editorial (2006-20)

Corral the NSA

Make intelligence gathering at home ‘constitutional’

Catching the Bus

Corral the NSA

The indiscriminate collection of domestic telephone records by the National Security Agency is unconstitutional. It is spying on American citizens without sufficient cause, and it and the agency ought to be brought under stricter control.

That doesn’t seem likely under the present national administration, which has defended the government’s right to such snooping.

There was never a doubt that NSA had the capability, if not the compunction, to collect and sift such data. Its resources, both human and technological, have been great enough to conduct intrusive surveillance for decades.

The recent revelation that it has collected such records from those communications companies that will provide them without a court order comes as no real surprise. NSA does what it wishes. The justification was homeland security in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And the lame claim from NSA is that its officials briefed Congress on its domestic spying activities. NSA tells Congress, including its intelligence committees, exactly what NSA wishes to tell Congress. It alone determines “the need to know,” and congressional reaction to the domestic phone record collection has been a strong indication that no briefings spelled out the program’s intent or scope. The 4th Amendment is clear in its protection of our citizens:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…,” it says. It does not specify phone records, certainly, because it was set down before phones, but its application to such personal communications should be understood by anyone other than the NSA, which has never seemed to think of itself as bound by such niceties.

BellSouth reported this week that it had reviewed its own records and found no evidence that it had turned over phone records to the NSA, and Qwest, another giant phone service provider, flatly refused to do so, according to its chief executive. Other communications companies, including AT&T Corp. and Verizon Communications, have been identified in news reports as complying with the NSA request for millions of records of calls by private citizens.

It’s time that someone more powerful than the NSA director put a foot down on the intelligence-gathering titan and make the agency comply with the basic tenets of our Constitution, at the very least. It is probably left to a president, who may be the only American with that power, to stop that sort of unconstitutional practice by the NSA. So, maybe next time.

Catching the Bus

A couple thousand of the people in the audience were drinking beer, which is delicious and elevating, but known to be deleterious to driving skills. Moreover, some were overheard to complain about parking. And, if that audience had much in common with the rest of America this month, some were also grumbling about the record prices of gasoline.

It’s the sort of situation that makes you wish we had public transportation in this town.

Wait a second. We do. On Main Street, three blocks away from the giant party, four KAT buses idled. They’re bound for Kingston Pike, Chapman Highway, Magnolia, and Broadway.

We wouldn’t expect more than 10 percent of Knoxvillians to take the bus to or from a show. A lot of people don’t live within easy walking distance of one of the Night Rider trunk routes—and, of course, this is Knoxville, not New York or Philadelphia; even though buses ease concerns about parking, and paying for ever-more-expensive gas, and the legal and physical perils of drinking and driving, modern Knoxvillians just aren’t used to riding the bus. So even in a crowd of 10,000, you’d think, there might be only a couple hundred who are willing to take the bus.

How many of that 10,000 took that 9:45 home? As near as we can tell, not counting our reporter and a companion, approximately zero. We don’t know if it was any different for the 10:15, the 10:45, the 11:15, or the 11:45, but KAT officials say they haven’t noticed much of a spike on Thursday nights.

Every night except Sunday for the past several years, buses leave downtown in the four principle directions every half-hour. For some people who work late, and others who like to spend time in downtown pubs and nightclubs without anxieties about blue lights in the rear-view mirror, the late buses are a godsend. But as near as we can tell, KAT’s dependable Night Rider routes serve only serve a small number of regulars. 

It’s puzzling, and, for advocates of public transportation, maybe disheartening. But maybe we should be relieved to see the empty bus seats as encouraging evidence that the rising price of gasoline—and the spectre of a DUI—is no problem for the Knoxville scenester.