So, apparently, those tin foil hat crazies who’ve been spouting off on random street corners for years that the government knows everything about everybody were right all along. Not sure about you, but I don’t much like the idea of a world where, in retrospect, the Lone Gunmen from the X Files look more like prudent planning than portraits of overly paranoid whackos.
Whatever the state of these NSA programs today, and many have argued the national security case for us to continue to not know for certain, the long term implications are clear. The Federal Government can and will eventually keep copies of all communications short of face to face meetings, indexed and categorized in a database for an indetermininate amount of time to peruse at their future leisure, hopefully at the behest of a warrant but possibly not. It’s frightening. Today, we’re justifying it for terrorism. Tomorrow, it’ll be for something else. In the end, I am certain this will become a primary law enforcement resource tool at every level; local, state and national. The information is just too rich, access to it too easy to ignore. Never underestimate the government’s capacity to choose laziness over liberty. It also helps their cause that there’s about a grand total of six people left in the political and law enforcement sphere who actually give a shit, or even acknowledge, that the fourth amendment is a real thing.
Personally, I find even the very concept of this database abhorrent. How anyone in their right mind would believe giving the government access to essentially all communications is a good idea is lost on me. Whether or not we can currently show abuse from it is irrelevant, its very existence, even in a rudimentary form, is an abuse. And you will never convince me that the folks who penned or ratified the Bill of Rights would approve of this.
On top of that, it’s unnecessary. If anyone out there planning an attack is clueless enough to speak so bluntly or obviously on the subject by any one of these communications channels that an algorithm turns them up, chances are you don’t really need to use this level of technology to ferret them out in the first place. Besides, while the feds are busying themselves talking about all the mythical attacks they’ve thwarted but can’t prove actually existed, we have two recent examples where this system clearly failed, one extraordinarily badly; Benghazi and the Boston Marathon. In the case of the latter, we actually had Russia (someone that might know a little something about radicalized Chechneyans) tell us to keep an eye on the lead bomber two years before this ever happened. We knew exactly who he was, by name, even interviewed him, and still managed to totally miss what he was planning. Not exactly reassuring. Maybe if they’d spent a little more time focusing on a clearly named potential threat instead of hoovering up people’s old emails and skype chats, there’d be a few more runners in next year’s marathon not needing prosthetics to compete.
Look, I have no issue if the Feds wanna gather up publicly available data. They’re more than welcome to sweep up this blog, my twitter feed or any of the various photos of me smirking drunkily in front of a random bonfire on Facebook. Comments I’ve left scattered on websites to the far corners of the Internet are fair game, too. I chose to make that stuff public. Hell, I want people to read it, that’s the point. If the NSA is really interested, I’ve also got a couple books and various short stories for sale on Amazon. Feel free to use some of that NSA budget to buy two copies, one for a backup, I don’t mind.
Financial data, credit card purchases and the like, well, that stuff is pretty much already an open book if the government wants a look-see. I don’t agree with it at all, bank accounts should be sacrosanct, in my opinion, but that ship sailed long ago. Even emails I can understand, to a point. Clearly, their very use requires storage and, as such, the expectation of privacy must be lessened. Anyone who hasn’t learned by now to not put something stupid that can bite you in the ass in an email gets what they deserve.
Text messages are different, though. They are direct private person to person communications over a private network. There is no reason the content of these messages need ever be stored anywhere but in the sending and receiving devices and any cloud backup system the user willingly agrees to. The government should not have a right to the content or details of these private communications just because they exist, and certainly not have the right to keep copies of them in advance of any evidentiary warrant in the off chance they’ll have one somewhere in the future. Even access to someone’s texting logs is a search in no uncertain terms, one that can reveal a great deal of information about who one is communicating with and when.
This is the same problem with the phone calls themselves. I see the term metadata thrown out there as if compiling and reviewing information that reveals who you are calling, for how long, from where to where and when doesn’t constitute a genuine search. That’s just bullshit. It is clearly a search, one that should definitely require a specific warrant to execute, regardless of whether you’re listening in, reading a transcript of the conversation or indexing its metadata.
The deeper question, to me, is why are these calls being recorded at all? I live in Maryland and it’s illegal here to record someone without their consent. So who is doing the recording? Is the government getting these recordings from Verizon and why do they have them in the first place? How long have they been storing them? Every recording of one of my calls as a Verizon customer currently residing on their equipment is a direct violation of Maryland state law. Or is the NSA tapped into Verizon’s network and making these recordings themselves?
Irregardless, making and keeping recordings of private calls prior to having specific justification to do so, violates the entire concept of needing a warrant. It basically defines all communications as evidence of something, only they’ll have to get back to us later with a warrant telling us what after they’ve figured it out.
Needless to say, I’m not even acknowledging the secret FISA court or its directives. A kangaroo hopping around with a rubber stamp should be on that court’s official seal. It is a total beauracratic cover-your-ass with the appearance of process mechanism that is neither check nor balance. Until the people subjected to this surveillance, which will soon be everyone if it isn’t already, have the right to challenge its legality in open court, nothing about this is right or legitimate. And the national security concerns are little more than an end run around having to actually respect the Constitutional liberties of the people they’re supposed to be protecting. We must destroy your Constiutional rights in order to protect them. Seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before.
You can’t turn back the clock on technology, as much as some people would like to try. These kinds of programs are a reality in the not too distant future, if not right at this very minute. The implications of this go far beyond security and fighting terrorism and strike right at the very nature of what kind of nation we want to be. What we can’t do is let the folks currently shouting national security drive this train any longer. The cat’s out of the bag. We damn sure have every right to know what information of ours the government has access to, and how they use it. Secrecy of enforcement is antithetical to a free democratic state. We need clear protections placed against preemptive collection of private communications. We need to refute the idea that it’s acceptable to compile a vast database of private information and get a warrant to search through it later. No one should be keeping copies of the content of anyone’s conversations without a specific warrant ahead of time and no warrant should retroactively apply to past conversations that were collected without specific cause.
Otherwise, this will just continue to spiral out of control.