Remember back in 2009, after Barack Obama was elected, how Obama said that he wouldn’t do a thing to investigate the constitutional violations done under George W. Bush? Obama said it was to forgive and forget. Now, we know that Obama actually wanted to continue some of those constitutional violations.
Yesterday, the Guardian revealed that, from 2001 on, George W. Bush was seizing records detailing whenever Americans were emailing people outside of the country. From 2007, Bush was keeping records on every email that was sent – whether it was sent outside the United States of America. “National Security Agency (NSA) may analyze communications metadata associated with United States persons and persons believed to be in the United States,” a Bush Administration memo stated. The U.S. Government was seizing records and keeping information about every email sent by Americans.
As President, Barack Obama could have shut this program down right away, but continued this online spying against Americans for two years – and even after that, has kept many aspects of the program alive to this day.
Bush and Obama, without any suspicion of any particular criminal activity, and without a search warrant specifying any particular target. Every 90 days, the FISA court simply rubber stamped an order to search and seize information about every damn message that Americans were sending online.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution plainly prohibits this kind of governmental surveillance activity. It reads, “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.”
In my interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, searching and seizing records of entire classes of communications, nationwide, regardless of who engaged in the communications, would be counted as “unreasonable”. The fact that this information was being seized and searched by the military, and not by civilian law enforcement officials, only adds to its unreasonableness.
This program was given the code name Stellar Wind, to help keep it secret from the American people – because under the regime of Homeland Security, the government gets to keep secrets from the people, but the people have no right to keep their personal lives secret from the government.
Now, for the end of this story, I’ve saved the most shocking part: The American people were in on it.
No, the public at large didn’t know that Stellar Wind existed. No, the American people didn’t have the information about how their own government was using the Internet to create a massive spying network.
However, it has been plain for at least 10 years that the government was putting together some kind of enormous search and seizure system, using the Internet and other electronic communications networks, to spy against Americans. Ever since news about the Total Information Awareness leaked out a decade ago, Americans have been given fair warning that the technology for a Big Brother surveillance network was being assembled. With the passage of the FISA Amendments Act, it became obvious that Total Information Awareness never really went away.
Once, Americans rallied in a peaceful, democratic process to create the Bill of Rights. Now that one of the pillars of the Bill of Rights has been thoroughly eroded, will Americans rally again to restore it?
Some Americans are trying, but these Americans appear to be in the minority. Most Americans appear to have brushed off the revelation that Big Brother has been watching them, shrugging it off as if the story doesn’t merit anything more than a sigh.
The chart here shows the place that the news about National Security Agency spying against Americans has taken in our national consciousness. It’s a representation of the number Google searches for the phrases “NBA Draft” and “NSA”. As you can see, as a whole, people seem much more concerned about which grown men are picked to throw balls through hoops than they are about the condition of their constitutional rights.
When I use the phrase “constitutional rights”, I purposefully write in the plural. The system of civil liberties in the United States has been largely effective because the liberties are mutually reinforcing. The opposite is also true, however. As our constitutional rights have been eroded in this century, we have seen that the weakening of one constitutional right leads to the weakening of others.
Americans appear to be largely accepting of the fact that their own government is watching over immense areas of their private, personal activities. This acceptance comes with consequences. When we know we’re being watched, we self-censor. Freedom of the Press is undermined when the government can know not only who has written every article, but who has read it, and who is talking about it. The right to a fair trial disappears when courts make decisions in secret, and the source of evidence in criminal investigations is classified. The integrity of our free elections is in jeopardy, as a military spy network answerable ultimately to the President in power gains access to material that can be easily searched for material to use as political blackmail.
After 200 years, Americans say that they are willing to sacrifice the Bill of Rights, in order to establish the security of the Homeland – whatever the Homeland is. We’re shrugging our democracy away.