In recent days, it has come to light that the NSA conducted a secret experimental program during 2010 and 2011 that collected bulk data concerning the location of Americans’ cellphones. The agency claims it never moved ahead with the program and the data was never available for intelligence analysis purposes.
It has also been revealed that the NSA has used its data to create graphs of Americans’ social connections. These graphs are able to identify Americans’ associates, locations, traveling companions and other personal information. However, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, NSA chief, denied the NSA was creating these dossiers on Americans.
All of this data collection by the NSA is in blatant violation of American citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The New York Times reported that the NSA has used data including property records, bank codes, insurance information, tax data, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information in addition to communications data.
The collection of American citizens’ phone records, emails, social media data and any other data collected by the NSA without a specific search warrant is unconstitutional. Yet there are some, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who are opposed to canceling the bulk call records program.
There are those who agree with the Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, that the number of foiled terrorist plots should not be the sole metric of success, and argue that there is another, more important metric that should be considered, which Clapper calls the “peace of mind” metric.
However, we do not have a peace of mind knowing that the NSA has been, in our opinion, illegally collecting data on American citizens for years.
We do not agree with a “the ends justify the means” approach to national security. Our Constitution exists to protect our rights for a reason, and trying to circumvent the Constitution in the name of national security is not only unconstitutional and illegal, but it is also a slippery slope.
Right now, the national government is collecting and using the data to supposedly protect us from terrorist attacks. However, the Obama administration was caught in yet another lie recently when the general admitted that the number of counterterrorism successes was grossly overstated.
When pressed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the general admitted that the actual number of thwarted cases was only one or perhaps two.
One or two cases is definitely far short of the 54 cases originally claimed by the Obama administration and even previously by the general himself as fruit of the NSA’s domestic snooping that was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
In fact, the general confirmed that of those 54 cases, only 13 had any connection to the U.S.
Furthermore, the NSA failed to stop Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, despite evidence reported by ABC News that showed he was in email communication with Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic militant that the United States has linked to al-Qaida from December 2008 into 2009. The NSA also was unsuccessful in preventing the Boston Marathon bombing, despite evidence that the bomber had learned how to build kitchen pressure cookers bombs online, as reported by NBC News.
While some think that the government would never use the data collected to target American citizens based on their political beliefs, it has already happened.
The IRS targeted tea party, anti-Obama and conservative groups during 2012 for extra scrutiny all because of their political affiliation. How soon before a Republican is targeted (or reveals he or she was targeted) by the Obama administration for being a Republican?
What about Christians? Again, some would assume the government would never use the data to target Christians. However, the IRS has also targeted Franklin Graham, Christine O’Donnell and Dr. Ben Carson. Carson told The Washington Times that the IRS targeted him for an audit after his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in February that challenged America’s leadership.
There are those who would argue, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.” There are numerous holes in this belief. First, this statement assumes that only criminals have something to hide. Nevertheless, would the average citizen wish to have every intimate detail and secret about their life exposed to public scrutiny?
Second, it assumes that we are all worthy of the government being suspicious of us until proven otherwise. However, this is backwards from the way our judicial system, which the NSA should have to comply with, operates. Here in America, you are innocent until proven guilty, but the belief that “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear,” assumes you are guilty until proven innocent.
Third, government surveillance of its citizens based on the “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” philosophy serves as a chilling effect. If everything you say, write or do is collected, stored and analyzed by the government, then you are less likely to freely associate with others and less likely to express dissent for a law, politician or stance on an issue. How soon before the NSA starts paying citizens to report what they hear and see their neighbors doing? The collective effect of all of this is that it limits free speech because of the fear of persecution.
Fourth, just because “you’ve got nothing to fear” right now, does not mean you have nothing to fear in the future or that you should not stand up for what is right.
Martin Niemöller is probably best remembered for saying, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.” (It is important to note that this quotation can be found in numerous forms different from the one used here.) The point Niemöller was making is that there is no room for complacency. All complacency leads to is further and more restrictive loss of rights and freedoms.
Fifth, there is no ability for U.S. citizens to correct information about themselves that the government has collected or stored. Most of the data collection programs are operated in secret (though some were leaked thanks to Snowden), meaning we do not even know that specific types of data are being collected.
In addition, data analysis involves making inferences about what the data mean, but if the government does not have a complete picture, it can make a false inference that can ruin someone’s life and reputation.
All this should give everyone pause when they hear about the NSA and their data collection efforts of information about Americans. While it is being done in the name of national security today, tomorrow it could be used to target someone of a specific political belief and next week it could be used to target someone of a specific religious belief.
Our Founding Fathers, with the Fourth Amendment, drew the line, and it is time for our courts and legislatures to force the NSA and other government agencies to comply with the Constitution and obtain a search warrant concerning a specific individual detailing the specifics of what they are wanting to search, seize and use.
We demand our rights to privacy and vehemently disapprove of the actions of the federal government and the NSA for their invasion of our privacy.