cookies.jpgAccording to Business Week (via Crooks and Liars), the NSA has been inserting cookies on computers visiting its website.

In a 2003 memo, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget prohibits federal agencies from using persistent cookies — those that aren’t automatically deleted right away — unless there is a "compelling need."…

Peter Swire, a Clinton administration official who had drafted an earlier version of the cookie guidelines, said clear notice is a must, and `vague assertions of national security, such as exist in the NSA policy, are not sufficient."

Daniel Brandt, a privacy activist who discovered the NSA cookies, said mistakes happen, "but in any case, it’s illegal. The (guideline) doesn’t say anything about doing it accidentally."

So, let me get this straight: privacy and legal concerns weren’t high enough to check the software before it was added to the NSA website. It was only after they got caught that they were sorry and fixed the software.

Erm…yeah.

And how does the whole of the Administration fit into all of this? Is this just some anomaly? Not quite.

One indication that business’s patience is wearing thin is resistance to the Justice Department’s push to expand the act to cover Internet phones and broadband services. Federal law-enforcement officials are concerned about terrorists switching to the new systems to bypass traditional phone networks that have wiretapping-friendly technology. In August the FCC agreed and said companies that provide Internet calling that looks and feels like traditional phone service must comply with the 1994 law in 18 months. Universities, libraries and municipalities that offer Internet service would also fall under the law, the FCC said. That decision prompted telecom companies and Internet-software companies to protest the rule and civil-liberties groups to file a challenge in federal court.

But here’s the kicker: even for universities and corporate legal counsel, the big question up to now hasn’t been whether this violates constitutional and legal rights — nope, the pushback has been about how much it was going to cost and who was going to pay for any needed upgrades.

According to the WSJ article, communications companies and academic institutions have been given until 2007 to make changes and upgrades to conform to new FCC and DoJ mandates on reconfiguring systems to comply with monitoring requirements in new regulations. Again, the bulk of the complaints appear to be on cost and irritation at what is required for compliance.

I fully understand that surveillance methods had to be modified to be more effective after intelligence failures prior to 9/11 — and that integration of various investigative agency efforts had to be accomplished. But we do not win anything if we sacrifice the very freedoms on which this nation was founded.

Up ’til now, there has been little to no Congressional oversight on this — only a big, fat Republican party rubber stamp with the occasional lone Democratic voice in the wilderness calling for more consideration of rights issues. With the latest NSA domestic spying disclosures, perhaps we have entered a period where there will be some debate about the merits of these proposals and how many rights it is appropriate to sacrifice on the altar of temporary security.

But one thing that has to be discussed is how far is too far? How long does the Preznit and his merry band of cronies get to grab the Constitution by the throat? Is it endless — or just until the end of this Presidency, and then they’ll re-evaluate depending on who wins election in 2008? And if that is the case, doesn’t that answer the question as to whether this is a political as opposed to a true philosophical shift?

Saving the President and the party’s political ass because you got caught with your hand in the Constitutional cookie jar is an understandable reaction — after all the 2006 elections are fast approaching. But for Republicans and Democrats, this is a moment of truth: are you elected to represent the interests of your constituency for the long-term, and do you take your oath to protect and defend the Constitution seriously? Or is it truly all about holding onto power and covering each other’s asses? You choose.

But know that we will be watching your choices. Now is the time for true patriots to stand up and be counted, regardless of party.

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
– Benjamin Franklin

Do what the Founders did. Think about the threats to their personal and family safety during the time of the American Revolution. The men and women who fought for this nation’s freedom, who sacrificed personal comforts and safety in order to bring forth a nation born in liberty, they set up a government by and for the people so that we would no longer have to endure the whim of a King. Do not throw all of that back in their faces simply for political expediency.

Put your nation first.

UPDATE: Looks like the White House website is passing out cookies, too. (Hat tip to Lis Riba for the link.)