Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Aug. 8, 9 or 10
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in March was asked point-blank at a public Senate hearing whether the National Security Agency (NSA) collects any type of data on millions of Americans and he denied it. He lied. Contract worker Snowden months later told the truth to a journalist and is being hounded.
In programs like PRISM (Planning tool for Resources Integration, Synchronization and Management), the government tracks data such as the destination and length of phone calls and emails, and rationalizes it as thwarting terrorism and protecting national security.
Under the PATRIOT Act, the government may gather records “relevant to an investigation,” but what’s the connection between that and a data base of almost everyone’s phone records? Approved and supposedly supervised by Congress and federal judges (the secret FISA court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), government schemes include the Insider Threat Program, which requires federal employees to spy on co-workers and encourages supervisors to punish those who don’t snitch.
“Even if you are not doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded, and the storage capabilities of these systems increases every year,” Snowden told Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. “They can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”
Besides current practices, government could start tracking “attitudinal data,” like Facebook posts on guns or gay rights, so “predictive policing” could result.
The issue is not crime prevention; it’s overreaching government ending privacy and cooperating with interests that develop analytics to cope with “cyber threats” – and financially benefit from fear.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, joined by a coalition of groups ranging from a gun-rights organization and a church to People for the American Way and Greenpeace, is suing the NSA to challenge the surveillance’s constitutionality. After all, the Fourth Amendment says Americans – absent probable cause of some illegality – aren’t subject to casual state scrutiny.
Since Snowden’s public disclosure, debate’s started; polls show three-fourths of Americans think the practice is too intrusive; and polls also show 55% of Americans think Snowden is a whistleblower while 34% think he’s a traitor.
Congress might’ve noticed, as on July 24, the House of Representatives came a dozen votes short of de-funding NSA’s program, defending the Constitution and defying the government’s “indiscriminate collection” of Americans’ communications. Considering an amendment “to end authority for the blanket collection of records under the PATRIOT Act [and prohibit] the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation,” the House voted 205-217. It had bipartisan backing exemplified by sponsors Justin Amash, a conservative Republican from Michigan, and John Conyers, a liberal Democrat also from Michigan; the 205 came from 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats. Curiously, two Representatives from Illinois (Republican Aaron Schock from the 18th District and Cheri Bustos from the 17th District) were among 12 who didn’t vote.
Administration posturing about Snowden and extraditing him to face charges has become absurd. Besides spying on its own innocent citizens, the U.S. government reportedly bugged its own allies. It bullied other nations into diverting Bolivian President Evo Morales’ airliner because Snowden was thought to be onboard. It continues to refuse to extradite Bolivia’s ex-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and Haiti’s Toto Constant for crimes against humanity including murder. And if China or Venezuela had been likewise exposed as such extensive snoops, they’d be dubbed an “Axis of Authoritarians,” etc.
Profit motives are paramount. Government has been wooed and won over by big tech firms who gain by tightening control over innocent bystanders: almost all of us. Snowden’s employer was the for-profit private contractor Booz Allen Hamilton – a subsidiary of the influential Carlysle Group. Other corporations profiting from massive surveillance, according to “Spies for Hire” author Tim Shorrock, include CSC, Boeing subsidiary Narus, Northrup Grumman and SAIC.
Congress, the courts and the White House should admit errors and authorize an independent inquiry to make changes, much as the 1970s’ U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, chaired by Sen. Frank Church, investigated intelligence gathering for illegality by the NSA, CIA and FBI after revelations during the Watergate scandal.
Wouldn’t that be better than Snowden’s return to the United States to be featured in a long public trial?
[PICTURED: Fibonacci Blue photo of summer protest from Liberationnews.org]