If You Build It, They Will Come

big brotherJust over one month after repeated assurances from the government that the NSA’s data-collection program wasn’t anything like what we thought it was, we’re now finding out that they were right.  It’s worse.

A review of some recent headlines:

“NSA ‘dragnet’ wider than previously suspected” – NBC News

“Report: NSA Searches and Stores Americans’ Emails” – Mashable.com

“The NSA is giving your phone records to the DEA. And the DEA is covering it up” – Washington Post

“White House: NSA monitors ‘very small percentage’ of Web traffic” – The Hill

“US directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans” – Reuters

“Other Agencies Clamor for Data NSA Compiles” – New York Times

“FBI pressures Internet providers to install surveillance software” – CNET

“IRS manual instructed agents how to hide secret DEA/NSA intel” – Reuters

Despite the fact that when the scandal first broke, the government claimed that it was just harvesting “meta data” – supposedly just the same records that your phone company has – we now learn what most people suspected: that they are indeed collecting emails, texts, Internet search and social media data, along with some content.  Further, the snooping isn’t limited to communications from terrorist suspects outside the US, but covers those between regular people right here in the good ol’ US of A.

We were told that this was exclusively about stopping terrorists, but now we find out that the NSA has been sharing its notes with the DEA to assist in its investigations too.  Worse, the DEA is hiding the use of that information from judges and prosecutors; meaning there’s no legitimate oversight of their criminal surveillance practices, making it harder for defendants to challenge the evidence against them.

Now before you shrug this off as not being your problem, (hey, it’s drug dealers!), read further.

According to a New York Times report last week, other government agencies have been looking to get their hands in the NSA’s treasure chest too, in order to “curb drug trafficking, cyber-attacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement”.

Still not close enough to home?  A Reuters report found that the IRS had also been receiving NSA intelligence by way of the DEA connection.  You’ve dealt with the IRS before, haven’t you?  Remember, those are the guys whose leadership and staffers have been found to deliberately target certain Americans based on their political beliefs.

The other reason these agencies want access to the NSA’s data is that any warrants they get for their own investigations have to be specific, whereas the NSA obtains its vast data through secret, generalized warrants.  It’s just easier not to follow the rules.

What we have now with the NSA is an agency that is taking advantage of the legitimate need Americans see in spying on our enemies to build a vast infrastructure that is now being directed at us, even if just incrementally.  But as long as such an infrastructure exists, it WILL be used for things that neither Congress nor the American people ever intended.

It is metastasizing into less of an intelligence agency and more of an intelligence warehouse that is subject to being accessed by other government agencies whose missions would never allow them to conduct this type of spying on Americans.

If you build it, they will come.

Meanwhile, some politicians on both sides of the aisle act as though there’s nothing to see here.  Liberals who manage to find a right to an abortion hiding in the Fourth Amendment don’t seem to know the meaning of the right of Americans to “be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects”.  And some “conservatives” have forgotten that one of the defining aspects of real conservatism is a very healthy dose of skepticism and distrust of government.

But the politics here is clearly on the side of liberty.  Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe that this is a real scandal that needs to be taken seriously, despite Obama’s lumping it into what he recently referred to as “phony scandals”. Most people think it’s a pretty big deal.

It is now possible to construct a government that could legally snoop on the content of every conversation we have, know everywhere we go, when and with whom, (via cell phone location data and closed circuit cameras), every dollar we spend, when, where and on what – and record every bit of it.  And that information would most certainly enable the government to catch a lot of bad guys and save a lot of lives, but would that make it worth the costs?

Once we decide that we are willing to give up “x” in exchange for more security, we’ll soon hear from the “If it would save a single life” crowd telling us that we should also be willing to give up “y”, and then “z”, etc..

As Ben Franklin put it, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

We’re on a slippery slope.

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