The NSA snooping on the phone calls and emails of American citizens is hardly breaking news. Since it was ratified via the Patriot Act in 2001 , some three-letter outfit or another has been spying on you.
None of this happened by accident. A leaked NSA Inspector General report detailed exactly how this all came to pass…and it is oddly riveting for a government report. It explains in elaborate detail how former Vice President Dick Cheney ramrodded the evisceration of Article IV and made certain that every piece of “telephony” and “internet” metadata (a fancy term for the content, rather than the mere physical details of the communication).
As far back as 2006 there were news reports of telecom companies installing splitters and setting up separate rooms to pipe all data directly to the NSA. The largely ignored USA Today article left little to interpretation, stating:
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.
But in the second paragraph of the article it got one critical point wrong:
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
As the aforementioned Inspector General’s report clearly states, metadata was authorized for collection and analysis.
So, why does this matter?
In short, because it violates basic rights guaranteed to us under the Bill of Rights–specifically Articles IV, V, and VI. But in long form, it violates the Social Contract as spelled out famously in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, which our Founding Fathers relied heavily on during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Due to my work in politics I can guarantee that the NSA has enjoyed an earful and eyeful of my communications with clients as we discussed legislation, positions papers, policy statements, and speeches where words were used that would have certainly set off flashing lights and blaring horns on the NSA software.
A basic search of my email shows 105 emails containing the word “terrorism”, 41 with “bomb”, 9 with “bin Laden”, 85 with “attack”, and 78 with “homeland security”. I can hardly imagine how many phone conversations I have had with clients where those terms and more were discussed.
If you want to know how often you run afoul of NSA filters, here the list.
So, as the NSA violates my rights by listening to me sing my kids silly songs while I’m on the road, hear about the trials of my Great Grandmother’s bad hip, and listen to my best friend’s endless debate with me on the Designated Hitter and PEDs, they are wasting valuable bandwidth, time, effort, and tax dollars that would otherwise be directed at finding actual terrorists.
The presumption of innocence and freedom from self-incrimination alone should be sufficient to gut any argument in favor of monitoring every communication by an American citizen not suspected of any crime. In the past, even American citizens suspected of criminal acts were afforded the guarantee that a warrant must be sought out in order for their communications to be monitored, but no longer. We are all presumed guilty. That isn’t just sad, it is un-American.
- US privacy group challenging NSA and FBI collection of phone records (guardian.co.uk)
- Dick Cheney Defends Spy Program, While Attacking Obama (atlantablackstar.com)
- Supreme Court asked to suspend NSA and FBI’s blanket collection of phone data (rawstory.com)
- Five unanswered questions about the NSA’s surveillance programs (thehill.com)