People dismiss conspiracy theorists as crazy, whack-jobs or daffy and thus pay them little heed. However, even a paranoid can have people out to get them. Ever since the passage of the Patriot Act, civil libertarians have been voicing concerns about the breadth and depth of surveillance being used by the government against its citizens. Two responses have become ubiquitous..."if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear," or there are plenty of checks and balances to prevent abuse." It is clear now both answers are inadequate at one level and a lie the deeper you probe the circumstances.
The British newspaper, the Guardian, revealed the federal government served a subpoena on Verizon for three months worth of phone logs for "every" customer. This isn't news. (we have known for years the N.S.A., the National Security Agency, and the F.B.I. had set up secret spy rooms adjacent to telecom switching equipment. One was set up in San Francisco at A.T.& T's offices to spy on every phone, email or Internet activity by A.T.&T. customers.) The Washington Post reported on a secret program known as Prism, which allowed the government to go in a back way to Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo and who knows how many others, to vacuum up every scrap of information regarding online activity, web searches, instant messaging, Skyping and anything else in cyber land. When you add these two programs together, that sucking sound you hear is George Orwell, through dead pursed lips, gasping in amazement at how prescient he was, but how even he couldn't imagine the scope of government intrusion now possible with the arrival of the internet.
The response to these revelations has been equally breath taking. Senate majority leader Harry Reid says calm down, there is nothing new here, this has been going on for at least seven years and all senators knew about it...Sen. Diane Feinstein says this is all legal and if it fights terrorism its fine with her...Georgia Senator Saxbee Chambliss says during the entire time this spying and data mining has been going on, not a single constituent has ever complained about it to him...(can't complain about what you don't know I guess). Along with the Obama administration, they have all adopted the strategy that massive spying, invasion of privacy and destruction of the fourth amendment is not news nor anything to get your panties in a bunch about. At least one dissenting voice, that of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, tried to raise questions and objections about all of this activity, but since all of this is classified, his letters of protest had to be done in secret...no I'm not kidding, Wyden says, "When law abiding Americans call their friends...who they call, when they call, how long they talk, where they call from is private information. Collecting this data...would be a massive invasion of privacy” The Obama administration defends all of this as perfectly legal and assures us no one is listening to our phone calls or reading our emails. It is an assurance which now requires the ingesting of large amounts of salt taken with it.
Wyden, and some others, have been raising objections for years. You and I don't know this because everything is secret and classified. The debate, which should have occurred before this incineration of the 4th amendment began, about when and where Americans were willing to sacrifice their privacy never happened because average Americans had no idea a program of such massive scope and scale existed. This isn't how democracy is supposed to function and this is a huge black eye on Obama for his abandonment of basic constitutional principles. (it should not be lost on anyone Obama taught constitutional law)
So many Americans subscribe to the...if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear school... and they couldn't be more naive or short sighted. You call a therapist or maybe an AA counselor...you call your best friend's wife or husband at odd hours...you call a company rival or a live-in rehab center...when you have every call ever made and when there are programs which can piece together intimate, private details about your life, family, movements and health, which no government has a right to know, whatever the founders thought the fourth amendment stood for, it no longer exists.
If you add to this the very real possibility this cyber net can also reel in location information for every call or email you make and now the government can track your movements...whose houses you visit...where you have traveled...when and for how long you are in any location. If this were a movie, it would be easy to portray the governments of Iran or China or Russia as implementing such programs to keep an eye on their restive constituencies, but his is our government, our republic, our "representatives” doing this without our consent, or at least without giving us an ability to object.
We are told the Prism program is only targeting foreigners. Yet, common sense tells you as all of the activity on Google et.al goes on, those foreigners are interacting with Americans over and over again. The "justice" department says no American is "intentionally" targeted. It is a distinction without a difference.
The dirty little secret this new information reveals is the "justice" department's interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. 215 gives the government authorization to collect records and other "tangible things" only if they are relevant to an authorized investigation. Government lawyers, in both the Bush and Obama administrations, interpret that to mean they have the right to collect information on "all" calls and internet activity in America and then sift through the meta data to find patterns of possible illegal activity. This is analogous to passing a law allowing the police to search anyone's home anytime they wish, without a warrant, and if they happen to find something, they can then go to a judge with probable cause to continue searching. How many of you would support such a law?
We are a constitutional nation based on checks and balances. Despite Sen. Feinstein's claims, there are virtually no checks or balances on this system. The executive branch appoints the judges who compose the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The judges act in secret and the latest data shows they approve over 90% of all requests by the government. (so judicial review is now a blank check) There is no ability by the side to be investigated to appeal a decision by this court. (courts are never wrong) The subpoenas are issued in secret ...carried out in secret...the companies must keep their cooperation secret...our representatives can't raise objections except in secret...the person investigated can't object even in secret...does this sound like something a democracy should tolerate? Secret lawyers, secret judges, secret courts, secret warrants, all you need is Joe Stalin and it would make perfect sense.
For seven years your privacy has been gutted and spread all over the floor and you had no chance to object. Seven years of data mining, data tracking, location monitoring and you have no idea it's going on. (btw, how did all this mining work in stopping the shoe bomber, Times Square bomber or Boston's bombers?) There is no debate...no opportunity to say yea or nay...no attempt to let the American people have their say and all defended because the end justifies the means. Terrorists are bad, therefore, whatever we have to fight them is good, even if it destroys the basis upon which this nation was built.
For those of you still wedded to the quaint notion if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from government, let me remind you of over 5,000 federal laws and regulations which carry prison sentences and which do not require you to even know you broke them or that what you did was wrong. (remember it is the government which defines what is wrong or right in the first place and then you find out afterwards) Federal law no longer requires "intent" for you to be found guilty. In other words, the government makes something illegal, you don't know and they get to decide whether to prosecute you or not. It is the perfect definition of fascism.
Now that you know, what will you do? Will you use your phone less? Will you turn it off and remove the battery to protect from being tracked? Will you disable the GPS chip in all new smart phones? Will you get Onstar or some other system so your car can be followed? Will you use an EZ pass anymore? Will you use anonymous sites for email and other online activity and seek out ways to thwart the data miners? Does this make you a terrorist? How about going back to writing letters as it appears the Post Office actually protects your privacy better than the feds. How about his...will you demand this stop until there is an open, full-throated, public debate about privacy vs. government spying...the 4th amendment against the National Security Agency...the constitution vs. those who would eviscerate it in the name of protecting you? Will you tell Feinstein it isn't ok...the White House about how Obama has let you down...your representatives about how you want real "public" oversight and no more secrets?
Many years ago I warned the Patriot Act was the start of a slippery slope for the civil liberties of Americans. It appears for seven years, with the aid of Republicans and Democrats, we have been slip-sliding away from the Bill of Rights which made this nation unique.