Right now, the government is collecting the metadata – the digital trail you leave on your electronic devices – of millions of Americans and storing it in huge data-mining facilities across the country. Although the second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on May 7 that such bulk collection of Americans’ metadata through a program code-named PRISM is not authorized by section 215 of the Patriot Act, a provision that allows U.S. intelligence agencies to access records or other items under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the government remains persistent; and not only is the government basing PRISM’s legitimacy on a vague interpretation of section 215, but they are also violating your constitutional rights and liberty by doing so.
According to recent leaks by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to The Washington Post, we know that Microsoft, Apple, Google, Skype, Facebook, Verizon, PalTalk, AOL and YouTube have agreed to provide the NSA and the FBI their customers’ information and data. The newest discovery from Snowden’s documents made by The Intercept on May 5 confirms that NSA analysts celebrated the development of what they called “Google for Voice” nearly a decade ago. This program allows the NSA to transcribe voice communications and use keyword searching to snoop through our calls that they’ve stored.
By connecting the dots using your digital history, the NSA and the FBI enable the government to know details about you, such as which political organizations have you on their email list, what you posted on Facebook about a protest you attended or that you call family in Europe or the Middle East regularly – specifically, where the call was answered and how long it was. These details can illustrate your ideology, whereabouts and inner circles.
Allowing the government to possess this kind of information makes us vulnerable to being targeted by them for our political beliefs or personal contacts in the future. Actions by governments around the world, such as Russia, prove this to be a possibility.
The United States has drifted far from the original limited government proscription outlined in our Constitution. Today, it has a massive scope with hundreds of regulatory government agencies that write their own laws. Since 1993, 81,000 regulatory laws have been added to the books. The scope of the government’s surveillance of our lives coupled with these numerous laws is a dangerous combination.
Furthermore, the warrant issued by the FISA court that authorizes bulk collection of our metadata is merely a general warrant. General warrants do not name a person or place, but instead authorize the government to search wherever they wish and keep whatever they find. General warrants were despised by the founders of our country because they were used by secret courts in London as a way to repress the colonists.
The fourth amendment is one of the clearest in our Constitution, stating that all warrants must “particularly describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” However, the Patriot Act skirts our rights by allowing secret FISA court judges to authorize NSA agents to issue general warrants to the companies of Silicon Valley.
While the Supreme Court may rule on section 215 of the Patriot Act in the future, it has a history of ruling in favor of the government in matters of “national security.” Moreover, the 2nd Circuit merely called for clearer language in section 215 instead of ruling on PRISM’s constitutionality. Judge Gerald E. Lynch stated that, “if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”
We must constantly defend our fourth amendment against the surveillance state and remain aware of violations. Some congressmen are already on our side and fighting for reform, such as Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul and Democratic Congressman Ron Wyden, among others. Our representative government can be a great tool for preventing a tyrannical government if we keep public pressure on our representatives.