An Inverted War in a Surveillance State

 

 The confusion of the interested onlooker is surely understandable at this point. Learning that the federal government is, and has apparently been for some time, collecting information on the phone calls of law-abiding citizens of whom there is absolutely no suspicion of illegality is jarring to the sensibilities of the free-born American.  A friend of mine, who simultaneously praises Ronald Reagan while describing himself as a liberal (which is indeed confusing), posted the musings of something called Americans Against The Republican Party on Facebook, which contained a USA Today story from 2006, reading in part:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.  The NSA program reaches into the homes and businesses across the nation by amassing  information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime.  

The point of the exercise is to highlight the supposed hypocrisy of those on the right who are alarmed by the revelations of whistle blower Edward Snowden, who says that federal authorities, “…quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.” The reader is invited to wonder where exactly were the protests from the right when it was George W. Bush’s administration doing the snooping under the auspices of the Patriot Act.  

Concerning which, the Patriot Act’s author, James Sensenbrenner, has gone on record saying that the feds have exceeded the powers granted under the Act.  “I do not believe the released FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act,” he says, adding that, “Seizing the phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.”  Sensenbrenner won’t get an argument from this corner on that last point. 

We have a program which, we were assured, focused on communication to and from those parts of the globe which incubate Islamic fanatics, evidently turning its focus to a dragnet of American citizens en masse. To the extent that those of us on the right were slow to see the potential for abuse of federal powers in this regard, we have occasion to again acquaint ourselves with Lord Acton’s admonishment that power begets corruption and to wonder at the dumb silence of those on the left who years ago counseled us to question authority. But, as is the case in so many instances, context matters.

We were told very recently by the President that, “…this war, like all wars, must end,” though he left unanswered the question of what happens when the enemy disagrees and continues fighting. “That’s what history advises,” said the President, though that advice went unheeded by the Tsarnaev brothers, who most emphatically waged war on Americans at the Boston Marathon. “That’s what our democracy demands,” he continued, even as those demands failed to slow the ranting savage who hacked a British soldier to death in broad daylight.  

However, if we accept at face value the President’s word that the war is winding down because — well,  because he says so — how can he justify surveillance of Americans on such a massive scale without hemorrhaging from the pressure of his contradictions? Why are the NSA and FBI directly tapping into the servers of major U.S. Internet providers and retrieving all manner of documentation?  Does democracy also demand these encroachments?  Does history advise federal access to emails, audio and video chats and photographs?  Which of the Federalist Papers spoke approvingly of intrusions of this order?  

We have a sort of inverted war going on and sadly, that war has enthusiasts on both sides of the aisle. This war is being waged by people who send F-16 fighter jets to Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egypt, while seeking to limit American citizens to seven bullets in their own defense. It’s a war in which our armed forces are emasculated even as domestic agencies amass military weaponry and hardware at an alarming rate, thereby leaving the law-abiding citizen vulnerable to both foreign enemies and his own government. This is a war in which an American ambassador and staff are left defenseless during an attack overseas,  abandoned by a  Commander-in-Chief who has yet to account for his own actions that day, but who nevertheless scurried about the land for weeks fraudulently insisting that responsibility rested on the head of an American video producer who remains incarcerated to this day. It is a war in which our government labels an attack on US soldiers by a Muslim shouting “Allahu Akbar” as, “workplace Vvolence,” while labeling Americans who embrace the freedoms enshrined in our founding documents as potential terrorists.  

We live in a time in which an Air Force wing commander removes from a base dining facility a Bible verse reading, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God,” on word of an unhappy atheist, thereby discovering a heretofore unknown constitutional right not to be offended. An Army Master Sergeant is reprimanded for reading books by conservative authors while Air Force personnel are directed to avoid accessing stories regarding the government’s surveillance of American citizens from government computers (often times the only way military members serving overseas can read the news).

We have an IRS that openly persecutes American citizens on the basis of their political beliefs while the EPA flies unmanned drones over the heads of American farmers just to make sure they are behaving. Our government monitors the phone lines of journalists suspected of printing leaked information all while illegally passing along the private information of individual citizens it has gathered to political opponents for purposes of harassment and intimidation. Is there now any wonder why so many of us rejected the idea of a national firearms registry? It is in this larger context that the government’s snooping on law-abiding citizens becomes even more problematic.  

In apparent need of a master, the modern liberal coexists quite cozily with the idea of an authoritarian power that leaves the individual citizen vulnerable to the whims and abuses of the state. Sadly, there appear to be those on our own side with similar predispositions — people for whom the emerging surveillance state presents no evident concern.  We are told that one court or another has held that once we engage in almost any transfer of information with another person or entity, we voluntarily cede all expectation of privacy over that information, — that the government is perfectly within its right, according to one precedent or another, to engage in what Ricochet Contributor John Grant correctly identified as the descendant of British general warrants wherein the government was free to search citizens without probable cause.  

It pays, at times like this, to remind ourselves of the whole point of the American experiment and of the fact that a bloody revolution was fought precisely to free the individual from the arbitrary powers of centralized government. Indeed, the Constitution itself would not have been ratified by the states had it not been for the addition of a Bill of Rights, fashioned to secure and nurture the sovereignty of the individual. The Founders did not risk their lives, fortunes, and scared honor for want of governmental attention. With Democrats having morphed into the party of government, their general hostility to the Constitution is expected, though disheartening. Heirs to liberty, they have instead opted for subservience. But the degree of acquiescence from some on the right is downright alarming.  

The good news is that an undercurrent of resistance is beginning. It was on display last week, when a high school valedictorian discarded his school-sanctioned speech in favor of reciting, to cheers and applause, The Lord’s Prayer. It was on display again last week when Betty Gerritson, from Wetumpka, Alabama, cut through the fog of lawyer-speak and bureaucratese to pointedly tell Congress, “You’ve forgotten your place.”   

As for me, I will go on record here as observing that the fact that a court has given its imprimatur to an encroachment makes it no less of an encroachment. Last week, the Supreme Court also held that the police may obtain, involuntarily, DNA samples from those they arrest. Note please that no conviction is required. Indeed, even if the arrest is found to have been in error, the right of the individual not to turn his DNA over to the state will have already been ignored. For that matter, the Supreme Court last year gave us the supreme injustice of granting the federal government power to require a private individual to enter into a private contract by virtue of his very existence. We are constantly told to “accept reality,” by the terminally timid among us for whom acceptance of reality requires acquiescence in servitude. Not here. Not me. Not ever.

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  1. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @iWe

    I am with the others who defended the Patriot Act, as I thought it meant tracking communications between known jihadists, around the world.

    I did not realize it meant recording, for a period that may as well be eternity, EVERY communication that EVERY person has from the perceived safety of their own home or office.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @ChrisCampion

    This goes back to the ‘warrantless wiretaps’ debate, which seemed to include a lot of weeping about having a probably cause requirement, etc.  Funny how no one is staging a protest at the White House this week over how their rights are being trampled by a Hitleresque hick from Texas.

    Oh, sorry.  Kenya.  My bad.

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Member
    @DocJay

    This administration makes me want to grab a pitchfork Dave.   By the time we are in our eighties, our country will have collapsed or be filled with bleating sheep.    .   Even now the sheeple turn a blind eye to the wolves.    That’s double plus ungood when it’s your flesh on the menu.  

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Member
    @TheKingPrawn

    Thank you, Dave. You put in context the greater debate over this internal spying issue. 

    Doc, another year or two and a pitchfork will be the only thing you can grab to defend your liberty. Of course, the tines will have been appropriately blunted by those at “elf and safety” so you can’t hurt yourself or anyone else with it.

    As I said earlier, and it bears repeating, there’s nothing to worry about. The crown has assured us of the need for this stamp tax.

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Member
    @DCMcAllister

    “Not here. Not me. Not ever.” Add to that, Dave, “Not alone.”

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @DaveCarter
    D.C. McAllister: “Not here. Not me. Not ever.” Add to that, Dave, “Not alone.” · 5 minutes ago

    Exactly.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Member
    @user_646399

    The NSA says, “thanks for identifying yourselves to us before you can organize to resist us.” The pitchfork and snake control bill has already been introduced in congress.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Member
    @FloppyDisk90

    IMHO, I think the hypocrisy charge is well taken and an “oops…we really didn’t really mean for it to be used that way” by the author is less than exculpatory.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Member
    @WICon

    Dave, you’re very wise. I’ve been dismayed by listening to and reading many center-right radio hosts, columnists and pundits.

    Leave it to a very wise truck driver to wipe the floor with the lot of them.

    Not here. Not now. Not me. Not ever.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @DaveCarter
    civil westman: The NSA says, “thanks for identifying yourselves to us before you can organize to resist us.” The pitchfork and snake control bill has already been introduced in congress. · 5 minutes ago

    Come-and-Get-Them.jpgThere’s a response to that:  

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @DaveCarter
    FloppyDisk90: IMHO, I think the hypocrisy charge is well taken and an “oops…we really didn’t really mean for it to be used that way” by the author is less than exculpatory. · 7 minutes ago

    It is indeed well taken, but I’m not very well disposed to take it from people who find no problem with omnipotent government generally.  

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Member
    @FloppyDisk90
    Dave Carter

    FloppyDisk90: IMHO, I think the hypocrisy charge is well taken and an “oops…we really didn’t really mean for it to be used that way” by the author is less than exculpatory. · 7 minutes ago

    It is indeed well taken, but I’m not very well disposed to take it from people who find no problem with omnipotent government generally.   · 0 minutes ago

    Point well taken.  :)

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Member
    @RobertELee

    Amen!

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller
    Robert E. Lee: Amen!

    What he said.

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @iWe

    Imagine if the IRS employees and the NSA information were pooled, just as somehow the BOLO from the IRS triggered a range of other government audits.

    Full IRS tapping of all communications, going back years and years.

    Anyone could be destroyed, just from the scrutiny.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Member
    @genferei

    IF there was no history of confidential government records being misused (Joe the Plumber, Obama’s primary opponents, prop 8 supporters, farmers(!)); and IF there was no history of giant anti-terror programs that produce nothing but expense and inconvenience in return for no actual increase in security (the TSA); and IF there was no history of mission creep for initiatives originally aimed at terror (see almost anything related to the Patriot Act); THEN the burden of proof might plausibly be on opponents of PRISM and its ilk.

    But there is. So it isn’t. Instead, the burden must be on the proponents of these programs to justify them in the light of the inevitable tendency to abuse. I have yet to see this burden discharged.

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Member
    @Pseudodionysius

    Barack Obama will get to the bottom of this when O.J. Simpson finds the real killers.

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Member
    @Herbert

    As someone who was vociferous in his opposition to the overreaching Bush administration and the imposition of the odious patriot act, I find myself apathetic to the protests these days that the Obama admin has continued with the policies. Why? Because everything seems to be predicated on politics these days, principles be damned. Conservatives decry activist judges, until they actively rule in their favor, liberals would go [nuts] with a GOP admin that had IRS abuse yet are strangely silent with the current situation. Why must it all come down to politics?

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @iWe

    Herbert, you have a point. But it is also true that the growth in the programs, and their enhanced stretch and perfect memories, allow those of us who are alarmed now to point out how much has changed.

    These programs were to nail down Bad Guys. We did not know the programs were going to capture comprehensive data on everyone. Perhaps we were naive. But that does not make us wrong now.

    Et tu quoque.

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @DougKimball

    You are so right, Dave.  Our government has forgotten its place.  Politicians believe that they have an unlimited right to authority and encumbancy, and to use power to retain both.  The bureaucracy knows no limits, derives its power from those politicians and corporate interests who support and nurture it, which it in turn supports and nurtures.  Those who seek to limit the State are its enemy, to be defeated and diminished.  Cronies seek a place at the trough and fall in line for favors, seeking bureaucratic burdens that they can bear but which crush their competition.  And in the mix, liberty is forgotten, stare decisis is allowed to turn our constitution on its head and suddenly, we are upside down.  Success is illegitimate, taxes are charity, takings are undispuatable, faith is crazy, bastardy is laudable, prayer is banned, profit is theft, rich is poor and up is down  Man…

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Member
    @RobertELee
    Barbara Kidder

    Although Ricochet was not up and running in 2001 when the Patriot Act was being debated in Congress and on the airwaves, there are many folk here who supported it, and even more who did not oppose it!

    It is not clear whether Mr. Carter is offering those people ‘cover’, when he writes here,

    “To the extent that those of us on the right were slow to see the potential for abuse of Federal powers in this regard…” (referring the the Patriot Act),

    or whether he was, in fact, conceding that he had acquiesced to its subtle charms. · 10 hours ago

    I was opposed to the PATRIOT Act then and now.  Being a government historian has made me a cynic. I realize at the very begin what the PATRIOT Act and other laws like it would devolve into.  Let me state here we have not seen the worst yet, no where near it.

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @JamesGawron

    Dave,

    He’s baaack.

    This guy never quits.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Listener
    @FricosisGuy

    It’s a perversion of Churchill: Bush gave him the tools, Obama will finish the job.

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Member
    @Rascalfair

    If all this snooping on everyone is so necessary for the public safety…how come it didn’t stop a pair of red flagged Chechen amateurs before they killed and maimed a crowd in Boston?  How come it didn’t prevent the Ft. Hood massacre?   These perps were so easily tracked and identified that they were identified, and the Surveillance Staters simply chose to ignore their own data.  Why is this massive data suck assumed to be effective when the same people who blew the Boston opportunity and who call Ft.Hood “workplace” violence are running it, too?

    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @JamesGawron
    Rascalfair: If all this snooping on everyone is so necessary for the public safety…how come it didn’t stop a pair of red flagged Chechen amateurs before they killed and maimed a crowd in Boston?  How come it didn’t prevent the Ft. Hood massacre?   These perps were so easily tracked and identified that they were identified, and the Surveillance Staters simply chose to ignore their own data.  Why is this massive data suck assumed to be effective when the same people who blew the Boston opportunity and who call Ft.Hood “workplace” violence are running it, too? · 0 minutes ago

    Exactly

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member
    @Raxxalan

    James, It is worse than that. I have no doubt that the analytics would have yielded the results in advance. I am willing to bet the results were willfully ignored because they didn’t fit the “politically correct” narrative. In other words we are trading our liberty for security and getting neither because it doesn’t fit in with the world view of the left. It would be comic if it weren’t so tragic.

    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Member
    @BarbaraKidder
    Herbert Woodbery: As someone who was vociferous in his opposition to the overreaching Bush administration and the imposition of the odious patriot act, I find myself apathetic to the protests these days that the Obama admin has continued with the policies. Why? Because everything seems to be predicated on politics these days, principles be damned. Conservatives decry activist judges, until they actively rule in their favor, liberals would go [nuts] with a GOP admin that had IRS abuse yet are strangely silent with the current situation. Why must it all come down to politics? · 1 hour ago

    Edited 1 hour ago

    Although Ricochet was not up and running in 2001 when the Patriot Act was being debated in Congress and on the airwaves, there are many folk here who supported it, and even more who did not oppose it!

    It is not clear whether Mr. Carter is offering those people ‘cover’, when he writes here,

    “To the extent that those of us on the right were slow to see the potential for abuse of Federal powers in this regard…” (referring the the Patriot Act),

    or whether he was, in fact, conceding that he had acquiesced to its subtle charms.

    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Member
    @BarbaraKidder
    Robert E. Lee

    Barbara Kidder

    Although Ricochet was not up and running in 2001 when the Patriot Act was being debated in Congress and on the airwaves, there are many folk here who supported it, and even more who did not oppose it!

    It is not clear whether Mr. Carter is offering those people ‘cover’, when he writes here,

    “To the extent that those of us on the right were slow to see the potential for abuse of Federal powers in this regard…” (referring the the Patriot Act),

    or whether he was, in fact, conceding that he had acquiesced to its subtle charms. · 10 hours ago

    I was opposed to the PATRIOT Act then and now.  Being a government historian has made me a cynic. I realize at the very begin what the PATRIOT Act and other laws like it would devolve into.  Let me state here we have not seen the worst yet, no where near it. · 1 hour ago

    Sadly, our country will succumb to these stealth intrusions on our Constitutional liberties until patriotic Americans stop using ‘Situation Ethics’ to determine whether government over-reach is permissible, because of ‘threats to the nation’.

    cont. below:

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Member
    @BarbaraKidder

    continued:

    History is replete with examples of governments (and many despots) who use an unstable threat to peace and tranquility ( whether internal or external), to justify their taking measures which curtail the freedom of their citizens.

    Why is it that we only seem to learn from this AFTER it has happened?

    There were certainly respected people speaking and writing about the dangers of adopting the Patriot Act (both in 2001 and 2005), besides Congressman Ron Paul.

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Member
    @Keith

    Every time a conservative talks about “electability,” they are saying: “accept reality.”

    Rand Paul 2016.

    • #30

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