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In a moment of national outrage, confusion, and sorrow, the American government passed legislation that gutted the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On October 26, 2001, Congress passed an act titled the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” This act, abbreviated, spells out USA PATRIOT, more commonly known as The Patriot Act. The Patriot Act expands the power of the US government to an all-time high while neglecting to provide any of the necessary checks and balances.
It seems to directly contradict the 4th Amendment of the Constitution while providing the doltish excuse that it “keeps us safe”.
Contrary to the goals so laboriously spelled out in its formal title, the Patriot Act’s ultimate achievement has been to weaken American democracy and inhibit civil liberties. The Patriot Act clears the way for the US government to detain immigrants for an unspecified amount of time. It also gives police officers and federal agents the authority to search a home or business without the landlord or the residents being informed.
Furthermore, the Patriot act also loosed the barriers on the National Security Letters. This let the FBI search phone, email, business, and financial records without a court order. The PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act was signed on May 26, 2011, by former president Barack Obama. The Sunsets Extension Act is a four-year extension of three important privileges given by the original USA PATRIOT.
These privileges included roving wiretaps, searches of business records, and surveillance on ‘lone wolves’, or people the government thought were participating in terrorist activities, even if they weren’t connected to any terrorist groups and were just ordinary citizens.
‘Surveillance of communications is another essential tool to pursue and stop terrorists,’ Bush said at the signing ceremony of the first USA PATRIOT Act in 2001. ‘The existing law was written in the era of rotary telephones. This new law that I sign today will allow surveillance of all communications used by terrorists, including emails, the Internet, and cell phones.’ Since the Patriot Act was passed, people have questioned whether or not it is legal and whether it infringes our 4th Amendment rights. Federal courts have ruled that a few parts of it are unconstitutional and ordered the NSA to cease their actions.
Many of the major issues that we have today in regards to the Patriot Act came from the brave actions of Edward Snowden. In June 2013, Edward Snowden, only 29 years old at the time, started the first leak of top-secret documents about the NSA’s surveillance efforts, stolen from the NSA itself. That leak was not the last. Since then, reporters have released over 7,000 top-secret documents that Edward Snowden gave them. Some believe these documents are less than 1% of the entire NSA archive. Edward Snowden downloaded 1.5 million top-secret files in the NSA before flying from Hawaii, where he worked at the time as an intelligence contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, to Hong Kong to meet with reporters so they could release the NSA reports to the American public. After he handed off the stolen documents to the reporters, he flew out of Hong Kong and later became stranded in Moscow, Russia.
The documents that he stole showed that the NSA was doing far more “monitoring” than they had ever told the people, even directly violating 2,776 rules and court orders to do so. So how exactly does the NSA and our nation’s government currently violate “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,” otherwise known as the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution? One way that they do this is through a process known as “parallel construction”. When they use parallel construction, they exchange information primarily with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to hide the source of the information.
They re-create an imaginary investigation to make a confusing paper trail so that they can hide where they got the information for their investigation. The NSA has done so much that many Americans are unaware of. One example of this is a program called “Five Eyes”. This is the exchange of information agreement between the US, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The US paid the British version of the NSA, referred to as the GCHQ, $155 million over the last three years “to secure access to and influence over Britain’s intelligence gathering programmes.” Many programs like these are classified so that ordinary Americans like you and I cannot just go and check to see whether or not their fourth amendment rights are being respected or completely disregarded. The public is not informed about how the Patriot Act is being used, and only due to a “government whistleblower” do we have the information that we possess now.
Everything that that is known about the NSA’s domestic surveillance comes from the documents that were stolen and released by Edward Snowden. The thanks we gave this man for giving us the information we needed to realize that our rights were not being respected and adhered to; A ban from the US with the threat of treason charges if he were to ever return. Our government, having the power to peer into every single person’s private life, furnishes a societal culture where the government controls the opinions and actions of the people. This parallels the influence of big brother in George Orwell’s Award-winning novel “1984.” Another problem with the Patriot Act’s permissions on domestic surveillance is the abuse of power that derives from it. Corporate cell phone companies like AT&T and Sprint are required to include backdoor accesses to all of their cell phones records, carrier plans, and other information.
This makes complete sense in a case where a court order has been issued and there is an ongoing investigation, considering criminals use technology just as much as every other person does. The court systems need to be able to subpoena information from those phones. Problems arise when government entities do not request a warrant and use their Patriot Act privileges to just access whatever information they want, whenever they want. They abuse the privileges granted to them by the Patriot Act for metadata mining and other covert goals. The NSA’s dishwasher operation alone collects 20 million text messages a day from people everywhere on the planet. Programs like this and others this are used to mine information like location data, contacts, credit card information, missed calls, and roaming alerts.
The NSA also installed fiber optic splitters so they could collect the information, like phone calls, text messages, and webcam footage in real time. One of the NSA’s foreign counterparts that we regularly exchange information with, the GCHQ, collected 1.8 million Yahoo user’s webcam imagery. This only took them a six month period in 2008. The Guardian, who reported on this issue, said “substantial quantities of [the data are] sexually explicit communications.” No entity is completely secure from hacking. Government computers, just like all other computers, can be breached. None of this information that is collected by the government is safe, and the government collecting the data in the first place is a serious threat to our privacy and security, even more so than terrorism.
Government surveillance programs are also very expensive and require massive amounts of funding. The money that we spend towards domestic surveillance cuts into the funds that we could be spending towards education, testing the estimated 1,116 untested rape kits in Idaho alone, or even providing shelters for homeless veterans that live in squalor. According to one survey, only 20% of Americans approve of surveillance of US citizens, but the intelligence budget in 2013 alone was still 52.6 billion, a number that wasn’t given to the public by the government, but rather by a leaked document. Of that 52.6 billion dollar budget, 10.8 billion was spent in the NSA, averaging out to about $167 per person in the United States.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a group trying to rise against this blasphemous piece of legislation. They have brought court cases to the Supreme Court and were ruled against based on the fact that they didn’t have enough information to rule. The former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper committed perjury when he was asked by Senator Ron Wyden about whether the NSA was gathering any kind of data on legal law-abiding Americans. The documents that Edward Snowden released revealed that the Obama Administration falsified testimonies to the Supreme Court about issues in the ACL use case against NSA spying, Clapper V. Amnesty International. The case was dismissed due to a “lack of standing”. Formed on July 6, 1990, the EFF has fought vigorously to restore the rights that were stripped away by the passing of the Patriot Act.
A question they commonly face is “If I am not doing anything wrong, why should I care?” The answer is simple. If the government installed wiretap and security cameras at every angle in your home would you care? If the government watched you play with your children, cry after your first heartbreak, defecate on your toilet, and get into screaming matches with your family, would you care? Would you also stand idly by and allow them to share this footage and audio with whomever they felt like? In the wrong hands, personal information can be used to target journalists, to persecute people who disagree with the government and to limit the freedom to be able to say what you want, how you want. Communist style governments use surveillance to control people who oppose them. This can happen in any country, at any time, to any one of us. All it takes are subtle legislations passed over time that add up to completely circumnavigate our rights and enslave the people.
In conclusion, the practices of intelligence agencies in the United States are wrong. They have accomplished none of their original goals, to prevent terrorism and to unite and strengthen America. The government has violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution in order to further their personal goals. I fear for what the United States has become, and for what we as her people have become. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, one of the great founding fathers of our nation, and one of the greatest philosophers to be birthed by Lady Liberty, ‘Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
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