On Being Mr. Buttle

Sunday, March 18, 2007

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I was pondering just yesterday the plight of Mr. Buttle. How many of us are going to end up just like him; tortured to death because of a typo? See I can never decide what's worse. The loss of our civil liberties or the mind numbing incompetence of the people in whom our precarious freedoms are entrusted.

Here's what brought this to mind. Yesterday my internet service was out for most of the day. In my frustration, I called Verizon, who owns all the pipe around here, and keeps it functioning about as well as the duct-work in Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." But when I called them, a customer service rep (the lot of them are the bane of my existence) told me that he could not tell me anything, because when I told him the name on the account, he insisted that I was wrong. I explained, "A bill manages to find its way here every month and we pay it." This confused him terribly. I asked him if the name on the account was the one for which we receive a myriad of calls; the previous owners of our dialing digits... yes. Well that explains why we're getting so many wrong numbers six months later. So I was gaffed off because of a data entry error by the same company that left us without phone service for a month when they botched our order. I loathe Verizon.

I was inconvenienced yesterday because of bureaucratic ineptitude. But it will not be an inconvenience if I am, or someone like me is, secreted away to Egypt in a rendition program, because of typos, or any of the growing number of snafus that plague Americans daily.

This morning I learn from the Washington Post that the FBI has been abusing the Fourth Amendment even more heinously than previously known, in spite of growing concern from its own attorneys.

Under pressure to provide a stronger legal footing, counterterrorism agents last year wrote new letters to phone companies demanding the information the bureau already possessed. At least one senior FBI headquarters official -- whom the bureau declined to name -- signed these "national security letters" without including the required proof that the letters were linked to FBI counterterrorism or espionage investigations, an FBI official said.

The flawed procedures involved the use of emergency demands for records, called "exigent circumstance" letters, which contained false or undocumented claims. They also included national security letters that were issued without FBI rules being followed. Both types of request were served on three phone companies. . . .

A March 9 report by Fine bluntly stated that the FBI's use of the exigency letters "circumvented" the law that governs the FBI's access to personal information about U.S. residents.

The exigency letters, created by the FBI's New York office after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, told telephone providers that the FBI needed information immediately and would follow up with subpoenas later. There is no basis in the law to compel phone companies to turn over information using such letters, Fine found, and in many cases, agents never followed up with the promised subpoenas, he said.

But Fine's report made no mention of the FBI's subsequent efforts to legitimize those actions with improperly prepared national security letters last year.

But whose phone records is the FBI illegally obtaining? Mine or the previous owner of my phone number... Mr. Buttle's or Mr. Tuttle's?

I leave you with the latest from Bill Maher:

And finally, new rule: liberals must stop saying President Bush hasn't asked Americans to sacrifice for the War on Terror. On the contrary, he's asked us to sacrifice something enormous: our civil rights.

My good friend Renee has done the leg work and provides a full transcript of Maher's remarks here.