Americans of all political persuasions should be quite wary of President Clinton's attempt to use the recent tragic crash of TWA Flight 800 and the Olympic bombing as an excuse to expand the use of government wiretaps and other forms of electronic surveillance. While it may arguably diminish the potential for terrorist attacks, allowing the government to stomp all over our civil liberties and intrude into our private business will not increase our personal safety.
Terrorism isn't limited to the "private sector," and expanded government use of electronic surveillance actually poses a far greater threat to most American citizens than terrorist bombs. It's time for all of us to "Just Say No" to wiretaps!
President Clinton has called upon Congress to grant expanded wiretapping authority and authorize other new tools to fight terrorism. The President's request provides online activists with an unparalleled organizing opportunity. There is a history of strong bipartisan opposition to increased use of government surveillance. The issue touches everyone. It is an issue around which online activists can begin to reach out to our offline colleagues, form coalitions, and initiate a broad-based citizen action campaign. And this is exactly what we must do if we hope to succeed in preventing the government from expanding its use of surveillance technology.
And most of us do want to prevent the expansion of wiretap authority, although our reasons may vary. Some of us are concerned about the impact on political expression, others worry more about government intrusion into our private lives. Our individual reasons are not as important as our common interest in achieving a goal. And the goal is to prevent President Clinton from capitalizing on legitimate public sentiment regarding the recent bombing tragedies in order to win Congressional approval for expanded wiretap authority.
There is no question that the Olympic bombing and the crash of TWA Flight 800 were horrible tragedies. But it is not clear that either incident was an act of terrorism, and we won't put an end to terrorism by allowing our government to intrude more into our personal lives. What we will do is further erode our rights and diminish our personal privacy. And if we want to prevent this, we must begin to work with others in our communities who share our concerns.
Like a bad penny, this issue keeps coming back. Some members of Congress, along with officials in the Clinton Administration, are intent on expanding the government's ability to spy on American citizens. Proponents of increased government surveillance authority claim it will help protect us from terrorists. Opponents worry about who will protect us from the government. Because there is strong, bipartisan opposition to expanding government wiretap authority, this a good issue to use for local and regional coalition-building efforts.
According to a recent alert from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the U.S. Senate will be considering a number of issues related to expanding wiretap authority when Congress returns from its August break. Among other things, the government is seeking authority to increase the number of "emergency" wiretaps that could be conducted without a warrant.
EPIC has complete details on the government's anti-terrorism proposals on its Web site at: http://www.epic.org/privacy/terrorism/
What can you do about this in your own community?