Allow me to show you how the current activity could
ensnare you even though you’re not a terrorist, journalist or even an activist.
Allow this scenario:
You’re a very active volunteer for your church. You make frequent calls to the
same telephone number at the church as you coordinate fundraising efforts, the
talent show, a special holiday service, and the rummage sale.
Unbeknownst to you and your minister, another congregant
is an active member of a white supremist group with cursory ties to an
organization to which Timothy McVeigh (1), the Oklahoma City terrorist bomber,
was possibly associated with. Using the recently revealed program of receiving
records of all phone calls made and received through some of the nation’s
telecom companies, U.S. agents identify your church number with phone traffic to
a telephone number associated with the supremist’s group. The congregant with
the radical ties has made many calls from the church to his extremist
Upon further investigation authorities see that your home
number has frequent calls to and from that same church phone number. Based on
that information and without the need to demonstrate probable cause to a judge,
the agents monitor your home phone activity. They are also aware that you use
your home telephone line for Internet access so they monitor your use of the
Now the reality of the surveillance program starts to
become more real for you because you realize that some unknown bureaucrat makes
the determination as to whether your activity is suspect. They also monitor and
record your private conversations and Internet traffic.
You are now more concerned because what you do in the
privacy of your own home becomes the business of a stranger who observes your
activity and who may at least be amused by your conduct or at worst, suspect you
of some nefarious activity. Let’s say that same agent doesn’t think your
activity comes under the scope of his investigation but feels like your actions
might be of interest to another agency. Does he pass it along to the IRS, the
Attorney General or the local authorities? Who knows without the scrutiny of a
You consider those Internet sites that you visit as your
personal affair. As a citizen of the United States and as an adult you have the
right to free, unfettered access to whatever medium you choose. You would
rather, however, not have your personal preferences in Internet sites be
revealed to your loved ones or people you work with. Maybe you have done some
searches on tax evasion or visited adult sites, only out of curiosity of course.
Maybe you researched legal questions, some of which had words in the
search parameters that flag you like, Iraq, bomb, tax law, free speech,
democracy and what else? You might question whether
your curiosity or free speech rights warrants such intrusion.
There it is—warrants. The purpose of court oversight in
issuing warrants (permission) to eavesdrop on American citizens is to guarantee
that the government has reasonable cause to monitor your conversations and
private communications and that they prove that need to a party outside of the
influence of the agency involved.
If the government could demonstrate to a secret judge, who
is an expert in national security, that they have reasonable cause to observe
your private communication, then so be it for the safety and security of
America. That is the way it has been done legally in the past.
The President and the executive branch has pushed the
envelope and violated the law by circumventing that secret court and the law.
They justify it by saying that Congress authorized such actions under the
Patriot Act. But the chorus of congressional voices of those who passed the
Patriot Act deny that was the intent or scope of the legislation.
My views on this issue may seem extreme but take just a
minute to think about how it works. How is the technology applied? Think about
human nature. Do you trust powerful individuals to act in your best interest
when given absolute power? How would you act if you had the power to explore
peoples’ communication without oversight?
How about the individual who doesn’t have personal power
but who has been given these tools of empowerment? Will he or she abuse it?
Isn’t it better to follow the constitution’s mandate for
the separation of powers and require that the executive branch of government
(the President) be subject to oversight by Congress and the Courts? Wouldn’t you
feel safer if those balances were in place?
Many would acknowledge that the most effective law
enforcement and security could be attained without the impediment of the
Constitution, rule of law and free speech. Unshackle the hands of the police and
intelligence services and they would be far more effective at accomplishing
their goals. That describes a police state. Does that serve your best interests
for an open society that allows you to be a free American or would you rather
have the illusion of safety without the benefit of democracy?
Lots of questions without clear answers. As a society and
culture we have to find the right mix for national security and security of the
nation. National security assured by comprehensive intelligence work and civil
cooperation; security of the nation achieved by diligent oversight of the three
branches of government and constitutional integrity.
The common ground is the Constitution. Cherish it, adhere
to it, and hold it up as the standard of a successful democracy and republic.