, Salem, MA

July 2, 2013

Column: Trust us?

Joseph F. Doyle
The Salem News

---- — As we head into the long Fourth of July weekend, to celebrate our independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the ideals and the freedoms that Americans have fought and died for seem to be disappearing. The very entities that were created to protect the hallmarks of our free society have been corrupted to the point where, intoxicated with power, they eviscerate daily those same attributes, until it seems that our American heritage almost no longer exists. It’s a classic case of “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The government is becoming antagonistic to our most important assets — ourselves, the American people.

This shift of intentions and purpose in the government had its beginning back on Sept. 11, 2001, when those with autocratic-leaning desires created what is known as the Patriot Act, about which there really is not much that could actually be construed as “patriotic.” But, there is one small element of the Patriot Act, Section 215, that clearly doesn’t allow for spying on American citizens without probable cause and a warrant. There are two different elements working in the government’s communications surveillance program. One monitors digital communications occurring inside American shores going out and communications coming into America from outside American shores. The second element is actual spying on communications, for which probable cause and a warrant are needed, inside domestic shores.

A special algorithm was created in order to filter out from vast amounts of innocuous data that which could be potentially dangerous. This pertinent data is then examined for content. This has seldom borne fruit in the past 12 years, the best example being a plot to be perpetrated on the New York City subway system. Somewhere along the line, a secret request was made to the FISA court for a blanket warrant for all metadata generated by communications inside American shores. Metadata is not the content of the communications, but the data surrounding them, such as the time they took place, their destination, their length and the time they ended.

At this point, it should be explained that the FISA Court came into existence with the institution of the Foreign Information Surveillance Act, which was necessitated in the late ’70s to rein in the intelligence community, which had become disparate, internally incommunicado and wreaking havoc in some cases around the globe since the 1950s. Since the FISA Court’s inception, they have only turned down one request. Congressional and/or executive oversight of FISA has been nonexistent.

The algorithm used for foreign surveillance has been adapted for use domestically, monitoring Skype, video-conferencing, emails, texts, tweets, credit card transactions and vocal communications. This was all brought to light the second week of June by Edward Snowden. Snowden worked for consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton as a high-level computer troubleshooter and engaged as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden, undergoing a crisis of conscience, blew the whistle on a large portion of the NSA’s communications surveillance program. The blanket warrant from FISA has no “sunset provision” — it will go on forever. It will affect generations unborn ad infinitum. The Congressional and executive branches of our government are paying multiple billions of taxpayer dollars to retain and store the information accumulated, without even telling us what this is going to cost us annually to maintain. Roughly 3.4 million people in government have top-secret clearance to this information. The threat of its misuse is obvious, and increases exponentially, as the program continues.

Also, on June 19, 2013, before the Senate Intelligence Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been using drones for surveillance on Americans inside American shores.

By using the word “metadata” and law enforcement and saying, “Trust us; we don’t look at or abuse the content of the information,” the current administrators of the government are eliminating the Fourth Amendment. At any time, the repository of our information can be breached. How many ways our personal data can be abused is up for grabs.

We should completely and totally end the domestic aspect of this surveillance, saving ourselves billions of dollars. Do we really want to pay for our own potential enslavement? With that implementation, the Fourth Amendment should again reign as law of the land, as it was meant to be, and America will be stronger for it.

Happy Fourth of July!


Joseph F. Doyle is a freelance writer living in Salem.