About this sample
About this sample
Words: 2283 |
12 min read
Published: Nov 22, 2018
Words: 2283|Pages: 5|12 min read
We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy, where everyone is open to surveillance at all times; where there are no secrets from the government. When people fear surveillance, whether it exists or not, they grow afraid to speak their minds and hearts freely to their government or to anyone else. The basic constitutional rights that once protected even the frail and feeble are now being eroded in the name of fighting a “war against terrorism.” But is this really a war on terrorism, or is this a war waged on the people of the United States of America by its own government? If anyone has decent respect for the very founding principles of this great nation, they will not allow a government to destroy their constitutional liberties. We have fought numerous wars abroad and sacrificed thousands of our men in order to “make the world safe for democracy.” As Americans, it is now our duty to make our nation safe for democracy. In one of the most adulated documents in American history, the Declaration of Independence, there is a clause that states “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” The people of this great nation should not fear the government, for it is in fearing the government that our ideas and protests are suppressed. However, it is our duty to change and limit the capabilities the government possesses to perform surveillance on the American people. To quote the great statesman Thomas Jefferson, “when the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress and the President enacted legislation to strengthen the intelligence gathering community’s ability to combat domestic terrorism. Entitled the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001" (USA Patriot Act), the legislation’s provisions aimed to increase the ability of law enforcement to search email and telephonic communications in addition to medical, financial, and library records. (Bamford, 2002) One provision, section 215, permits law enforcement to obtain access to stored voicemails by obtaining a basic search warrant rather than a surveillance warrant. Obtaining a basic search warrant requires a much lower evidentiary showing which in essence allows the government to perform surveillance work at any level with few to no limitations. A highly controversial provision of the Act includes permission for law enforcement to use “sneak-and-peak warrants.” A sneak-and-peak warrant is a warrant in which law enforcement can delay notifying the property owner about the warrant’s issuance. In an Oregon federal district court case that drew national attention, Judge Ann Aiken struck down the use of sneak-and-peak warrants as unconstitutional and in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (Slobogin, 2007)
The Patriot Act also expanded the practice of using National Security Letters (NSL). An NSL is an administrative subpoena that requires certain persons, groups, organizations, or companies to provide documents about certain persons. These documents typically involve telephone, email, and financial records. NSLs also carry a gag order, meaning the person or persons responsible for complying cannot mention the existence of the NSL. Under the Patriot Act provisions, law enforcement can use NSLs when investigating U.S. citizens, even when law enforcement does not think the individual under investigation has committed a crime. The Department of Homeland Security has used NSLs frequently since its inception. By using an NSL, an agency has no responsibility to first obtain a warrant or court order before conducting its search of records. As we can see, many of the provisions stipulated under the Patriot Act leave a lot of space open for possible corruption or misuse of surveillance tactics.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America provides, "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." The ultimate goal of this provision is to protect people’s right to privacy and freedom from arbitrary governmental intrusions. However, there is a very relevant and important moment in American history in which we can see a clear violation of this constitutional liberty and that is during the tenure of J. Edgar Hoover as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Logically, our government’s capacity to assemble, keep and share information on its citizens has grown exponentially since the days when J. Edgar Hoover collected files on political leaders and activists to enhance his own power and influence in American politics. Nonetheless, Hoover used means of his time that were both illegal and infringe upon the constitutional principles expressed in the Fourth Amendment. Just like the muckrakers did nearly a century ago, a handful of activists took it upon themselves to expose the terrifying truths regarding the operations carried out by the FBI. On March 8, 1971, they broke into the FBI’s field office in Media, Pennsylvania., and left with volumes of incriminating documents. Over the next several months, they began to publish what they had learned in several newspapers all over the country. The program they exposed was called COINTELPRO (short for “counterintelligence program”), known today as the most nefarious of the many notorious secret operations authorized by Hoover. Under COINTELPRO, federal agents engaged in an astonishing array of abuses, not only widespread surveillance of law-abiding American citizens, but also active “disruption efforts against political organizations and activist leaders.” (Theoharis & Cox, 1988) The most famous is perhaps the FBI’s bugging of Martin Luther King’s hotel rooms, an effort that captured King in a variety of sexually compromising situations. When the press refused to publish the sex stories, the FBI sent King an anonymous note urging him to drop out of politics, and potentially to commit suicide. “You are done,” the letter declared. “There is but one way out for you.” (Theoharis & Cox, 1988) It was also revealed that Hoover kept files on almost every prominent personality in American politics, including Eleanor Roosevelt, John and Robert Kennedy, and Attorney General Harlan Stone and Homer Cummings. (Theoharis & Cox, 1988) In 1925, Hoover secretly began to maintain an "Obscene File" in the FBI laboratory and two other files in his office that were kept separate from the FBI's central records system and that recorded accounts of sexual activities and damaging personal information on dissident activists, prominent leaders and personalities, even presidents and first ladies. Many of Hoover’s actions were motivated by his own ambitions rather than in the interest of national security. In addition, Hoover had his aides keep "summary memoranda" on members of Congress, reporting on their "subversive activities" and "immoral conduct." He would later use this information to his own convenience and gained political favors. Hoover also had aides create office files in which memoranda labeled "Do Not File" itemized illegal break-ins by agents authorized by Hoover. These "files" were also kept apart from the Bureau's central records and were regularly destroyed. (Theoharis & Cox, 1988) Having a historical background on what can happen if surveillance is not regulated is very important in making any decisions in the present-day. If J. Edgar Hoover was able to accomplish all of those remarking feats in blackmailing and surveillance, one can only imagine what someone as cynical as Hoover could do today. Hoover is the very definition of why we should regulate the government’s capabilities in terms of surveillance.
In the course of history, there has been a growing question in American society: Where do we draw the line between national security and intrusion into the lives of private individuals? In the greatness that America has achieved, we have reached a tipping point. The power of the federal government has grown exponentially, not just in spending, but in its reach and involvement in the daily lives of average citizens. Government intrudes into virtually every aspect of our daily lives, from the type of material that is taught in schools, to the mix of fuel we put in our cars, to the kind of light bulb we can use. The monumental degree of the U.S. government's surveillance of Americans' phone records was laid bare by documents leaked by Edward Snowden in the first hard evidence of a massive data collection program aimed at combating terrorism under powers granted by Congress in the US Patriot Act. The aggressive nature of the National Security Agency program represents an unwarranted intrusion into Americans' private lives. To understand to what degree the government performs surveillance, we must first analyze the data exposed by NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden. One of the most controversial programs, XKeyscore, gives analysts the ability to easily search through the staggering amount of internet data collected and stored by the NSA every day. Using XKeyscore, an NSA analyst can simply type in an email address or IP address of a “target” and access their emails, search history, visited websites, and even Facebook chats. XKeyscore also has the ability to analyze HTTP data allows it to see “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.” (Bamford, 2002) Snowden boasts that he “had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if he had a personal email.” A second program known as PRISM utilizes extensive data mining efforts to collect information and analyze that data for “patterns of terrorist or other potential criminal activity. “ (Bamford, 2002) A third government surveillance program, FASCIA, works by storing cellular location data when it is passed along the cables that connect different mobile networks. An NSA analyst sitting at a desk in Maryland can then search through this stored data to track the location of a specific phone user. This undermines our very principles of freedom and places the government in a position where the people find themselves being oppressed. Programs such as Optic Nerve, in which the UK’s surveillance agency GCHQ collaborated with the NSA, automatically stores webcam images of users chatting on Yahoo Messenger without their consent. Like FASCIA, another government program called Dishfire targets cell phones. More specifically, it collects nearly 200 million text messages daily around the world, using them to view financial transactions, monitor border crossings, and meetings between unsavory characters. According to the Pew Research Center, 54% of Americans disapprove of government surveillance. Are we not living in a society where the majority rules and decides what they want and do not want in their government?
Many of those who argue that anything that is in the interest of national security should be a priority regardless of anything else use the recent St. Bernardino attack and the battle between Apple and the federal government to show that increased surveillance is positive. This whole case has brought government surveillance and its monumental grasp of power to the national stage. Apple protects iPhones against brute-force passcode attacks by limiting the number of attempts to ten. However, the passcode attempt counter is stored in NAND flash memory. If you copy the contents of that memory, make your ten attempts and then copy it back again before the next round of attempts, you can repeat that process as many times as needed to reach the correct passcode. Anyone who is relatively tech-savvy is able to hack into an iPhone or an Apple device given these revelations. When the government asks a private company, Apple, to hack its own users and undermine decades of security advancements as well as the trust between the consumer and the manufacturer, it is a slap to the faces of tens of millions of American citizens. Technology companies such as Apple have long-worked to protect its users from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals; now, our biggest threat is our own government.
In a democracy, people are entitled to know what techniques are being used by the government to spy on them, how the records are being held and for how long, who will have access to them, and the safeguards in place to prevent abuse. As the people of this great nation, we must send a direct message to the federal government with the purpose of pushing for greater legislation to regulate the presence of government surveillance in our quotidian lives. We should be disgusted at the government’s trampling of our constitutional liberties and it is our duty as such to bring these important issues to the table so that We The People of the United States can work together against the intrusions posed by the government.The American people should be informed of the degree to which the government has intruded upon their civil liberties. The world we are living in is changing around us. The individual is no longer the most important unit of society and that is something that the American people must be aware of. We are being turned into a collective, in no small part due to the startling disregard for privacy today. Technology is changing, allowing the government to track our location and mine information, all without our consent. The invasion of our lives is simply not worth the apparent benefits it may provide. As the Chief Executive of the Privacy Council, Larry Poneman once said, “The bottom line is that for now, privacy will take a backseat to security.”
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