United Stasi of America
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
–Declaration of Independence In Congress, July 4, 1776
I think the news breaking about the NSA’s PRISM program is pretty scary. This type of abuse is truly the biggest threat to the country and the liberties we hold dear that I can think of. It seems like everyone kind of expected this type of surveillance was taking place but now that we’ve been confronted with some hard evidence it becomes harder to just write it off. This is truly an Orwellian nightmare come true.
Obama – what part of “The 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” do you not understand?
I was thinking about this yesterday and I was trying to come up with an analogous 1776 version of this story. It would basically involve the British having a central processing center for all written communications and papers (kind of like the postal service but you can’t avoid it). But instead of just receiving and distributing the mail it made a copy of every document that passed through and kept that document on file forever – for the king or his agents to review at their pleasure. Images of red coats sitting in a row reading and transcribing letters with their feather pens should be coming to mind. Wouldn’t that have been outrageous? Do you think the founding fathers would have listed that as one of their grievances in the Declaration of Independence? I digress…
There is a great op-ed piece in the Guardian by Daniel Ellsberg that is worth a read – below is an excerpt. It’s also worth nothing that Ellsberg thinks this is the most important leak in American history; even more important than the Pentagon Papers that were leaked 40 years ago. (side note: at least the UK’s free press is looking out for our rights and liberties – thanks, we owe you one)
“But what is not legitimate is to use a secrecy system to hide programs that are blatantly unconstitutional in their breadth and potential abuse. Neither the president nor Congress as a whole may by themselves revoke the fourth amendment – and that’s why what Snowden has revealed so far was secret from the American people.
In 1975, Senator Frank Church spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms:
“I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”
The dangerous prospect of which he warned was that America’s intelligence gathering capability – which is today beyond any comparison with what existed in his pre-digital era – “at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left.”
That has now happened. That is what Snowden has exposed, with official, secret documents. The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the Stasi – the secret police in the former “democratic republic” of East Germany – could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America.”
Scary stuff indeed. Hang on… someone’s at the door.