powers and much, much more...

There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state's interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens' Bill of Rights.

The administration's interest in all e-mail is a wholly unhealthy precedent, especially given this administration's track record on FBI files and IRS snooping. Every medium by which people communicate can be subject to exploitation by those with illegal intentions. Nevertheless, this is no reason to hand Big Brother the keys to unlock our e-mail diaries, open our ATM records, read our medical records, or translate our international communications.
- Senator Ashcroft in "KEEP BIG BROTHER's HANDS OFF THE INTERNET" - Global Issues - USIA Electronic Journal Vol. 2, No. 4, Oct 1997

* On April 19th, 1995 the worst case of terrorism ever perpetrated on US soil (to that point) took place, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City with the resulting 168 deaths. Following this outrage resolutions were introduced in the House and Senate, which eventually resulted in the April 24th, 1996 passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. During debate on the bill Senator Lieberman (D-CT) offered an amendment S1200 designed to expand law enforcement's authority to conduct emergency wiretaps for cases of domestic or international terrorism. A motion to table the amendment was passed 52-48 , with John Ashcroft voting to table (kill) the amendment.

* In 1977 John Ashcroft, in debates over encryption, decried FBI attempts to obtain enhanced powers. With FBI director Louis Freeh saying "We need a Fourth Amendment for the Information Age." Ashcroft came out strongly against expanding the FBI's powers. Statement.

However, now that he is Attorney General it seems to be a case of another time, another place, and now anything goes. A man who said "a citizenry armed with both the right to posses firearms and to speak freely is less likely to fall victim to a tyrannical government than a citizenry that is disarmed from criticizing government or defending themselves" now says "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies..." A clear case of someone who can dish out criticism but who can't take any.

© SNi 01/02/02