"I don’t care if the government reads my mail or tracks my phone calls — I have nothing to hide … if it makes us safer, I am for it."
Such naïve pronouncements might be expected from average folks. But you know it’s bad when a U.S. senator — a Republican, no less — feels the same way. As South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham stated, "I’m a Verizon customer. I could care less if they’re looking at my phone records. … If you’re not getting a call from a terrorist organization, you got nothing to worry about."
Really, Lindsey? Nothing to worry about? Hmmm. Try telling that to those illegally targeted by the IRS. Since they hadn’t done anything wrong, they shouldn’t have had anything to "worry about." But that wasn’t the case, was it? And tell that to Associated Press reporters whose constitutional protections were callously cast aside by the government on a witch-hunt. Turns out those who thought they had "nothing to worry about" were wrong. Very wrong.
And for the record, the government that did those things is the exact same one that is, and has been, poring over private phone and email data of American citizens via the National Security Agency. Not just a few targets for which it had probable cause, mind you, but untold millions who never received "a call from a terrorist organization."
So forgive the majority of Americans who aren’t exactly comforted by assurances that they have nothing to worry about from Big Brother snooping through their personal lives. And excuse their skepticism that the government isn’t engaged in much more intrusive activities that have yet to be revealed.
And what is the government’s rationale for spying on innocent Americans?
That’s easy. It’s the nebulous, catch-all buzz phrase of "national security." But who will protect us from our overzealous national security protectors? Who is watching the "watchers?"
As President Obama said in defense of these programs, "It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience."
Thank God, he cleared that up.
Of course, anyone in their right mind would never believe that we could be 100 percent secure or have 100 percent privacy, as there are no absolutes in life. But this level of domestic spying is way out of bounds. Continued…
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Are our leaders so insulated as to believe spying on American citizens is the best way to "prevent a terrorist attack?" That trampling over the Constitution is acceptable to beat al-Qaida? And that disregarding the fundamental rights of freedom, privacy and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure is OK, since it’s in the name of "protecting the people?"
Frighteningly, the answers are yes. And with every revelation, Americans become more fearful of their government — one that has seriously deviated from being of the people, by the people and for the people.
Here’s a newsflash. If we continue down our incremental path to totalitarianism, jettisoning unique American safeguards in the name of "security" — whatever that means — we might as well throw up the world’s biggest white flag. America will have become just like the very enemies it proclaims to abhor.
We are infinitesimally better than our foes, so why are we punishing our own in the name of fighting them?
1.) Spying on American citizens without probable cause is, or at least used to be, illegal. Yet, this is nothing new. The NSA has been doing this for decades, as certain microwave towers in its Fort Meade, Md., facility in the 1980s had only one purpose — domestic electronic surveillance, according to reports. The big issues now are that a.) it has finally become widely known that the NSA is engaging in such activities, and b.) their technology, which is exponentially more advanced than anything on the private market, has intrusion capabilities beyond comprehension, allowing them free reign over every informational aspect of our lives.
2.) Are we really to believe that the government won’t take its activities to the next level, assuming it hasn’t already done so? Sorry, but that doesn’t pass the sniff test. Has there ever been a government that hasn’t eventually abused expanded powers, even those granted legitimately? And would the American people really have consented to such intrusions had they known the reach of these programs?
3.) Is it even working? Beyond the always-vague and conveniently unverifiable "we stopped a domestic terrorist attack" line, is this destruction of privacy worth the cost? Did all their phone records searches and data mining programs stop 9/11? Nope. You know what could have? A competent FBI supervisor in Washington using old-fashioned common sense and brainpower. But instead of listening to the Minnesota agent begging for action because well-funded Muslims fitting a terrorist profile were taking flying lessons, yet refusing to learn how to land the plane, nothing was done. And the rest is history.
Ditto for the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber — both foiled not because of NSA spy programs, but terrorist incompetence and courageous passengers. Did the NSA prevent any of the mass shootings or the Boston bombing? No.
And need we ask if the spooks’ super-computers stopped the Times Square bomber? Remember him? He tried to bomb New York City, fled to the airport, bought a one-way ticket to the Middle East (Red Flag One), in cash (Red Flag Two), fit a terrorist profile (Flag Three), and here’s the kicker — boarded the plane despite being on the Government No-Fly List. Which, I think, qualifies as Red Flags Four through 100. Continued…
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We have relegated human intelligence, in all its forms, to the back burner, choosing an over-reliance on technology. It’s bad enough it doesn’t work anywhere near advertised. But to lose our freedoms because it? No way.
4.) We violate the inner sanctum of American lives in the name of stopping terrorism, yet refuse, because of an allegiance to political correctness, to do the one thing that, hands down, does more to thwart terrorism and gain intelligence than anything else — profiling. Go figure.
5.) Everyone has something "to hide" because anything can be taken out of context and used by an unscrupulous agent for extortion and blackmail. Financial records, email conversations, photos, phone calls — you name it. The potential for abuse is astronomically high — a price Americans should not have to pay. Ever.
It’s time to use our intelligence the right way, through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court replete with added oversight, to protect us without destroying who we are and what we hold dear: Our inalienable rights that make us the envy of the world.
Ben Franklin said it best: "Those willing to give up liberty for security gain neither and will lose both."
How right he was.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]
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