Favorite

Un-American activity 

The audience at the Market Street Cinema reacted with a ripple of recognition during a recent showing of “Good Night, and Good Luck,” the new film about Sen. Joe McCarthy and his infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Unexpectedly, in black-and-white footage from the 1950s, there was Arkansas’s former senator, John McClellan, demanding that McCarthy produce proof that the woman McCarthy was accusing before the committee truly was a Communist.

McCarthy was soon disgraced, but the fear-mongering and suspicion live on. We now know that it was not just suspected Communists who were investigated. Long after the fact we learned that the FBI also kept secret files on civil rights leaders, entertainers, homosexuals, and a host other non-conformists. And that was with old technology.

Snooping today is far less fettered, and, thanks to the godawful USA PATRIOT Act, so is the government’s use of it.

We don’t talk anymore about the need to root out Communists or civil rights agitators. But say the word “terrorist,”’ and the rationale for domestic spying rises afresh.

Its current form may be the most virulent. Whereas some suspicion, no matter how faint or bogus, had to attach to targets in the past, today, the FBI can build a file on any of us, without any specific reason.

Once created, the file will never be destroyed. We will never know of its existence. We won’t be able to protest it, or even check its veracity. And information in it can be shared with anyone, anywhere in the world — in the public sector or private — that an official declares “appropriate.”

There may already be a file on you.

Ask yourself: Since Sept. 11, 2001, have you used a credit card? Flown on an airplane? Visited a casino? Bought a book? Searched the web? Spoken on a phone? Sent an e-mail? Rented a car? Taken out a loan? Cashed a paycheck? Invested in stocks or bonds?

Sure, you say. But ...

But nothing.

If some crank called your house and someone in government decided that all of that crank’s associations needed to be checked and monitored, there could be a file with your name on it today.

If — and this apparently really happened — a suspected terrorist, or someone suspected of having contact with a suspected terrorist, flew into Las Vegas, the FBI could sweep up the names of everyone else who visited Las Vegas that week. If you happened to be there at the same time, you may already be in the data bank.

Did you read about the London bombings on the Internet? Maybe the bombers were interested too and certain Web sites were being monitored. Any of us may have been caught unawares in the invisible, global dragnet.

The process is called “contact chaining,” and the legal instrument that makes it possible is called a “national security letter.” If a hotel, library, or Internet server is issued one, that business or institution is required to turn over whatever information the FBI demands — and never even breathe a word about having been asked.

Privacy laws used to bar businesses and institutions from releasing specific customer information. But provisions of the Patriot Act override the privacy laws.

If any of this offends you, you might let our folks in Congress know. It’s clear we have our new McCarthys. It’s time for our McClellans to speak up.



Mara Leveritt is contributing editor to the Times and an author. Max Brantley is on vacation.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Mara Leveritt

  • Illustrating the governor's message

    Our prisons burst with disparities. Eliminating them will take courage. Let's see if the Arkansas Parole Board can heed the governor's message with one matter currently before it.
    • Dec 3, 2015
  • Mara Leveritt offers governor a symbol for sentencing reform

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state needs to get serious about sentencing reform if it is to cope with its exploding prison population.
    • Dec 1, 2015
  • Parole board hears arguments on parole for Tim Howard

    The hard-fought battle over the fate of former death-row inmate Tim Howard intensified on Thursday when John Felts, chairman of the Arkansas Parole Board, held a hearing at Cummins prison to consider Howard’s eligibility for parole.
    • Oct 9, 2015
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016
  • Trump: The Obama of 2016?

    Conner Eldridge, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, launched an assault on Boozman Monday morning rich with irony and opportunity.
    • May 5, 2016
  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017

Most Shared

  • 'Cemetery angel' Ruth Coker Burks featured in new short film

    Ruth Coker Burks, the AIDS caregiver and activist memorably profiled by David Koon as the cemetery angel in Arkansas Times in 2015, is now the subject of a short film made by actress Rose McGowan.
  • Buyer remorse

    Out here in flyover country, you can't hardly go by the feed store without running into a reporter doing one of those Wisdom of the Heartland stories.
  • Not Whitewater

    Just think: If Democrats had turned out 78,000 more votes in three states in November, people could be reveling today in the prospect of impeaching and convicting President Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, as some Republican lawmakers had promised to try to do if she won.
  • Head-shaking

    Another edition of so-much-bad-news-so-little space.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Head-shaking

    Another edition of so-much-bad-news-so-little space.
    • Jul 27, 2017
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • We're No. 1! in vote suppression

    It's not often that Arkansas can claim national leadership, so give Secretary of State Mark Martin credit for something.

    • Jul 13, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Narrow opening for Arkansas Democrats

    "Somebody in this room — it's time to go big or go home." At the Democratic Party of Arkansas's Clinton Dinner last weekend, Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana used his platform as keynote speaker to embolden a candidate to step up to run for governor against incumbent Republican Governor Hutchinson.
  • Head-shaking

    Another edition of so-much-bad-news-so-little space.
  • Not Whitewater

    Just think: If Democrats had turned out 78,000 more votes in three states in November, people could be reveling today in the prospect of impeaching and convicting President Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, as some Republican lawmakers had promised to try to do if she won.
  • Buyer remorse

    Out here in flyover country, you can't hardly go by the feed store without running into a reporter doing one of those Wisdom of the Heartland stories.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Another Jesus

    • I always enjoy reading your articles Autumn. You keep being the caring person you are…

    • on July 26, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • Sorry, I have never written about Hillary Clinton's "blunders" in Benghazi. Since you call them…

    • on July 25, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation