I’m all in favor, but September is far away and our dystopia is (or at least it’s seeds are) here now.
I fear that the hoopla over the NSA and domestic spying is dying down so I wrote a letter to my Congressman. By the time I was done I was so pleased with it, I decided to share it here. (Hello NSA, I haven’t forgotten about you. I hope you get some food for thought out of this, too.) I’m also sad to report that in Turkey, they want to develop a park and there’s rioting in the streets. Here, the government decides their going to virtually follow us all over the web and we can’t even be bothered to picket the federal building. Sad.
As a student of history, I’m very much concerned about the recent revelations of the federal government tracking massive amounts of data on phone calls and internet activity. My wife thinks I’m overreacting, taking the position that having our privacy breached by private business is much more problematic and expressing confidence that the government wouldn’t abuse the kind of power this gives them. I don’t think it’s possible to overreact when it comes to limited government.
The founding fathers had direct experience with tyrannical powers and did everything they could think of to prevent such powers from taking hold, specifically addressing the abuses they had experienced like ex post facto laws, quartering of troops in private homes, indefinite detention without trial, and warrantless searches and seizures. The system they built has worked quite well for over two centuries, but you don’t have to look very far back to find examples of the kind of activities my wife doesn’t think we need to worry about. We only need go back as far as Richard Nixon.
It seems to me, the dangers of programs like PRISM and BLARNEY, and the National Security Letters authorized by the Patriot Act is to ask a simple question: What would Nixon do? (WWND)
Would there have been any need for the Watergate burglars if Nixon had had access to a program like PRISM? If Nixon could just call on AT&T to provide him with all the phone traffic in and out of that hotel and had access to the computing power I carry around on my hip today, is there any reason to think that we would have ever known about his abuses?
I’m not claiming that either President Bush or President Obama are or were the kind of men who would have set themselves up as tyrants, but how long will it be before the US again unknowingly elects another Nixon? We have no way of knowing. The Constitution worked in Nixon’s case because the founders came up with a good system. But with modern technology we cannot sit idly by and assume the Constitution will continue to protect us without taking thoughtful action to maintain and extend the protections left to us and our posterity.
I mentioned the Third Amendment above for a specific reason; I believe that PRISM and the other programs violate the Third Amendment, if not in the letter of the amendment, certainly in its spirit. The British government used to house soldiers in private homes as a means to intimidate the populace, to spy on them as directly as you can imagine, and to have the most chilling effect they could muster on “disloyal” speech and actions. PRISM and the Patriot Act, in setting the government up to watch over our shoulders as we call our family and friends and browse the world wide web has precisely the same effect without anyone having to make up the spare bed.
I hope you will stand up to the Executive Branch and the short-sighted leadership of your own party who somehow, despite all their skepticism of government power, feel it is acceptable to set up an infrastructure of surveillance that any Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad would kill for. I’m counting on you!
Insightful analysis of the whole PRISM thing. When are we going to start the “revolution” (strictly by ballot box of course; don’t want the Secret Service AND the NSA on my ass)?
The Guardian breaks a big story yesterday – a court document authorizing the FBI and NSA to secretly collect customer phone records. All of them, for all Verizon customers.
Then today the Washington Post breaks an even bigger story – a leaked presentation stating that the NSA is “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies” to collect information on users. The project is code-named PRISM.
These are the huge repositories of user information from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple. Dropbox, we’re told, is “coming soon.” Twitter is noticeably absent.
Then the counter stories – most of the companies mentioned in the NSA presentation have denied that the NSA has access to their servers. And people are pointing out that the Verizon order doesn’t include actual phone conversations, just the metadata around those conversations.
On the WP story, that means one…
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Over the weekend, I heard a lot of people trying to defend PRISM, the NSA’s domestic internet spying program (they also claim it’s only ever incidentally domestic… whatever), saying that they only collect metadata on my phone calls and look for patterns in my internet communications. But today I get an email from my cable company trying to talk me into their Intelligent Home wherein I can run my security system/climate control via the internet. Not in God’s green earth! Not with the NSA looking over my shoulder all the dang time. Tracking who I call for how long and how often is intrusive enough, I’m not going to let the government know my comings and goings at my house.
Also annoying, George Will. On This Week with George Stephanopoulos, George Will started to get huffy about all this invasion of privacy, not because he thought it was a bad idea generally (he actually said it might be useful with a government that you could trust) but because we have all this recent evidence with the IRS targeting conservative groups that we don’t have a government like that. Well, welcome to the light side, George, but where the hell have you been for the past 7 years? And, might I point out, this was exactly the argument I made 7 years ago to the conservatives who were defending Bush’s domestic spying, i.e. “Sure you trust this guy, but what about the next time a Democrat get’s elected? Do you want that person to have this kind of power?” I. Told. You. So.
And while I’m on the subject, some of the commentary I’ve seen out on the internet likened this kind of surveillance to police patrolling. It’s perfectly legal and appropriate for the police to be out and about patrolling the neighborhood and this is just like that they said. Well, no, it’s not just like that. If we each had a police escort patrolling us to work and home etc., that would be just like these electronic surveillance measures. I think if we each had a police shadow taking notes on everyone we talked to, that would not be acceptable, even if they did promise to file the notes away and only look at them if I ever did something scary. No.
Now is the time for coordinated political action. Protests at every federal building we can find. Candidates for every federal office up for election next year. Where’s that Occupy movement when we need them? Heck, draft the Tea Party too. Enough is enough.
I told you so. I said it back when George W. was president that it was a bad idea. I told the Obama campaign during the transition that they needed to repudiate the Bush era domestic spying. I told the Obama campaign and the DNC every time they begged me for money that they would get no money from me as long as it was still officially sanctioned policy to collect the private communications of Americans. My wife thought I was being overly dramatic. But here we are.
I’m not the only one upset. There’s The New Yorker and the Huffington Post both have blogs about it. Forbes, remarkably, thinks it makes sense and is a good idea. The mind boggles. Back in the Bush era I heard people rationalize the Terrorist Surveillance Program with comments like these. I thought they were stupid then. Here’s the problem: even if you trust the current administration not to do anything Assad-like with this kind of data, what about the next guy to sit in the Oval Office? What about three presidents down the road? What do you think Richard Nixon would have done with this kind of data available to him? This kind of program is a BAD idea. It should never have been instituted, it should never have been defended and we certainly should never tolerate anything like it. Period.
I will concede this much and no more: it is just possible that someone has mocked up a PowerPoint document and hoaxed the Washington Post with this PRISM story. It’s just possible that this is the June equivalent of someone’s April Fools Day prank. But I doubt it. I feel pretty confident that the people at the Washington Post know how to vet a source and find enough corroboration to be confident in publishing a story like this, because whatever credibility they might still have is on the line.
I’m typing this in Google Chrome. So if the NSA is listening I have this to say to you. Bite me. Take your domestic spying and your “foreign intelligence” and stick it up your ass. Same goes for you Mr. President. What good does it do to be a Constitutional Law professor if you haven’t studied enough history to understand why we have the Constitution in the first place? Pull your head out of whatever orifice that’s obscuring your ability to see the folly of this program. And the Senate: there are only 33 vertebrae in the human vertebral column. There are 100 of you. Explain to me how even working together you can’t manage one spine. And the House of Representatives, ugh, where do I even begin. I guess I can be glad that this is a Democratic President, because when there was a president of your own party, you rolled over like Paris Hilton’s lapdog. But I’m afraid it’s too much to hope for that the GOP will be even a little bit consistent about their stand on government overreach. I mean your track record is already pretty spotty. “Hey! we don’t like Obamacare because we don’t think government ought to get in between an American and his doctor over medical decisions, unless that American is a woman making procreative decisions. Then we’d better make sure there is an entire legislature getting all up in your business.” If I have to rely on the GOP to protect my right to privacy and to be free of unreasonable searches, I’d rather have a new Constitutional Convention and try again from scratch.