The federal government, courtesy of the panic-driven Patriot Act of 2001, has broad powers to monitor Americans’ online usage — whether through their phone calls, online searches, emails, bank statements, GPS locations or any number of other things we don’t know about. Just 45 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush signed the landmark Uniting and Strengthening American by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorist Act of 2001. President Obama signed the Patriot Sunsets Extension Act of 2011 on May 26, 2011, to allow a four-year extension of the provisions to include searches of business records, library records and roving wiretaps to try and capture “lone wolves” not associated with terrorist groups.
This work is so far-reaching and intensive that a new $2-billion facility is being built in Salt Lake City, Utah,-area in Bluffdale to house the National Security Agency’s Utah Data Center. “Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks,” according to a report in Wired magazine. This site will supplement efforts occurring at NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., for the Prism project. Though the Patriot Act authorized the government to specifically look at online traffic from foreign sources that could be potential terroristic threats, it is clear these searches go well beyond foreign sources with nine online service providers supplying meta-data to the government daily.
Exactly when does all this violate the Fourth Amendment, which is supposed to guard against unreasonable searches and seizures?
No doubt there is a balance between personal liberties and security, but the government has overstepped its bounds in this situation. It was bad enough to find out the government was subpoenaing phone records from reporters to find out who its whistleblowers were, but now the public can see the grim reality — attacking journalists was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of the government’s overreach. This doesn’t serve the national interest.
Before the government could discredit the media’s source for the “leak” on its far-reaching surveillance program, the whistleblower himself — 29-year-old Edward Snowden — came forward to own up to his disclosure of a procedure that he found to be morally reprehensible and in direct conflict with all that Americans stand for. Snowden worked in a variety of technical roles for Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii and for the CIA. Clearly, all the hand wringing that Americans and civil libertarians have done over unnecessary online censoring in China isn’t so far off from what is happening here. The Chinese government just happens to be more transparent than the U.S. government about what it’s doing.
Is this really an abuse of power?
Abuses are occurring every day when people who aren’t doing anything wrong are being scrutinized. Somehow, the $2-billion spy-like cyber-security center in Bluffdale escaped the sequestration cuts being faced by so many other government agencies. Another survivor: the government’s apparent desire and ability to collect Americans’ communications until such time as it proves useful to paint someone as a bad guy. Though most Americans believe some kind of scrutiny is occurring, they haven’t come face-to-face with the reality of it until the Britain’s newspaper The Guardian, along with the Washington Post, broke the story last week.
— Jeanny Sharp,
editor and publisher