By Piper Bayard
America is not a location. America is an ideal. It is the dream of a country in which freedom is paramount, and it is secure because the government is the servant of the people.
Because America is an ideal, Americans are not born. Rather, America, itself, must be born anew with each generation. Each generation has the choice of embracing the American ideal of a government that answers to the people, or of rejecting that ideal in favor of a more paternalistic system of government.
When the government spies on us with everything from street corner cameras to 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. That is exactly what is happening now.
The difference between the government being the servant and the government being the master can be boiled down to one thing: 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 force the government to 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.
Since Edward Snowden dropped his NSA whistleblower bomb, the White House has gone from denying that the U.S. spies on its own citizens to unashamedly stating that it will continue to collect and analyze data on American citizens in the name of “national security.”
At this point, numerous disturbing facts have become public information:
- Through various means, our government is collecting and storing every digital transaction American citizens make – every email, every phone communication, every bank transaction, every credit and debit card transaction, every check remittance, and every online health and education record.
- Our government allows the other Five Eyes countries – Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., Australia – as well as Israel and unnamed others access to this raw data on American citizens.
- Our government has written agreements with these countries for their unlimited access to our raw data, with only smoke and mirror oversight of what data they collect or how they use it. It is an “honor among eavesdroppers” arrangement.
- Our government trades information about American citizens and intelligence operations with corporations in exchange for their data on American citizens.
- When trigger words* like “snow,” “bust,” or “sick” alert one of the countless analysts in both the government and the private sector who are tasked with pawing through this hoarder’s mountain of raw data, they are free to peruse and interpret the threads of our lives at their personal discretion.
- Everything these analysts do is off the public record. No probable cause. No individual warrant. No accountability.
The administration rationalizes all of these acts with the all-encompassing buzzwords “national security” and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Originally, FISA was enacted to allow data collection on foreign terrorists. Warrants were based on probable cause, and the judges of the FISA court approved them. These boundaries slipped substantially with the Patriot Act. Now, under the current administration, there are no meaningful boundaries at all, with the FISA court essentially rubberstamping every administrative request* to spy on American citizens that comes their way, issuing blanket orders that are nothing but fishing trips, subjecting Americans to data collection and retention with no probable cause.
One example of a typical FISA-approved blanket order is the Top Secret order to Verizon Wireless signed on April 25, 2013, which was published by The Guardian on June 6, 2013.
This order was requested by the FBI, which in turn receives its orders from the White House. It forces Verizon Wireless to give the NSA information on ALL telephone calls in its system on an “ongoing daily basis.” Telephone calls originating and terminating in foreign countries are specifically excluded—the height of irony considering the original purpose of FISA was solely to collect data on suspect foreigners. For full text of this order, see Verizon Forced to Hand Over Telephone Data–Full Court Ruling Dated April 25, 20143 (below).
At its core, our government has given itself authority and provision to maintain a wiretap on every American and foreigner within U.S. borders.
No probable cause. No discretion. No accountability to the public. 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, turning the American ideal on its ear.
Spy on suspected terrorists. Do it unapologetically. Do it inside or outside our borders. But let there be probable cause. Let there be warrants. Let there be public records. Let there be accountability. If we are to remain American, we must not allow the government to exercise such omnipotent power with impunity.
Freedom is the essence of the American ideal. It is about shouldering the responsibility for ourselves, for our safety, and for our governance. 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, 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. Unbridled surveillance of American citizens is that taking.
Like nuclear weapons, the surveillance train has left the station. But like nuclear weapons, we have the choice about how we will use that technology. America is at a crossroads. Will our generation shoulder the responsibility for our freedom and set firm boundaries on the actions of our government? Or will we devolve into a location on a map? The choice belongs to each of us.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Verizon Forced to Hand Over Telephone Data–Full Court Ruling Dated April 25, 2013. The Guardian, June 6, 2013.
NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily, Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, June 6, 2013.
NSA PRISM Program Taps in to User Data of Apple, Google, and others. Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, June 6, 2013.
Obama Blasts Media ‘Hype’ Over Secret Program, Calling Them ‘Modest Encroachments on Privacy’. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.
US, British Intelligence Mining Data from Nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program. Barton Gellman and Lora Poitras, The Washington Post, June 7, 2013.
Here’s the Law the Obama Administration is Using as Legal Justification for Broad Surveillance. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.
Obama: No One is Listening to Your Calls. Michael Pearson, CNN Politics, June 9, 2013.
Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelations. Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Lora Poitras, The Guardian, June 9, 2013.
US Agencies Said to Swap Data with Thousands of Firms, Michael Riley, Bloomberg, June 14, 2013.
British Spy Agency Taps Cables, Shares with US NSA , Reuters, June 21, 2013. (Info on Five Eyes)
NSA Shares Raw Intelligence Including Americans’ Data with Israel, Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, September 11, 2013.
NSA and Israeli Intelligence: Memorandum of Understanding–Full Document, The Guardian, September 11, 2013.
What Makes US-Israeli Intelligence Co-operation ‘Exceptional’?, Matthew Brodsky, The Guardian, September 13, 2013.
Judge Upholds NSA’s Bulk Collection of Data on Calls, Adam Liptak and Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times, December 27, 2013.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court Orders 1979 – 2014, Electronic Privacy Information Center, May 1, 2014.
Reblogged this on tomburkhalter and commented:
I’ve followed this blog for some time now. Bayard & Holmes always have interesting, provocative ideas. I don’t always agree with them, but they’re always worth a read. This post is definitely worth a read, and thoughtful Americans should consider this message well. We can’t pretend to be in the 18th Century any more, or even the 19th. If we are to preserve the spirit of the American Revolution, then what form must it take as we move into the future?
Thank you, Tom. I’m honored.
I figured the government will find me a sarcastic, snarky one. Politically Correct is becoming our version of 1984.
Good way to put it, Mike. Stamp out everyone who disagrees. We are raising a generation of people who will never be challenged in their dogma because other voices are being silenced.
As a Canadian, I have always admired the power of “We the People” and how America has used its history to show the world how and why to fight for freedom. That fight hasn’t changed, even when the threat comes from the very government of the most influential country in modern history. Government must serve the people or democracy fails. And complacency is the biggest enemy.
I agree with you 100%. Complacency is the biggest enemy. Right after 9/11, a friend pointed out to me that as long as we Americans can get in our cars and drive to Walmart to get our stuff, we won’t be moved to change. A generation of convenience has bred another generation of convenience. Soon, no one will be alive who will remember the price of that convenience.
Reblogged this on Richard Snow Writer and commented:
This an important issue: the collection of vast amounts data on citizens who are suspected of nothing. and Australia, Canada, Britain, NZ and the US cooperate in this. If you haven’t heard of it, Google the “five eyes agreement.”
The truly sad thing–well, one of the truly sad things–about this state of affairs is that the very people we have always looked to with respect and trust are now charged with stripping us of our freedom. Every cop, every soldier, every government employee of any kind is now suspect in my eyes. I will never trust again. “If you see something, say something.” Has such a gulag-y ring to it, doesn’t it?
You make an excellent observation. The very people entrusted with safeguarding our freedom are the ones who are stripping it away. Though I don’t place soldiers in the category, myself. That’s because their purpose is to protect us against foreign threats, and if anyone sees how self-serving our government has become, it’s the soldier home from war, fighting for their VA benefits.
It definitely does have a gulag-y ring. One of the reasons the Soviet Union failed is because they spent more time and effort spying on their own people than on their enemies. Notice how our military is getting smaller while the DHS is stockpiling bullets? Why are our own people seen to be the enemy more than foreigners?
Thank you for your comment.
Thank you for calling attention to such a rampant running over of our rights. Often we are told that this spying began with the Patriot Act. It goes back further than that. When our representatives and senators like Ron Wyden ask for more information, they are stonewalled by our intelligence agencies. When they are given access, it is very limited. They have an hour or so to go through thousands of documents. Thus the oversight is very limited. Many of us had an idea of what was going on. But we did not know the extent. It took an Edward Snowden to reveal this, not those who were supposed to protecting our rights and serving us.
In addition to the government, we have hundreds if not thousands of private data collection companies collecting any, and every, transmission we make. Our phone companies store our data. And this data can be kept not for a week, not for a month, not for a year. But FOREVER. Then it is lent out to any and every source that wants access. As long as they will pay for it. (And much of it is free. All you have to do is google your name.) Facebook does it. Amazon does it. Twitter does it. And that data can be used for whatever use the collectors desire. Not only is it an invasion of our privacy, the data they reveal when asked may be out of date or downright wrong. If wrong, it cannot be changed or removed.
Some companies will remove it for a fee but it is still out there. It can affect whether we get a job. After all, potential employers google our names and check our Facebook pages. It can affect whether we get a loan. It can affect potential relationships.
Example: Not too long ago, a female friend of mine googled her name. She isn’t married but she has been living at the same address with the same person for twenty years. They might as well be married. They own a house together. About ten years ago, her brother came to stay with the couple for two weeks during a transition. He temporarily changed his mail to their address. When she google her name, guess who google said was living with her? Her brother. Not the male partner who is on the house deed and her companion for over twenty years. Also she found that Google was revealing the one, and only, speeding ticket she had gotten in another state. At the top of the ticket, it said Court Order as if it was an offense stronger than a speeding ticket, like a felony. She had to read the whole citation to find out that it was just a speeding ticket. If she had been applying for a job, the h.r. people for the company would have saw the top of the citation and not investigated further. She would have lost her chance at that job.
One of the sacred rights we have is the right not to be searched or have our homes searched without a warrant. Not only is it in our Constitution, it is a hard fought for right by the English people against the tyranny of a government to spy on its citizens without just cause. It was a right won during the Tudor and Stuart reigns in England. Since we no longer teach such un-useful subjects like government and history. Except as answers on multiple choice questions. After all, those subjects are not the ones which will get us a job.
Governments tell their people, “Oh, it’s for your own good.” At the beginning, that may be true. But soon we find ourselves spied on and the information used for political purposes. Just ask Dr. Martin Luther King.
The sad thing is that President Obama taught Constitutional Law. Makes one wonder what they teach in law school these days. It seems that as soon as we elect people to the highest office in the land, they forget everything they previously believed, or stated that they believed. And it does not matter which political party they belonged to.
Someone once said, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely” The moral of all this is never, ever trust people in power. We often hear the mantra that our soldiers are going over there to fight–and die, if necessary–for our freedoms. It makes for great speeches. But it takes an ever-vigilant, and informed, press and voter to keep watch. Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers knew this. This was not something for speeches but something that course through them just like the blood in their veins.
Unfortunately our press is out pursuing the latest on Mylie Cyrus and the Khardashians for a public that can’t get enough of the gossip. It is a public that’ll lay down their hard-earned bucks for the latest gee-whiz superhero blockbuster but they won’t vote. They can name the vast catalog of Marvel and DC superheroes but they don’t even know who their Congressperson or Senator is. They can tell you what will kill a zombie but they don’t have a clue about the Bill of Rights. So we wake up in 2015 with the government spying on us and news networks who spend vast resources to get the latest picture of Prince George. We care more about a deflated football than we do about the decisions made by our leaders. Oh, sure. Come the Fourth of July we will have a rootin’ tootin’ pyrotechnical display. But ask us what it’s all about. We haven’t a clue. And little do we know the cost.
Well. Said. Thank you, Don.
Sorry it went on forever. But your post brought out so many things that I feel deeply.
I appreciate you comment. No worries on the length.