It’s pretty well established that we have virtually no privacy left in America. We might as well be naked. Well, we are. We are being traced, tapped, droned, monitored, and watched. What concerns me most is the lack of outcry from those violated. That’s all of us by the way.
Did you know the spying of drones by Big Brother is legal because of a secret order by a secret court? This specific ruling was ordered by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)?
This particular court consists of a group of 11 federal district judges who are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. These judges are charged with the responsibility to make decisions when a case might require government surveillance in a matter of national security.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, July 8th, that what the National Security Agency is doing to monitor our activities and communications is perfectly legal due to the FISC ruling. You may be surprised as to why this court ruled as it did. It hinged on how the court defined a certain word.
Do you remember when Bill Clinton defended himself in front of the Grand Jury over the Monica Lewinsky affair? Then President Clinton tried to dodge blame by injecting an almost impossible to understand lawyerly argument? In his attempt to protect his honesty when answering questions concerning any sexual relationship, he may or may not have had, with Monica Lewinski, President Clinton submitted this argument:
“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”
In the current case, the FISC was forced to grapple over the definition of another word. This time it was over the meaning of the word “relevant.” I never thought about relevant being relevant, but I guess it is in this high-level spook court.
In the same way that Bill Clinton carefully parsed his words to justify his actions, this court parsed words to justify our government spying on us.
In most criminal cases any search and seizure authorized by a court is usually narrowly defined and specific. Not so now. The court has ruled as early as the mid-2000s that what is relevant may be interpreted to include almost unlimited data bases on not one or two, but millions of people.
So, what happened to the 4th amendment, the amendment that protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures? Good question. It seems to be ignored. In fact, most Constitutional protections are being violated regularly by our federal government. What’s unsettling to me is the lack of outrage and action on the part of the people. You can be sure that if the people don’t care, neither will those doing the violating.
Here’s how it works in practice: If the FBI, for example, goes to the employer of a suspect, they can demand that the employer turn over the suspect’s property that is in the reach of the employer. This can include physical property and any information or documents relating the suspect. The FBI’s justification is simply that the items or information is “relevant” to an investigation.
The NSA has an almost unlimited ability to monitor us. Their massive database is very comprehensive. For example, it does include data like telephone numbers called and the duration of those calls. The good news is that it does not include the recording of actual conversations. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has ruled that our actual conversations are protected by the 4th Amendment.
The debate will continue over the scope and reach of legal surveillance. We do not want to restrict the government so much that it cannot protect us. There is a legitimate need to monitor certain people under clearly defined circumstances. There are evil people operating even within our borders, people who want to kill us. They need to be watched and stopped from executing any terroristic plots.
But, there has to be a firm line drawn between legitimate surveillance and unwarranted, unconstitutional invasion of our privacy. How we keep that balance is hard to determine. With secret courts and Executive Orders, it is difficult to know what is taking place. Mr. Snowden did sound the alarm. Now, what will we do about it?
We must remember that government agencies will continue to test the boundaries of our resistance. They will push as far as they can until enough resistance is met to thwart their efforts. That resistance does not currently exist. We can conclude, therefore, that more and more of our personal lives will be invaded and ultimately controlled.
The moral of the story is that if you and I don’t care, neither will they. This combined apathy is a deadly mix.
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”-Benjamin Franklin