Tuesday, August 31, 2004

That security threat

The Memory Hole makes an amazing catch regarding the latest hijinks of that wacky Ashcroft Justice Department.

Seems that, in the course of a nasty legal battle with the ACLU over the Patriot Act, Ashcroft's crew -- which has the right to redact those portions of the ACLU's court filings that it deems inappropriate for public release (for national security purposes, of course) -- went so far as to redact a quote from U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The ruling, as it happens, is United States v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, 407 U.S. 297 -- which, like all Supreme Court rulings, is part of public record. This was a 1972 ruling regarding the government's ability to lawfully engage in electronic surveillance. It was historic in many regards, since in it, the Supreme Court rejected Richard Nixon's attempt to gain unchecked executive power in conducting warrantless wiretaps while investigating alleged "national security threats" posed by domestic groups.

Free-speech rights proved central to the decision, the court observing that "official surveillance, whether its purpose be criminal investigation or ongoing intelligence gathering, risks infringement of constitutionally protected privacy of speech" because of "the inherent vagueness of the domestic security concept ... and the temptation to utilize such surveillances to oversee political dissent."

Here's the passage from the ruling that Ashcroft's redactors redacted from the ACLU filings:
"The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect 'domestic security.' Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent."

And of course, the Justice Department has now proven precisely that point.

[Via Lance McCord, via Eric Muller.]

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