The system which monitors web traffic for the NSA has been revealed to use a bigger net than previously thought. Algorithms in the system allowed certain data to be retained by the NSA, but the definition of “reasonable” data retention changed after September 11, 2001. It was broadened to allow so much data to be retained by the NSA that 75% of internet traffic could now be visible to the NSA. According to Fox News:
The NSA programs described by the Journal differ from the programs described by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in a series of leaks earlier this summer. Snowden described a program to acquire Americans’ phone records, as well as another program, known as PRISM, that made requests from Internet companies for stored data. By contrast, the Internet monitoring systems have the capability to track almost any online activity, so long as it is covered by a broad court order.
In addition the NSA has broken privacy rules thousands of time to spy on citizens without approval. But how could this be stopped under a secret program with no real oversight? It is disturbing that members of congress have come out in support of the system, after it was discovered that the NSA does not even follow the lenient rules for collecting data. Recently likely Presidential candidate Governor Chris Christie came out in support of the NSA domestic spying program, claiming it would save lives and prevent another 9/11, despite recent terrorist attacks having not been thwarted by the system. Christie also mocked Senator Rand Paul for believing the NSA surveillance went to far and violates Americans’ rights.
This retention of data without individual warrants is a violation of the Fourth Amendment which protects our right against unreasonable search and seizure of our home, papers, persons, or effects. By including the term “papers” in the Constitution, our Founding Fathers surely meant that all written communications and documents were to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure. The fact that these are stored on computers and not in filing cabinets does not change the protections enumerated under the Fourth Amendment.
While I’m still up in New Hampshire enjoying the Porcupine Freedom Festival, check out another guest appearance on last Saturday’s recording of “Under the Gun” on WMRC where we discuss the slow erosion of rights, the NSA spying, and the 17th amendment.
Here’s a related political cartoon from yours truly… (drawing is not my strongpoint).
Some people in the media are claiming that the NSA snooping program has not actually violated any rights, and that if it prevents terror attacks, then we should let it happen. Of course the data mining and phone tapping did not thwart the most recent terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, nor did it prevent the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, so it is tough to understand the “for our safety” argument. But while the media and politicians on both sides of the aisle try to convince the public that this is no big deal, polls are showing that the public overwhelmingly opposes government spying on U.S. citizens through programs such as PRISM. Breitbart.com reports on the political civilian rift.
[T]he American people oppose the US government’s secret collection of phone records by a whopping 59:26 margin…
[T]hose Americans whom Rasmussen categorizes as the “political class”–that is, those connected to DC and governance–support PRISM by a 71 percent to 18 percent ratio. Meanwhile, the rest of the country opposes PRISM by a more than three-to-one ratio, 69 percent to 21 percent. Now let’s think about the enormous chasm here: The political class supports the program by a 53-point margin, while everyone else opposes it by a 48-point margin.
So the elites and in-crowd support the secret program (which their friends control) while everyday people oppose it. And we do not know everything about the PRISM program or about the extent of the collection of phone records. This means the public perception of these programs can only get worse if it comes to light that the tools were misused, for instance to target political groups as other government agencies have done. I think the attitude of Americans still falls roughly in line with the old Ben Franklin quote that if you are willing to give up liberty for security, you will end up with neither. It is perhaps this attitude that Rand Paul has picked up on, and why he stands a good chance of transcending the partisan division in politics to pick up voters all across the spectrum who are skeptical of big government, and would like to see it constrained, by say, the Constitution.
Check out what Rand Paul had to say involving the government mining civilian data without a Warrant; mainly that the Fourth amendment was written to stop the practice of door to door searches by British soldiers without particular evidence. Paul likens this tactic to computer to computer searches until the government finds something that is amiss. The video also includes clips of then-Senator Obama opposing any sort of similar surveillance under Bush. This too is a common attitude, that as long as “the good guys” control the white house, the public is okay with their breaching the Constitution. Do people forget that political tides constantly shift? It was not okay when Bush wiretapped, and it is not okay that Obama collects our phone records.