09 June 2013

Brief Thoughts on the NSA Scandal

Ever since the USA Patriot Act was passed in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, the debate over privacy and security has only intensified. Civil libertarian and pro-privacy groups such as the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have long asserted that the government has implemented various programmes to enable the federal intelligence apparatus to effectively "spy" on American citizens in ways that circumvent Constitutional protections for the citizen.

Ostensibly, the Patriot Act and its amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) are to provide the federal government with effective tools needed to ensure that another deadly terrorist attack doesn't happen on U.S. soil and kill innocent civilians, but also do it in a way that does not interfere or abridge the Constitutionally-guaranteed rights held by the American people.

Yet on 5 June 2013, the Guardian's coverage released a copy of a FISA court order demanding that Verizon, one of the country's major wireless providers, turn over its telephone metadata to the National Security Agency. The next day, the Washington Post released documents that suggest that major Internet companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are cooperating with government demands for data.

And if that wasn't bad enough, the editorial board of the New York Times wrote a rather damning condemnation of the Obama administration, saying that
“The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the 9/11 attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.”

I find this chain of developments to be very disturbing. As an American citizen, I am shocked, stunned, and angry that the very elected officials we trust to run the government and to defend the Constitution at all costs are instead running roughshod over it and trampling the rights of the citizen in the process. And, as if that isn't enough, politicians on both sides (including Presidents Bush and Obama themselves) make flimsy justifications, excuses, and/or denials for their overreaches of power.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is on record saying “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry." The good senator has, of course, been proven right.

Contrary to the (alleged) quote, the Constitution is NOT just a "goddamned piece of paper." It is time our elected officials in Congress demand and oversee a public investigation to these rampant abuses. We have done this in the past with the Church Committee investigating intelligence and law-enforcement abuses (such as MKULTRA and COINTELPRO). This time though, we must also demand that Congress put effective stops to the overreaching power of the Executive and safeguard the citizens' rights--after all, isn't that what checks and balances are for? 

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