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What's the Point of the US Constitution?

The Government just ignores it anyway... An outraged American writes about the implications of the Snowden revelations

If someone suggested a year ago that the United States Federal Government could spy on its own citizens through their smart phones, that person would have gotten laughed at or a weird look. Furthermore, one might have been diagnosed with a mental disorder for suggesting that the U.S. government colludes with major U.S. corporations to access phone records, instant messages, and e-mails of the general American and others. I first heard of the National Security Agency’s Utah Data Center in the winter of 2012 though alternative media and was skeptical of claims that its purpose was to record the private dealings of American citizens. In May of 2013 Edward Snowden, a private contractor working for the NSA, began a still-ongoing series of leaks through The Guardian which left me with little doubt on the Utah Data Center’s intended purpose. Many other and Americans I can say beyond a reasonable doubt that NSA is the United States' version of East Germany’s Stasi. The United States is most certainly not East Germany but is becoming more so like it every day.

 

Under our constitution, every citizen of the U.S. is guaranteed freedom of the press and freedom of speech, as well as freedom from illegal searches and seizures. With the continuing leaks about the NSA, the constitutionally of the U.S. government’s actions comes into question. The alleged oversight body for the domestic surveillance carried out by the NSA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, it's thus known as the FISA Court. Its purpose is to oversee domestic requests for surveillance and determine the necessity of the request, if there is any. Out of 1,789 requests in 2012, 40 were modified and 0 were denied. One must go back to 2009 to find a denied request by the FISA Court; that year’s total amounts to 1. It is painfully obvious that this court is little more than a rubber stamp; oversight of all domestic surveillance in the U.S. is in the hands of a kangaroo court.

 

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution essentially guarantees every citizen their right to privacy and protection from unjust searches and seizures:

 

“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.”

 

Apologists for the NSA will defend their mass surveillance saying these searches are not unreasonable. I would have to say the NSA’s program – dubbed PRISM – is pretty un-fucking-reasonable. PRISM is the NSA collection of private citizens through forced collaboration from companies such as Yahoo, Google, Facebook et al. Do not feel sorry for these corporations: They were compensated millions of dollars for PRISM compliance, paid to sell our personal effects guaranteed by the fourth amendment. If a company does not wish to comply with these requests, it faces a shutdown such as what happened to the encrypted e-mail service LavaBit. The owner of a company cannot even talk to their lawyer about the requested data; doing so would mean a prison sentence. Do not fret my British friends; we have plenty of money to go around. The NSA (U.S. Government) paid GCHQ to the tune of £100 million to spy on its own citizens and provide access to this data.

 

Not only have the privacy rights of American citizens and others been violated, the U.S. government has threatened to crackdown on journalists because of these leaks. If you watch mainstream media in the United States it seem as though Edward Snowden is Satan himself, selling out the national security of the country. Despite this propaganda, 51% of Americans consider him a whistle-blower and not a traitor according to the Washington Post. (I myself consider him a hero). The President even suggests that Snowden should return to the U.S. if he has done nothing wrong. Would you want to return to a country that has secret prisons, indefinite detention centers, and has been proven to have used torture at said facilities? The only form of oversight left in the Federal government are whistle-blowers, who the government aggressively attempts to prosecute and with much success. The White House, with congressional support, now has the audacity to suggest a “media shield law” to protect those in the press who leak information from whistle-blowers and also to determine who is considered a journalist.

 

Not only is the idea of a “media shield law” insulting, it is also unnecessary. The First Amendment to the U.S. constitution provides these protections:

 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.

 

The idea of a “media shield law” is unconstitutional in most literal interpretation of the First Amendment. The idea that a government can determine who and who isn’t a journalist is draconian. The proposed law from Senator Dianne Feinstein boils down to giving protection to the media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CBS et al; it protects every media outlet who toes the government line on major issues. It also considers the only real journalists are the ones that are paid. Publications such as Impolite Conversation would not be considered new media and thus not protected. It appears as though Senator Feinstein would like to license free speech. I’m sure we have to the money to pay the U.K. to do the same.

 

With the passing of each month new revelations come to light about the illegal activities of the NSA and its collaboration with corporations and foreign governments. The sheer spectrum of this illegal spying may never truly be known except to those in highest ranks of government. It would now appear that the NSA is government’s domestic blackmail agency.

 

The outrage of American citizens has not gone unheard; a coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the House recently attempted to stop the data collection but failed by a narrow (205-217) margin. Since the vote, politicians are back to grandstanding to the masses about the distraction of the week. The people of the United States are left with few political options since the majority of both main political parties seem to now be too busy bankrupting the country or trying to deny people health insurance. With the average American’s attention span about a week, I sadly believe this illegal and unconstitutional spying will not end without a major change to U.S. politics. Nothing short of a new constitutional convention would radically change the U.S. as we politically know it and for the better. Most Americans are comfortable believing whatever the media tells them and looking at their smart phones as their smart phones stare back at them.

 

 

Are you outraged by the Snowden relevations or happy to surrender some of your privacy for increased security? Tell us in the comments section below.

Jeffery M. Maxwell

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Comments

The editorial slant here--and the idiocy of Mr. Maxwell's essay--just leave me flabbergasted. Mr. Maxwell, are you aware that the United States Constitution is not self-executing? That means that, in order for a Constitutional amendment to provide, not just a defense in a suit, but an affirmative right, there must be an act of Congress? What this means is that your entire diatribe regarding the media shield law is a bunch of bullshit.

You say it's unnecessary because the First Amendment says that there can be no law restricting the freedom of the press. Have you actually read what the law proposes to protect? It's not speech because that's already protected. It's the source of information. The law protects anonymous journalistic sources. And you don't like that. Thanks, J. Edgar. I'll make a note of that. It's not incompatible with the First Amendment, it's just not covered by it. People with vastly better credentials than yours--I assume, because I have no idea what they may be--have advocated for passage of this law. Is it perfect? Probably not. Does that mean it can't serve for now?

As far as Snowden is concerned, it's far too easy to call him a hero. Is he a whistleblower? Well, he brought something to light that needed to be brought to light, but I've represented real whistleblowers in court. Want to know what they did? They stood up for themselves and insisted that what they were doing was right. They declared, in the face of authority, that the authority was wrong. They took the hard knocks, and they were vindicated in the end.

Want to know what Snowden did? He buggered off overseas. Even he didn't believe his own bullshit. Snowden never had the courage of his own convictions. Did he bring to light something significant? Sure. But was it important enough? That's the question.

I would expect criticism from a lawyer, who has previously defended whistle blowers, to be more civil and professional than a common internet keyboard warrior/troll. The elitist and sarcastic jabs at my education were a nice touch. I apologize for not being a constitutional scholar or a lawyer. That being said, I will attempt to mount a defense of my alleged bullshit.

This section was to cover remarks by Senator Feinstein, who wants to attempt to determine who is and is not considered media. The shield law is completely compatible with the First Amendment, hence its redundancy. Multiple Federal courts have already upheld reporter's privilege, which protects them from having to testify about confidential information or their sources. I understand that there are state shield laws and these I believe are redundant as well since these rulings on reporter's privilege were made at a Federal level. I agree with the sentiment that I should have included this in the article but I did not. Comparing me to J.Edgar Hoover is a bit ridiculous. I am arguing in favor of civil liberties.

Insofar as Mr. Snowden goes, I completely understand why he left the U.S. before leaking this information. The current (Obama) administration has prosecuted more whistle blowers under the Espionage Act than all other previous administrations combined. This is nothing more than a crackdown on people attempting to do the right thing through proper channels. Chelsea (Bradley) Manning is an example of how this administration handles those trying to expose government wrongdoing. He was rewarded with 35 years in prison after going through proper channels as you suggest. I would have left the country as Mr. Snowden did given these circumstances.

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