In recent days, we’ve been subjected to two conflicting federal court opinions regarding Fourth Amendment protections. The first, which came out Dec. 16, written by Richard J. Leon, federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., stated that there isn’t one incident in 12 years that shows that the NSA’s massive, telephony metadata collection has actually borne fruit.
Two days later, on Dec. 18, a presidential review group agreed that the program was not essential for preventing attacks within the United States, and less-intrusive measures would work just as well. They also made the recommendation to discontinue the government’s bulk storage of telephone records, suggesting that private providers or a private third party should provide the storage function, surrendering access to the information only by court order.
On Dec. 27, New York Federal District Judge William H. Panley III expressed a completely opposite opinion, which was that there is no violation in the NSA’s bulk metadata collection because it does not infringe on the degree of privacy that the Founding Fathers enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. However, he did state that there was an issue concerning whether the program should even be conducted. According to Panley, that issue “is for the other two coordinate branches of government to decide.”
Part of Leon’s (opposing) opinion was, “I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware of the ‘abridgment’ of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power, would be aghast.”
Does anyone think that Washington, Jefferson, Franklin or any of the rest of the Founding Fathers, if they had phones (cell or landline), computers or GPS, would not have made provisions for personal privacy in those applications, as well as any others that could be thought of? All you have to do is look at the Bill of Rights to realize that, of course, they would have included guaranteed protections in any or all instances for our personal freedom.
The current government’s theory concerning citizens’ expectations of Fourth Amendment personal privacy being negated by disclosure to a third party should only be valid if the third party is not being compensated. If citizens are paying providers for private services, that immediately engages the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees “people to be secure in their persons, house papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure.” Payment gives the citizen sovereignty, because the communication becomes his or her property.
On Dec. 18, former NSA private contractor Edward J. Snowden, in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, stated that the activities of the NSA are, perhaps, “the greatest human rights challenge of our time. These programs were never about terrorism; they’re about economic spying, social control and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”
The NSA, FBI, CIA and DNI are supported, 60 percent to 70 percent, by private contractors, not government officials. Let’s be clear here: Snowden worked for consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton as a high-level computer troubleshooter. He was not a government employee. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being siphoned off by private contractors annually in the name of terrorism.
A perfect example is the NSA’s XKeyscore program, which, in 2013, spent a quarter of a billion dollars for corporate partner access payments on specific printouts on specific accounts. Verizon received $750 a month for each specific account, which was exposed in October 2013’s Atlantic Monthly. And, just to be fair, it’s not just Verizon, it’s all of them: Comcast, AT&T, Microsoft, T-Mobile, et al.
Our government’s financial resources should not be in an ongoing program of deletion by private contractors. These resources are being diverted from retired military, the elderly, the food stamp (SNAP) program, education, repair and maintenance of national infrastructure, etc. Our government officials better wake up and smell the coffee, before a national trance of paranoia engulfs us all, to the point of no return.
Joseph F. Doyle is a freelance writer based in Salem.