Why PRISM Matters

By Piper Bayard

I could list the civil liberties we have lost since 9/11, from security against unreasonable search and seizure to the officially sanctioned vilification of those who exercise their right to bear arms, but that would be a dissertation and not a blog. The sum total result, however, can be expressed in one sentence:  The balance of power has shifted.

PRISM protest at Checkpoint Charlie image by Digitale Gesellschaft

PRISM protest at Checkpoint Charlie
image by Digitale Gesellschaft

In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government answers to the people. Its operations and the governing subset are subject to the scrutiny of the public. The people are secure from search and seizure—even in their communications—by the ruling subset of the population, and the people have the right and the ability to overthrow that subset by elections should the government grab too much power. The people are the masters, and the government is their servant.

When the government spies on us with everything from street corner cameras to DHS agents on our highways that perform warrantless searches of random individuals to collection and analysis of our every electronic transmission and phone communication, we are no longer the masters, and the government is no longer our servant. It is our ruler. It is a parent searching our rooms and opening our mail on the off chance that we MIGHT be doing something it doesn’t want us to do.

The difference between the government being the servant and the government being the master is a warrant. When an agency such as the NSA, FBI, DHS, etc., is required to obtain a warrant, an official paper trail is created by which the people can make the government answer for who and how it searches, why it searches, and what it obtains. It is a record by which citizens can hold the government accountable for its actions in a court of law.

With PRISM, every email, every phone communication, every bank transaction, every purchase involving a credit card, debit card, or check, and, once Obamacare is fully implemented, every health record is collected on all Americans. When trigger words* like “snow,” “bust,” or “sick” alert analysts, countless individuals who work for the government and in the private sector are free to peruse and interpret the threads of our lives at their personal discretion. Everything they do is off the record. No probable cause. No warrant. No accountability to the public. It is the act of a ruler, not the act of a servant.

Even with the evidence out about PRISM, our president claims that his administration is not spying on Americans. Yet he also states unapologetically that his administration will continue to collect and analyze all of our private communications with no probable cause or warrant to do so—in the name of “safety.” He is only admitting that much because of Snowden’s leaks. The true question lies in the things our president is not admitting.

Photo by Jeff Schuler wikimedia commons

Photo by Jeff Schuler
wikimedia commons

In 1972, America was shaken to its core by Nixon’s one warrantless wire tap. PRISM is a warrantless wire tap of every American and foreigner within our borders. Each and every one of us is now assumed guilty until proven innocent. Each and every one of us now answers to the government master that was once our servant. I’m not saying we shouldn’t spy on terrorists within or without our borders. I’m saying let there be warrants. Let there be public records. Let there be accountability. Do not allow the government to exercise such omnipotent power with impunity.

Prior to PRISM and to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, warrantless searches were allowed under urgent circumstances, but the after the search, the government agents involved still had to make a record and show probable cause retroactively. In most cases, terrorist investigators working in the US had plenty of time to take the few minutes needed to get a warrant from an on-call judge. There is no known history of any case in which the requirement for a warrant prevented investigators from acting in time.

Freedom is about dignity and responsibility—it is not about perfect security from cradle to grave. When we abdicate our responsibility for our freedom in favor of comfort and the illusion of safety, an illusion the Boston bombing should have shattered, we also surrender our dignity and our choices. We become wards of the state. What were once our rights as responsible adults are now merely our privileges as subjects, granted or withheld by our rulers at their whim and discretion. We must demand more of our leaders. Freedom can be won, and freedom can be surrendered, but Freedom will never be given back once successfully taken by the ruling class. PRISM is that taking.

*Department of Homeland Security Analyst’s Desktop Binder

31 comments on “Why PRISM Matters

  1. So Piper, do you believe you are currently living in an effective democracy?

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Well, we’re actually a republic, not a democracy. Once all voting booths are electronic, all votes will be subject to PRISM scrutiny and therefore controlled by the ruling party. Voter fraud, already a problem with the electronic machines, will be completely beyond our scrutiny.

      I wrote a much more specific answer to your question and then erased it because it will be analyzed, stored, and possibly come back to be used against me. The fact that I had to erase it should speak for itself.

  2. scotbayless says:

    In 1966, Milton Meyer published a book titled “They Thought They Were Free” about the slippery slope Germany followed under the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. It’s a very personal, sometimes ironic and often poignant story of how ordinary people can come to accept and even rationalize their descent into totalitarianism.

    As humans, we seem to have an endless capacity for trading our liberties for the illusion of safety. That’s what we’re doing right now – have been for at least a decade or two. I’m sincerely afraid of the future my children will inhabit.

    @Richard Snow, I’ll take a crack. History has shown us that democracies eventually eat themselves and become totalitarian. That’s why the framers of the constitution tried to build in firewalls against mob rule. Sadly, over the span of a couple of hundred years, we’ve broken those safeguards down to the point that they’re no longer effective. That’s where we are today. The putsch hasn’t happened yet, but would we be able (or even willing) to resist if it did?

  3. Your reply to Snow is chilling – it is echoing what is being said locally. You now have to be careful what you say/write out of fear of our own government. Joke’s are even a risk.
    Nixon was one thing, but this slide has been so rapid – and largely unknown/noticed by the general citizens.
    Poorly educated masses are easy to control – especially by those who know how to exploit emotion.
    Those too lazy/weak/too conditioned to take care of themselves are too willing to take what is given rather than work and get the rewards of their own effort.
    No longer any pride or embarrasment to take handouts from others.
    Yes, dangerous times.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      “Poorly educated masses are easy to control…” You hit on something crucial. Having two kids in high school, I am appalled at the decline in education since our generation was in school. My son got an easy “A” in his junior IB literature class without even knowing the parts of speech or proper capitalization and punctuation. Colleges are upping their number of remedial classes because, according to a figure I heard just last week from a college advisor, over 30% of the kids showing up at their doors can’t read, write, or do math well enough to enter a 100-level college class. Another study I recently read showed that incoming college students know almost nothing about history and pretty much everything about pop culture. Hardly a solid basis for becoming thinking, contributing citizens.

      Not only that, “progressive” politics are rampant among the teachers, at least here in this “top” school district, and they often set their curriculums to “enlighten” the kids rather than to teach them history or literature. My son’s IB literature teacher chose books to promote far leftist political discussions in class. Also, his IB history professor actually told the class she thought Fidel Castro and Joseph Stalin were “hot.” The school administration knows about them and thinks they are the cat’s meow, and they are not the only two. Add the fact that schools across the nation search and expel kids for sharing an ibuprophen, and why on earth would people raised on this depraved nonsense object to something like PRISM?

      Thank you for your input, Phil.

      • In early 70’s the kids in 8-9 grade were performing at what was a 5-6th grade level in the 50-60’s. Here the mandated research papers in English, science, and history each year from grade 5-12 were eliminated.
        By late 80’s the 6th graders were reading at 3rd grade level – barely – with no spelling skills and limited vocabulary (and no formal vocabulary instruction)
        Edu publishers were dumbing down vocabulary and adding more pictures in textbooks as requested by school districts. The number of diverse students in illustration was pretty much mandated. Multiple choice replaced short answers and essays on tests because scanners could be used to score them ( and print out item “data” for teachers – like they knew what it meant and how to use that to improve student learning) Algebra I course work was broken up into 2 semesters instead of 1 as requested by schools. EDU publishers started selling scripted lessons for teachers in elementary schools. Chanting, repetition became to be preferred teaching methods. Even in the “best” school districts
        By 2000 it was accepted that college would take 5 years instead of 4. Unprepared students were admitted and placed in remedial classes when they should have NEVER be allowed in if they aren’t up to the work ( but everyone’s a winner)
        The decline of the education system was paralleled with an increasing warm and fuzzy self esteem and social programing in the schools. One principal actually returned from a national convention and told parents and staff “research shows kids in middle school are in a period of learning social skills and loaded with hormones that those should be the focus- they can’t possibly focus on facts that have no relevance to their lives” So now we have smiling population who know they are so wonderful and always deserve a do-over, and it’s always someone else’s fault and everything should be handed to them. Fat, happy, dumb, but sensitive and emotional. What a great crowd ripe for leading.
        And they wonder why private schools and home schooling are growing

        • Piper Bayard says:

          Dead. On. I sent my son to an old-school retired English teacher of 35 years to teach him how to write. He learned more about writing in 11 days than the schools had taught him in 11 years. He will be doing his senior year of high school at the local community college so that he doesn’t waste any more time. His high school counselor was a bit befuddled by the notion, wondering what he would do for an “advisory” class–the mandatory class that pretends to help the kids find a college but only amounts to glorified study hall. My daughter is only a sophomore in high school, and I’ve made it clear that she is free to enroll in college the minute she is tired of wasting her time, as well. I have already told my kids that I will home school my grandchildren for them when the time comes.

  4. KM Huber says:

    Beyond your fine and compelling writing is the underlying leit motif of any republic, the constant vigilance of its citizens assuring liberty for all. Those who believe in freedom, believe in freedom for all, and without vigilance it is soon freedom for some. Thanks, Piper, for this cogent post.

  5. tomwisk says:

    I don’t know, we signed on for this democracy thing and we had to believe that the gov’t would have to defend us. Yes I don’t think we should spend time and money listening in on communications of the residents (note: not citizens) Nixon was paranoid and wanted to be President for Life. Obama got snowed by bad intel from the Bush years, especially Poppy. W was just gullible and Cheney played him like a cheap piano. Obama should steadily begin to weed out the people who have a Cold War mentality and replace them with pragmatists who’ll deal with our foes as they arise.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Seventy-five percent of the KGB budget was spent spying on the Russian people, not on us. Obama is cutting our military down to pre-WWII levels while exponentially expanding domestic surveillance programs and giving the DHS unbridled funding and ammunition. Meanwhile, Putin–the very soul of KGB–is drawing up blueprints for a huge military and nuclear base in Cuba. I assure you, it’s not because he wants to be our BFF and have video parties with Florida on Friday nights. If Obama wants us all to forget the Cold War — something he is ignorant of, having spent much of it in Indonesia and not experiencing it as an American inside America — it’s because he doesn’t want us to notice how damn Soviet America is becoming under his “Adelante” administration.

  6. tedhenkle says:

    The Bush Years ended in 08. Keep in mind it’s Obama’s watch and Obama’s the one with his hands on the levers of power. True, DHS was a created during the Bush Years and I thought it was a heinous organization back then. But I don’t see Obama dismantling it. Instead, as Piper pointed out, or alluded to–our current president is the one escalating surveillance on American citizens. I agree Nixon was power hungry and paranoid, but I doubt he would ever have achieved President-for-Life. He lacked the cult-of-personality Obama now enjoys. And speaking of presidents-for-life: One of my favorite commentators, Mark Steyn, often points out that we have elected officials who’ve been in office longer than most leaders of Third World dictatorships. (An excellent reason to impliment term limits). The encroachment against our freedoms is coming from all branches of the government.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      An excellent point. This is happening on all sides. The most obvious example is the Democrat push to undermine the 2nd Amendment – the right to bear arms – coupled with the bulldozer the Republicans set to rolling over the 4th Amendment – search and seizure. It’s not like one group is going to save us from the other. Thank you for your astute observations.

  7. There have to be check and balances. And we can’t have everything. We can’t have perfect safety without sacrificing ALL our freedoms. Of course, with perfect freedom, we lose as well. There has to be a balance but I feel that we should err on the side of freedom.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      The built in balance is the court system. The three branches–executive, legislative, and judicial–are supposed to keep each other in check. With PRISM, the executive branch is outside of the check and balance system that is already in place. That is why I propose that people reject the warrantless collection of data and the warrantless searches and seizures of the DHS while there is a chance that we still can. When the executive branch is free of the judicial branch, what is to stop it?

  8. Do you think we actually are still a republic? I ask very seriously. With Citizens United, and the electronic machines, and the voter disenfranchisement in Ohio and Florida, and the ‘hanging chad’ thing, I really wonder if we the people are truly electing our government officials?

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Voter fraud is nothing new. There has been voter fraud as long as there have been voters — just ask all of the dead people and illegal aliens who vote who aren’t required to show any ID.

      However, I think the vast majority of the population is still idealistic, and until voting is centralized into electronic machines that eliminate all of the eyes on the voter count, we still have a chance. In spite of my dire tone in many of these comments, I am still hopeful for my country.

  9. Hi Piper

    I wasn’t really surprised by PRISIM when it hit the headlines. Being in political office has moved so far from “serving your country” it’s a joke, so that they would have something that skirts people’s freedom is probably a no-brainer to them. The emphasis is, of course, on the no-brain bit.

    Talking of jokes, why they just didn’t man up the process of getting a warrant for persons of interest, rather than unleashing a torrent of &^%$# on themselves is beyond me.

    Or perhaps some senator was able to divert more money to his area…


    • Piper Bayard says:

      I’m sad to say I wasn’t surprised, either. Many articles have come out over the past twenty years or so with proof that the government was collecting all of our phone conversations. It wasn’t that long ago that legislation was passed to monitor all of our bank transactions, as well. And what about the news of Carnivore — the previous program that searched all of our email? Snowden has only added our social media traffic to the the public awareness of internal surveillance. I think the difference now is that the twenty-somethings who are all about the internet are disillusioned to find out the reality of what “Forward” means to their heros.

      And I’m with you. This could all be solved by obtaining warrants–a minimal but crucial process. But then the executive branch would have to suffer the check of the judicial branch once more, and it is quite unwilling to do that, I’m afraid. I only hope the judicial branch is strong enough to bring the executive back into balance.

  10. Kathleen says:

    Beautiful essay, Piper. Thank you.

  11. tucsonmike says:

    Piper, I promised you, that I would follow up. I think the Internet has opened up some great things. (I probably wouldn’t have “met” you without it). There is also the fact; the Genie is out of the bottle permanently. The Internet started as a Department of Defense system. Our participation in cyberspace can be easily seen and intercepted. The tools out there now are something the KGB could not even have imagined.

    You are correct; we are a Republic, not a Democracy. (I was a Political Science major, thank you for pointing out the distinction).

    Our education system is sad. I sometimes suspect it’s deliberate, no one could possibly be THAT incompetent and survive. Do you think the system is being made inferior deliberately? If that’s true with all the skilled people we need out there, it’s pretty poor timing, (Unless you think most jobs will be reduced to the least common denominator.

    Do you think President Obama was not up to the job, or do you think there is something more sinister? I am willing to ask these questions. I’m too old to start being politically correct now. 🙂

    I think many of our liberties are being eroded so slowly, most people don’t notice. It is much easier to do now.

    When you’re a writer, you pay attention to what’s around you. If you ask why most Americans are getting involved, I will tell you. I think to get Americans really angry, you would have to get gasoline to $10/gallon, take away the big screen tv’s and the barbecues.

    If you haven’t had a chance, watch the American version of House of Cards on Netflix. Kevin Spacey delivers an excellent performance as the House Majority Whip. Watch who he really cares about in his home district.

    I live in an apartment complex and on Saturday mornings, there is a coffee group. The cynic in me realized if they were a sample of the local Congressional district, I could win by keeping them scared.

    I am not sure where this is going and I may have gone on too long, but I promised a response.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. It’s not too long at all.

      Indeed, the PRISM Genie is out of the bottle, but so is the Nuclear Weapons Genie. We can choose how to use this tool, and we can draw a line. While there will always be abusers, as long as we do not condone the abuse in society and in our laws, it cannot take widespread root.

      Was Obama not up to the job? Yes. I could go on at length to justify that opinion, but it’s all summed up in his bow to the King of Saudi Arabia. He has exhibited a consistent and unerring lack of understanding of his position and duties.

      Your comment about our liberties being slowly eroded reminds me of a farming trick. Do you know how to catch wild pigs? First, put out food and get them used to eating what you give them instead of foraging for themselves. Then build one side of a fence. Put the food next to the fence. They will shy away at first, and then the food will be so easy and tasty that they will come up to the fence to eat. Then build a second side to the fence, and a third side. Once the pigs are used to eating that tasty food inside the three-sided fence instead of foraging for themselves, build a gate. When the pigs come to dinner, snap it shut. Queue up the skillet for the bacon. If we let PRISM by us without a squeal, our gate snaps shut.

      We still have time to squeal.

  12. Peter Saint-Clair says:

    These are the kinds of things that I’ve been saying at work for the past year or so. It’s nice to see others outside my circle are thinking along the same lines. To be honest, I was ready to walk away from writing as anything other than a hobby until I started thinking about how I could do my part in trying to open people’s eyes about this kind of thing. Many are still willfully ignorant as to what’s going on with the government and even more are totally willing to give up some of their freedoms for perceived security. It’s appalling and not at all what I signed up to defend while I was still in uniform. Thanks for helping to wake up the people Piper…hopefully it won’t be too late before more do and we can get down to the business of fixing this mess because our leaders sure as hell aren’t going to do it.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      It’s up to us. So frustrating when people don’t listen or don’t care. The entire Boomer generation sacrificed to fight against the totalitarian regimes born of communism. It sure as heck wasn’t to outdo the Soviets with our own internal policing. Thank you for your service.

  13. […] recently read a post by Piper Bayard called “Why PRISM Matters” which got me thinking more about political, social and civil issues in fiction and why it matters. […]

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