New York Times: Senate votes to head off security sweeps. The Senate has voted to bar deployment of a Pentagon project to search for terrorists by scanning information in Internet mail and in the commercial databases of health, financial and travel companies in the United States and abroad.
The U.S. Senate has found its spine, or part of it, by questioning an especially big-brotherish Bush administration project.
The initiative, with the Orwellian name of Total Information Awareness (TIA), is a Pentagon-sponsored assimilation of just about every database, public and private, containing information on all of us — everything from financial, medical, travel and other kinds of stored records. TIA was only the latest Bush assault on our basic freedoms, but it promised to the most invasive yet.
The Senate’s action wasn’t as strong as it might have been, but it was a welcome walk back from the brink. If the Pentagon can’t explain why TIA is vital and how it would work — and Bush officials have stonewalled just about everyone on these core questions — then funding would stop.
Of course, the lawmakers used some weasel words. If Bush says it’s essential for national security, further research on TIA could continue — but in any event Congress would have to specifically approve the deployment and comprehensive use of the system.
The chances that this ban will become law, meanwhile, aren’t all that great. First of all, we can assume that there will be more terrorist attacks in the U.S., and when they occur, the Congress will undoubtedly stampede to remove what’s left of our civil liberties.
Second, the Senate vote has to be echoed by the House of Representatives. This is far from certain. And if the proposed ban goes to a conference committee, you can guess that it won’t stay in the final bill.
Still, let’s celebrate the Senate action. Maybe it’s the start of something more promising — such as genuine oversight by Congress, and some modest attention to that quaint notion called liberty.