On June 6, the Guardian and the Washington Post revealed chilling news: The National Security Agency has direct access to the central servers of Facebook, Google, Apple and others, in one case dating back to 2007. This access takes place through PRISM, a secret program for the interception, permanent storage and later analysis of all user data, including contact lists, photos, chats and emails. These revelations came following another bombshell report, which revealed Verizon is under a secret court order to disclose customer calling data to the NSA and FBI.
Tech firms responded immediately with carefully worded denials. The Obama administration’s response was to trot out the same lines it always has in such cases: The government needs these extensive powers to fight terrorism, and Americans should trust government officials because they are professionals who “cherish the Constitution” and have secret review systems to ensure nobody’s rights are violated.
Of course, without public accountability, Americans will never know whether any of this is true.
In fact, the rationale justifying this degree of domestic surveillance was so tortured, it had to be kept secret to prevent a public outcry. In 2011, Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., warned that the Obama administration was interpreting the ill-named Patriot Act in a manner that allowed for the unconstitutional surveillance of Americans.
“I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned, and they will be angry,” Wyden said. The extent of this surveillance is only becoming clear now, and Wyden’s prediction has come true.
Under PRISM, people’s communications — emails, chats, photos, friend and contact lists, websites visited and more — are being analyzed and stored at an NSA data center. Once somebody has fallen under suspicion, even by mistake, an agent can go back and scrutinize everyone that person has ever been friends with and what that person has said or done in order to derive suspicion from their life and portray them as a wrongdoer.
Such pervasive domestic surveillance is something we would have expected from East Germany or the Soviet Union, not the United States.
No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or something else, the news that the government has been prying through and permanently storing Americans’ private data warrants anger and outrage at the politicians who have betrayed their electorate. The act of a true patriot is to let politicians know that domestic surveillance is unacceptable and un-American: No politician who has supported these programs should expect to be voted for again.
“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” President Barack Obama said recently.
Benjamin Franklin would have replied: “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”
Duncan Bailey lives in Brooksville.