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

What Is the World Situation, and How Do We Ensure Democracy?

By Jay Holmes

Hi, Samuel. Thank you for your thoughtful response. You covered many topics. Let me start with your two questions:

  1. What kind of situation is the world in for in the immediate future?
  2. What changes can be made to our foreign policy to assure peaceful and democratic rule?

The future is not clear, but I will give you my personal guess. I think the White House will take a reactive approach to the current crisis and will simply try to negotiate with whatever power takes over in any of the countries in question. In the meantime the president will spend more time on the phone then he would care to.

The junta in Tehran is terrified that the USA will act forcefully in the Mediterranean and in Arabia. While I enjoy their grief, I think they are wrong. Remember, Obama ran on an “anti-interventionist” platform. Like any president seeking re-election, he must not lose his voter base. If he intervenes forcefully, his liberal democrat base abandons him, and nothing he does will gain him many votes from the pro-military option crowd.

If an Islam-fascist junta does not come to power in Egypt, then one is not likely in Libya. Libya has the oil and the cash, but Egypt has the military might to topple any Libyan junta if they should decide to. The Egyptians will be less conservative in their response to what happens to Libya.

In Iran, I think the majority of Iranians will remain outside looking in at power for the immediate future. The Iranian junta has a more fanatically loyal military than either Libya or Egypt. The junta has the guns and is always ready, and actually ecstatic, to use them. Killing dissidents represents nothing more than the ongoing daily entertainment for the barbaric and ruthless Iranian junta.

I say “junta” because President “Imadinnerjacket” is no more in charge of Iran than I am. He is the junta’s best attempt at a charismatic mouth-piece that looks good in a suit. They missed on both counts. He looks like he visits the same tailor that Uncle Momo does. I think his speech writer must be Charles Manson. I hope that I am wrong about Iran. The Iranian people deserve a better government and a better life.

As to your second question, the short answer is that there is no magic bullet for ensuring democracy in other nations. We are still struggling to ensure it in our own nation.

The question has been prominent in the minds of every US administration since Woodrow Wilson. I am sure that the French Socialists would remind us that France invented the practice of exporting democracy (no doubt in a conference room at Diem Bien Phu) along with inventing oxygen, sunlight, and fashion. The French don’t actually do any of it. They simply like to tell the rest of us how we should be doing it. The British would point to the Magna Carta, but the British are a bit more realistic about the realities of the democracy export industry. All of the Western world’s great political minds have thus far not come up with a surefire plan for guarantees of freedom and democracy. Nonetheless, I am glad that most of us support the notion that we should.

On the economic side of things, expect higher gasoline prices. BP never gives up easily, but they might pull out of Libya in the next few days. If oil production decreases by as much as a drop, the oil companies will, with a well practiced straight face, announce that they have to increase prices. They will cry all the way to the bank, and like the gasoline addicts that we are, we will grumble as we fork over the cash.

I am curious about your “cohort.” If he/she knows about nonpublic information concerning both the State Department and the CIA your cohort would have to be well placed. Are they a member of the National Security Council or a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee or similarly placed? If so, they should not be sharing classified information. I think that you and I share a respect for, and a hope for, democracy. Based on that common value, I encourage you to report anyone releasing classified information to the FBI. Regardless how any of us may have voted, most of us do not want to make the administration’s job harder by violating secrecy in the middle of a crisis.

If they are not so well placed, you might ask them what they mean by “completely blown it again.” Both of those government entities make mistakes frequently, but both of them have publicly been warning us about unrest in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and Yemen for several years. In my opinion the State Department has acted unwisely by waiting so long to issue travel warnings for Libya. The catch is that we do not get to know what the State Department advised the White House, or when they advised the White House (at least not for a while). The warnings are routinely approved by the president before they are issued. I am curious about who made the decision to issue that warning so late in the day. Although I am always up for a bit of good old fashioned State Department bashing, I have to admit that this might not have been their fault.

You raise some concerns that are on the minds of many Westerners tonight. I share your enthusiasm for spreading democracy, and, more specifically, freedom and justice. From my personal experiences, I will say that it is easier said than done, and successes are never obvious, but failure always is. Much blood suffering and treasure was expended in Central America trying to convince despots to become less despotic while trying to keep worse despots from taking over. We succeeded more than we failed, but at a high price. The highest price was paid by civilians.

Not everyone in the USA feels that we should be using our resources to influence events in other nations. The USA has always had a strong instinct for isolationism. We do not ignore that instinct easily.

To what extent the USA attempts to influence political events will remain a contentious debate in congress forever, as it should. Personally, I am not an isolationist because I want to survive, and I want my grandchildren (and yours) to have a free and decent country to live in. I want that for every child in the world. I believe that most Westerners would want that as I well. Unfortunately, most of the world’s new children will not be born into freedom or justice tomorrow morning. I hope that, when the dust settles a bit over the next few months, despotism and cruelty toward innocents will have been reduced.

Let me share a fond memory with you in the hopes of providing a laugh. Upon returning to the USA from a trip to Bosnia, someone in the White House said to me, “If we can bring a little law and order there, it will really be a great achievement.”

I responded enthusiastically with, “Yea, when we’re done there, can we send a few troops to Los Angeles or Detroit to establish a little law and order there? A little law and order here in the district would be nice too.” I laughed, then he relaxed and laughed. Then I got a few hours of sleep and went back to work.