DiFi’s “Surveillance” Dictionary Makes Her Beloved Phone Dragnet Illegal

Ut oh.

Dianne Feinstein’s been writing op-eds again.

This one mostly rehashes the old arguments.

There’s the claim that stopping a guy less dangerous than Peter King once was is worth creating a database of all the phone-based relationships in the United States.

In fact, since its inception, this program has played a role in stopping roughly a dozen terror incidents in the United States. And it continues to contribute to our safety.

There’s the claim her deceitful legislation would make things better. (See here, here, here, here, and here for some details of why it will make things worse.)

On Oct. 31, the Senate Intelligence Committee took the first step to restore that confidence and bridge the gap between preventing terrorism and protecting civil liberties by passing the bipartisan Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Improvements Act.

And there’s the claim that “drip, drip, drip” and a higher standard of honesty that government officials has the ability to erode the mighty US military’s credibility.

This drip, drip, drip of disclosures – often without proper context and frequently just plain wrong – has eroded the confidence of the American people in the dedicated men and women of our intelligence community and the strong legal and constitutional protections already in place to prevent improper behavior.

But those arguments have all gotten stale by now.

What’s truly amusing is DiFi’s attempt to rebut the well-deserved mockery for her claim that creating a database of every phone-based relationship in the US to catch just two people with terrorist ties does not constitute surveillance.

This is not a surveillance program.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “surveillance” as “the act of carefully watching someone or something especially in order to prevent or detect a crime.”

In the case of the call-records program, neither individuals nor their phone conversations are being listened to. No one is being monitored. And no one is being watched under the call-record program.

Nevermind that Merriam-Webster provides this, as an example:

  • government surveillance of suspected terrorists

What’s so funny about DiFi’s op-ed is her desperate reliance on Merriam-Webster to defuse mockery.

Because — as I’ve noted — if the Administration had to rely on Merriam-Webster for their own definitional claims, it would destroy their claims that “substantially all” phone records in the United States are “relevant” — that is, “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand” — to the hunt for terrorists.

To create this dragnet, after all, the Administration has had to blow up the meaning of “relevant” beyond all meaning. And they had to dig up an old British tome for this particular, all-important definition?

So I looked up how the American Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “relevant.” Here are the first two definitions:

a : having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand

b : affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion <relevant testimony>

“Having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter and hand.” Not, “possibly maybe having a teeny fraction bearing on the matter and hand.” But a “significant and demonstrable bearing” on a terrorist investigation, in context.

The same dictionary that DiFi clings to to justify her “surveillance” claim also shows why her beloved dragnet is illegal, a stretch of the word “relevant” so absurd that only old Englishmen would buy it.

So which is it DiFi? Your “not-surveillance” claim, or your dragnet?

6 replies
  1. scott says:

    Another mistake she makes is claiming we have lost confidence in the men and women of the intelligence community. I don’t believe this to be true. I think we have only lost confidence in their leadership.

  2. Anonsters says:

    Wrong, EW. What’s actually so funny about the DiFi op-ed is that her own dictionary quotation speaks against her claim.

    This is not a surveillance program. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “surveillance” as “the act of carefully watching someone or something especially in order to prevent or detect a crime.”

    I’m pretty sure telephony metadata counts as “something,” since it’s, you know, something. And I’m not sure you can watch something any more carefully than by gathering all of it and storing it away somewhere.

    Notice how carefully she avoids the “something” when she says, “And no one is being watched under the call-record program.” No, no one is being watched. It’s the something that’s being watched that catches her in her own trap.

  3. orionATL says:

    senator feinstein’s remarkably dishonest, remarkably ignorant of fact, support for the dragnet are not being effectively challenged.

    – what is needed is ridicule – the most deadly weapon in political discourse:

    feinstein as a witch stirring a pot, feinstein as a dr. frankenstein, feinstein and hubby as subjects of nsa “intercepts”, feinstein carrying water for obama, feinstein as a dunce in a corner, feinstein with her hand out for contractor cash, …

    – what is also needed is close questioning of feinstein about her knowledge (or lack of such) of nsa programs, her motives (given apparent ignorance or deliberate obliviousness), whether she or hubby are being blackmailed, and what political gain accrues to her from this absurd escapade.

    feinstein has gotten away with way too much deference and has not received the substantial ridicule she, and her dangerous and foolish campaign, entirely merit.

  4. C says:

    @scott: I agree to an extent. This is a relatively tired old tactic that was employed by the Bush administration as well. Questioning the leadership decisions was treated as “attacking the troops” even when the question was whether the troops were being killed by the leadership.

    In this case I have lost confidence in both the IC leadership and the specific individuals that knew of these attacks (e.g. the compromising of security protocols) because they too have a moral obligation to avoid attacking the American people. That isn’t every member of the IC, just the ones in a position to know what was happening and to do something about it.

    The catch with DiFi’s op eds is that she assumes that she has credibility on this issue and that we will trust them because we trust her. She doesn’t. As Marcy has amply demonstrated she and people like Mike Rogers have been actively a part of the problem so her notions that we trust her oversight are baseless, she just doesn’t know that yet.

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