What does Sarah Palin have to hide in her Yahoo e-mails?

The same authoritarians who cheered on every last illegal act of the Bush surveillance state today cry over the sanctity of e-mail privacy.

Published September 18, 2008 9:07AM (EDT)

Some adolescent criminal (in mentality if not age) yesterday hacked into a Yahoo account used by Sarah Palin for both personal and business email, and various sites -- including Gawker -- posted some of the emails online. While the bottom layers of the right-wing noise machine (the kind that make you run for the shower after reading them) are moronically describing the hacker(s) as "liberals" and "left-wing," nobody actually has any idea of their identity, let alone their political leanings (if any). The available evidence strongly suggests the hacker is loosely part of an assorted band of Internet pranksters ranging from the juvenile to the psychopathic. Conventional political agendas ("Vote Obama!") don't exactly appear to be their interest. Either way, whoever did this committed a serious crime -- it's rather revolting to see screen shots of someone's inbox splattered across the Internet -- and the hacker should be apprehended and prosecuted.

Still, it's really a wondrous, and repugnant, sight to behold the Bush-following lynch mobs on the Right melodramatically defend the Virtues of Privacy and the Rule of Law. These, of course, are the same authoritarians who have cheered on every last expansion of the Lawless Surveillance State of the last eight years -- put their fists in the air with glee as the Federal Government seized the power to listen to innocent Americans' telephone calls; read our emails; obtain our banking, credit card, and library records; and create vast data bases of every call we make and receive and every prescription we fill and every instance of travel and other vast categories of information that remain largely unknown -- all without warrants or oversight of any kind and often in clear violation of the law.

The same political faction which today is prancing around in full-throated fits of melodramatic hysteria and Victim mode (their absolute favorite state of being) over the sanctity of Sarah Palin's privacy are the same ones who scoffed with indifference as it was revealed during the Bush era that the FBI systematically abused its Patriot Act powers to gather and store private information on thousands of innocent Americans; that Homeland Security officials illegally infiltrated and monitored peaceful, law-abiding left-wing groups devoted to peace activism, civil liberties and other political agendas disliked by the state; and that the telephone calls of journalists and lawyers have been illegally and repeatedly monitored.

And the same Surveillance State Worshipper leading today's screeching -- Michelle Malkin -- spent the last several years deriding those who objected to the President's illegal spying program as "privacy crusaders" and "constitutional absolutists" and "civil liberties absolutists".

Shouldn't these same people be standing up today and insisting that if Sarah Palin has done nothing wrong, then she should have nothing to hide? If Sarah Palin isn't committing crimes or consorting with The Terrorists, then why would she care if we can monitor her emails? And if private companies such as Yahoo can access her emails -- as they can -- then she doesn't really have any "privacy" anyway, so what's the big deal if others read through her communications, too? Isn't that the authoritarian idiocy that has been spewed since The Day That 9/11 Changed Everything -- beginning with the Constitution -- to justify vesting secret and unchecked surveillance powers in our Great and Good Leaders?

And then, even better, there is the righteous outrage over the fact that this hacker engaged in what they call [spat with whispered contempt] . . . . "illegal surveillance." Why, whoever broke into Palin's Yahoo account broke the law, and we all know that that can't be tolerated! Bill O'Reilly last night called for the FBI to arrest not only those who did the hacking, but also those who own and manage Gawker ("a despicable, slimy, scummy website"), simply for posting the emails. This is what O'Reilly said:

It's a felony -- a federal crime -- also a crime in Alaska -- to hack into people's private correspondence . . . We have no privacy left in this country anymore. The website knows the law, and says "you know -- I'm going to do it anyway. I dare you to come get me."

Indeed. What kind of grotesque monster would invade people's private communications even though they know it's illegal to do that? It's almost like this despicable criminal-hacker did something like this -- from Scott Horton's Harpers interview yesterday with The Washington Post's Barton Gellman:

For the next three months, Addington and Cheney tried to suppress a growing legal insurgency. Andy Card acknowledged to me that Bush was out of the loop. By early March, Jack Goldsmith ruled that parts of the [NSA warrantless eavesdropping] program were unlawful. Ashcroft and Comey backed him. . . .The next day, Thursday March 11, Bush renewed the program anyway. He signed new language–again written by Addington -- declaring that he, the president, was the ultimate authority on what was legal.

Notably, the people whose communications George Bush was illegally intercepting for years (with the virtually unanimous support of the authoritarian Right) were private citizens who -- unlike Sarah Palin -- had done nothing to cede their privacy, and who had not been found by any court of law to have done anything wrong or even to be suspected of wrongdoing. As despicable as I personally find the Palin hacking to be, it pales in comparison to the Bush crimes, because when someone runs for President or Vice President, they voluntarily cede vast amounts of their personal privacy, which is why they're required to disclose things like their medical records, tax returns, assocational history, and other financial documents -- all information that private Americans, at least in theory in the pre-Bush era, had the right to keep private. Those subjected to Bush's illegal surveillance programs have done nothing to cede their privacy -- other than live in a country which has decided to abolish most privacy protections.

Last night, O'Reilly angrily lamented that "we have no privacy left in this country anymore." That's the very same Bill O'Reilly who went on television last October to gravely warn that John Edwards was a "Far Leftist" and detailed all the dark things that would happen in America if Edwards were elected President:

Would you support President John Edwards? Remember, no coerced interrogation, civilian lawyers in courts for captured overseas terrorists, no branding the Iranian guards terrorists, and no phone surveillance without a specific warrant.

And then there's the McCain campaign, protesting this "shocking invasion of the Governor's privacy and a violation of law" even though the GOP nominee has supported every last expansion of surveillance power and stood by the President's every last violation of our surveillance laws. I wonder if the laws which the Palin hacker violated are similar to the federal statute that makes it a felony -- punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each offense -- to eavesdrop on the communications of Americans without warrants, or the multiple statutes (.pdf) which expressly outlaw the telecoms from allowing government spying on their customers without warrants from a court?

Maybe the hacker who invaded Sarah Palin's emails can hire lobbyists to pour money into the campaign coffers of Jay Rockefeller and Steny Hoyer so that they'll meet with Dick Cheney -- again -- and sit together and write a law to retroactively immunize him for the hacking. After all, this country has very significant problems that we need to fix. We need to look forward, not get bogged down in nasty partisan wars of the past. Besides, wasn't the hacker well-intentioned, acting as a good patriotic citizen, concerned about credible and obviously newsworthy reports from McClatchy that Sarah Palin -- just like the GOP administration she wants to succeed -- has been illegally using her personal email accounts to conduct business in order to evade subpoenas? What's a little lawbreaking among friends when the criminals can justify it afterwards with some good purpose?

All these privacy fetishists and (to use Joe Klein's term) "civil liberties extremists" screeching today over Sarah Palin's "privacy" need to get some sense of proportion. If Sarah Palin has nothing to hide, if she's not a Terrorist, why would she mind anyone going through her emails? And just because these things -- those things that some overly-earnest people call "statutes" or "laws" or whatever the new trendy Leftist term for them is today -- say that you can't invade people's private communications without committing a crime, does anyone other than shrill Leftists really take that seriously, really think that someone who does what the law says you can't do should get in trouble or -- more absurdly still -- be arrested? Isn't it time -- just like David Broder and so many other of our Elite Guardians have directed -- that we stop criminalizing our politics?

By Glenn Greenwald

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