A letter to my Congressman

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.

Dear Congressman,
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!


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