By Mark Rollins
Imagine how furious we citizens would be if National Security Agency agents came knocking at our door every day, asking us to tell them what phone numbers we called that day and when we called and how long we talked, and where we called from.
Oh wait a minute …, they are doing that. They are just sparing us the inconvenience of having to answer the door on a daily basis, with all of that information compiled for them. They are sparing us the inconvenience of giving them the puzzle pieces they would need to put together an artful case against us at some point in the future. Puzzle pieces that may be nothing in and of themselves but, when assembled in certain creepy ways, could imperil our freedom and we could find ourselves deported or in a dark prison where habeas corpus is nowhere to be seen.
Are you calling a certain kind of doctor on a regular basis, or Planned Parenthood? Are you calling any government agencies to make complaints now and then? Are you calling any religious or political organizations? Or are you calling a friend who may know someone who happens to know a person who is in contact with someone who regularly communicates with another person completely unknown to you whom the government considers nefarious?
You’d better hope not, because, though you and I consider ourselves completely separate from any terrorists, the way the government sees it, we are all connected (by six degrees), therefore, we are all potential suspects.
Thanks to the loud whistle-blowing of young hero Edward Snowden, we now know how insidious and invidious our government really is. But Snowden was not optimistic about his leaks amounting to any change. He assumed there would be a collective shoulder shrug. He may end up being proved wrong about that. There is some outrage on the left and the right and at least consternation in the middle.
There was a bill in the House that almost passed, which would have repealed the sweeping data collection now allowed by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It sent a message to the White House that there is a lot of angst or embarrassment among lawmakers about this issue, even though they were supposedly all informed and on board with the whole notion of spying on millions of innocent people.
I am happy to say that the American Civil Liberties Union and others are bringing lawsuits against the government to push back against this blanket surveillance that is a blatant attack on the Fourth Amendment, and there are some new bills in Congress to try to address it.
When the government says it has to gather information on millions of innocent citizens in order to prevent crimes that may happen in the future, we must speak up. And when the government is sucking up the whole ocean to catch one fish, that really smells like … you know.
How about applying its strategy for Syria to surveillance? Rather than hurting an entire population, use surgical strikes to obtain pertinent information.
A case may be building against you or me right now, purposely or inadvertently, because the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has twisted the law to allow anything and everything that everyone is communicating to one another to be considered “relevant.” This seems to some people like defining “relevant” to the point of irrelevance. In a regular criminal case, that kind of argument would be laughed out of court.
The NSA even says that it only “acquires” information when it pulls information out of its giant database, and not when it intercepts and stores the information; in other words, collects it. So collecting is not acquiring? Intercepting is not gathering or collecting? Oh I give up, who’s on first?
This is very dangerous stuff: a secret court literally changing the definitions of words that we all thought we knew the meaning of. The collection of all this data is a violation of the Fourth Amendment but gathering it is not?
The government naturally wants to have power over us. We, the people, want to have power over our government. It is an age-old battle like the battle of the sexes or the generations. We all want to have our privacy, which is another way of saying “secrets.” The government wants to have both all of its secrets and all of our secrets. We have to occasionally remind the government that that is too much to ask.
When the director of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander, was asked whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is a rubber stamp, Alexander said, “I do not. The federal judges on that court are superb.” In other words, they are doormats.
Here is one big problem: President Obama knows that he and his party would be punished much more for another 9/11-type attack on his watch than he will be for spying on innocent Americans. Therefore, he has to err on the side of too much spying rather than not enough. This is a big problem because any future sitting president in the post-9/11 era will face that same dilemma. This will require much vigilance and push-back by the public.
Where will all of this lead? Are we in the Bush-Obama era of the redefinition of words, with the powers that be changing our language to justify their crimes? Will freedom be defined like in the song as: “Just another word for nothing left to lose?”
— Mark Rollins is a Davis resident.