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

  • Who's afraid of Barry Seal?

    The 'true lie' behind Tom Cruise's new film on the notorious drug-trafficker-turned-federal-informant who operated out of Arkansas.
    • Sep 28, 2017
  • 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

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Pork barrel III

    Mike Wilson, the Jacksonville lawyer and former state representative, for the third time last week won a victory for the Arkansas Constitution and taxpayers and set back pork barreling.
    • Oct 12, 2017
  • Fishy lawmaking

    Last week, the legislature decided not to press a fight that could have further upended a balance of power in Arkansas already tilted too far in favor of the legislative branch.
    • Oct 5, 2017
  • LR Central at 70

    The city of Little Rock has finished its "Reflections on Progress" observance of the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School and the people most affected managed to put well-placed asterisks on the notion that this was a story all about racial progress.
    • Sep 28, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

October

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 Recent Comments

  • Re: Trust and obey

    • A very timely and beautifully written piece. Indeed, the whole frightening paradigm is about preserving…

    • on October 15, 2017
 

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