However, some on the sycophantic Right have cast up the Echelon eavesdropping system and said "well, Bill Clinton did it first". That is true as far as the actual eavesdropping goes - but the way it was done is crucially different.
The UKUSA agreement - which involves America, Great Britain, Australia and others - put each nations electronic eavesdropping technology at the disposal of the other nations in the agreement, thus neatly circumventing homegrown legislation against invasion of privacy in each of the host countries. As a Computer User magazine article from 2000 succinctly put it:
The problem is, ECHELON operates outside of our Constitutional rights: Americans spy on British and British spy on Americans, who then exchange information. This loophole in the Constitution makes ECHELON off limits to our outrage--no branch of government can touch it.Bush could have done exactly the same thing and it would have been untouchable. But no, such is the depth of paranoia of this administration that they didn't want to share a single secret with anyone, not even allies like the British - and so he went down the indefensible route of getting the NSA to do its own warrantless dirty work. Please note I am not saying what the Clinton administration did with Echelon was nice - it wasn't, it was downright nasty - but it was at least technically legal.
And for those who use the "Clinton did it with Echelon first" cry as a defense of Bush's actions, I bring you the words of Geoff Metcalf from the 2000 archives of World Net Daily.
It may have been easy for the masters of the game to rationalize and justify the presumed necessity of the Echelon snooping as long as they were merely trying to combat international terrorism. Data interdiction and resource management sound "official" and ... cool. However, when the realities of the warts and blemishes are seen without the masking of cheesecloth and soft focus, "Katie bar the door!"Heh, Indeedy. The folks, like those at NRO and Free Republic, using Clinton as a defense of Bush are the same people who crucified Clinton for bypassing the constitution back in 1999 and 2000 - and they really are running on empty.
Update 12th May 2006
In the months since I wrote the above post, it has been linked numerous times by people trying to prove some kind of Democrat double standard. Always the comment is along the lines of "Look, liberals think because Clinton did it in a technically legal way that it was OK!" Nothing could be further from my intent.
I wrote the following in comments some time ago but it seems wingnuts are too dumb to read properly or check comments so...
Sorry, I was not and am not a Clinton fan or an American Democrat. See what happens when you assume? Im an ex-pat Scotsman and I think the Dems suck almost as much as the Republicans do.All clear now? Good.
I agree with you all that what Clinton did (or should I say got the Brits to do) should have been illegal.
It wasn't. No laws were broken. That's the way the cookie crumbles.
Bush has broken the law when he didn't need to. That's illegal. That's also the way the cookie crumbles.
There's a difference between morally right and legal. Neither was morally right, I'm glad to see you all agree on that much. Only one was illegal. I wish it were different so both could be slung in jail. It isn't. Welcome to the real world.