Possibly one less Straw Man (right to privacy debate)

Ferryland LighthouseWhen I was very young I received assurances the boogie man wasn’t under the bed or hiding in the closet, waiting to pounce when I fell asleep. I also was told via extended family, Santa Claus knew who was naughty and nice. I learned as I grew older these childhood fictions were just that and nothing more.

Since that time several public investigations and revelations have taken on a new life with a similar impending threat from a substitute omnipresent entity. That entity has morphed into the federal government through a complicated tapestry of NSA surveillance programs and IRS biased authority in using the tax code against specific public organizations and individuals.

There are numerous stories in circulation regarding the NSA and the IRS. Each of them don’t portray a benevolent protector or servant of the public. I watched, listened and held back my initial reaction to these stores because I’ve learned that reaction to any story can take the form of irrational beliefs just as a little child might, equivalent to fear about the boogie man, etc. There are a lot of people in the business of fear mongering and end of days narratives, I don’t want to be part of that crowd.

I do want to have a continued public debate on what procedures are in place to align our anti-terrorism and crime prevention surveillance within the guidelines of the Constitution. I also want to have a more transparent examination of the facts related to the IRS. This is especially important as we approach 2014, the year the IRS has authority to enforce the two federal statutes enacted in 2010: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4872), which amended the PPACA.

The reason I’m examining both of these issues is because they have wide-ranging impact on all. Accountability of any organization, most especially government, is a fundamental requirement of a democracy. The essential difference between the United States and other democracies is our Constitution. This document has preserved order where chaos and dissension abound in the world. It was devised by men who understood the trappings of power and recognized the pitfalls of having too great a concentration of that authority which undermines freedom and individual liberty. It profoundly declares each individual has natural and legal rights. It expressly limits the federal government in encroaching on those rights and grants powers back to the states which are not expressly written in the Constitution. Most importantly the Constitution went beyond the Articles of Confederation in authority but divided it among three branches, Executive, Legislative and Judicial.

Let’s examine the data before declaring Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor. I include links below which include an opposing opinion. We must examine the motivations and the type of information Mr. Snowden has put forth. Does he reveal new information which should call into question the activities of the U.S. government? Did he explain how the NSA violates the Constitution or invade the privacy of the individual? Is he a traitor and therefore should be tried and potentially convicted? You might already have a strong opinion however take a moment and examine what he said against the backdrop of existing and proposed laws.

Law enforcement officials have been tapping phone lines since telephones were first invented. In 1928 the Supreme Court set a precedent when it ruled that telephone eavesdropping for law enforcement purposes was legal because there was no physical invasion of privacy. Where the problem lies is the oversight of such activities, it’s necessary to tap phone lines of suspected criminals however the law has been abused as well. Then U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1963, authorized the FBI to tap the phone lines of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  In 1969 President Richard Nixon approved many wiretaps, including the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. Perhaps it’s not that we oppose eaves dropping, but who has control, their character and if they have unlimited access.

In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which outlines procedures for the physical and electronic surveillance and collection of “foreign intelligence information” between “foreign powers” and “agents of foreign powers”, this can include American citizens and permanent residents suspected of espionage or terrorism.

The Internet became a new source for collection of data when the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act was passed in 1994. CALEA’s purpose was to enhance the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance. It required telecommunications carriers and manufacturers of telecommunications equipment to modify and design their equipment, facilities, and services to have built-in surveillance capabilities, allowing federal agencies to monitor all telephone, broadband Internet, and VoIP traffic in real-time.

Congress amended FISA in 2008 with four key provisions which could be viewed as abuse of power:

  • Prohibits the individual states from investigating, sanctioning of, or requiring disclosure by complicit telecoms or other persons.
  • Permits the government not to keep records of searches, and destroy existing records.
  • Protects telecommunications companies from lawsuits for “‘past or future cooperation’ with federal law enforcement authorities.
  • Allows eavesdropping in emergencies without court approval.

None of these laws or amendments are “Top Secret Information”. They’re common knowledge, available to anyone interested enough to conduct a search. While an Illinois Senator, Barack Obama voted for this bill.

If the government is going to go through the trouble of passing these laws, they intend to implement them. They’ve been tapping our phone lines since the 1890′s and they’ve been tapped into all on-line networks since DARPA. Edward Snowden didn’t reveal any “Top Secret” information that’s going to put our country at risk. Every single bit of information is available through public on-line resources. You just need to be able to connect the dots.

The Obama administration wanted to require on-line companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, and many others, to build-in capacity to comply with wiretap orders of their systems. This bill wasn’t passed, however during the IRS and AP uproar, the proposal was revised and it’s on its way to becoming law. The new proposal requires all on-line networks and cell phone service providers to build in a wiretapping capacity that makes it possible for law enforcement agencies to immediately hook-up and start downloading data. These companies will not be “asked” to comply, they’ll be ordered. And if they don’t, they’ll face fines starting at $25,000 per day.

Privacy: the state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion. If you make a law that sanctions it, do we have privacy?
motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939

motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939

multiple choices are allowed