The NSA's Vast Conspiracy Against Our Privacy

In the six months since Edward Snowden made his revelations, the scandal has only grown.

Readers of this page are well aware of the revelations during the past six months of spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). Edward Snowden, a former employee of an NSA vendor, risked his life and liberty to inform us of a governmental conspiracy to violate our right to privacy, a right guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

The conspiracy he revealed is vast. It involves former President George W. Bush, President Obama and their aides, a dozen or so members of Congress, federal judges, executives and technicians at American computer servers and telecoms, and the thousands of NSA employees and vendors who have manipulated their fellow conspirators. The conspirators all agreed that it would be a crime for any of them to reveal the conspiracy. Snowden violated that agreement in order to uphold his higher oath to defend the Constitution.

The object of the conspiracy is to emasculate all Americans and many foreigners of their right to privacy in order to predict our behavior and make it easier to find among us those who are planning harm.

A conspiracy is an agreement among two or more persons to commit a crime. The crimes consist of capturing the emails, texts and phone calls of every American, tracing the movements of millions of Americans and foreigners via the GPS system in their cellphones, and seizing the bank records and utility bills of most Americans in direct contravention of the Constitution, and pretending to do so lawfully. The pretense is that somehow Congress lessened the standard for spying that is set forth in the Constitution. It is, of course, inconceivable that Congress can change the Constitution (only the states can), but the conspirators would have us believe that it has done so.

The Constitution, which was written in the aftermath of the unhappy colonial experience with British soldiers who executed general warrants upon the colonists, forbids that practice today. That practice consists of judges authorizing government agents to search for whatever they want, wherever they wish to look. By requiring a warrant from a judge based on probable cause of criminal behavior on the part of the very person the government is investigating, however, and by requiring judges to describe particularly in the warrants they issue the places to be searched or the persons or things to be seized, the Constitution specifically outlaws general warrants.

This is more than just a constitutional violation; it is a violation of the natural right to be left alone. When that right is violated, when all of our private movements are monitored by the government, the menu of our free choices is reduced, as we surely alter our private behavior to compensate for being watched. And just as surely, the government expands its surveillance, knowing that it is not being watched.

As a result of these revelations, no one has been fired, except Snowden, and the conspiracy has grown. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now spying on us. It seems that the FBI, no doubt jealous of the unpunished lawlessness of the NSA, has acquired software that permits it to utilize the tiny cameras in many home computers to observe whoever or whatever may be in front of the computer screen. The FBI doesn't only look at whoever is using the computer screen; it also captures the words and images on the screen. It seems to have an affinity for monitoring online gaming, even the lawful variety.

In 1949, when George Orwell predicted in his terrifying novel "1984" the future use of television sets to watch us in our homes, many thought he was a delusional paranoid. It turns out that he was just off by a generation. His predictions have come to pass.

Like many growing conspiracies, this one has spawned others. The Washington Post also reported this week that local cops, too, are jealous of the NSA and its ability to break the law with impunity. In an effort to catch bad guys, local police in half a dozen American cities have begun to ask local telecom providers for a "tower dump." A tower dump consists of digital recordings of all cellphone usage from a given cell tower.

When some telecoms balked at these requests, the cops went to judges, some of whom unlawfully authorized these dumps and some of whom declined. Frustrated that the NSA seems to get whatever it wants, some local police have used their own technology to spy. They've purchased a $400,000 device that mimics cellphone towers, drawing cellphone signals to it and enabling the cops to capture telephone calls without the cooperation of telecoms or permission from federal judges. That's called hacking; it is a federal crime and in most areas a state crime, as well.

The assaults on personal freedom never seem to end. The very concept of violating the rights of many in order to catch a few—a practice perfected by tyrannical regimes—has been prohibited for 222 years by the same Constitution that the perpetrators of these practices and the conspirators in these schemes have sworn to uphold.

Sometimes, dissents in Supreme Court decisions articulate American values better than majority opinions do. Here is one from Justice Louis Brandeis that did: "The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men."

If we permit the government to destroy that right, we will live under tyrannies similar to the ones we thought we defeated.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The pretense is that somehow Congress lessened the standard for spying that is set forth in the Constitution. It is, of course, inconceivable that Congress can change the Constitution (only the states can), but the conspirators would have us believe that it has done so.

    Finally, someone points this out.

  • Drake||

    Unfortunately it was Judge Cassandra Napolitano speaking into the echo chamber hear at Reason.

  • Quixote||

    By that token, surely some even more basic constitutional principle forbids utterly irrational and perverse applications of the law such as we have been seeing everywhere in the torrent of malicious prosecutions around this country, but we don't see Judge Napolitano and his colleagues speaking out about this matter at all.

    Yet this abomination, along with our horrifying penal colony system, is the other side of the coin that gives full meaning to the surveillance state we've become.

    Take, for example, the vicious criminalizing of satire we've seen in New York, Mississippi, and elsewhere. Street artist Essam Attia created fake "NYPD drone" ads, an obvious, well-intended act of political satire; he was arrested and is awaiting prosecution.

    Others have been arrested and prosecuted for writing anti-bank slogans on the sidewalk with chalk. The press, of course, considers that this is hardly even a matter worth reporting and commentary.

    (To be continued in next comment.)

  • Quixote||

    Let's not forget Aaron Swartz, an entirely decent person who was driven to suicide because of his efforts to obtain open Internet access to thousands of articles freely available in many a public library.

    And then, of course, there is the academic whistle-blower who was prosecuted in New York for sending out "Gmail confessions" in the "name" of a well-connected NYU department chairman. The presiding judge at this deranged trial (who had of course been selected by the prosecutors) specifically ruled that "neither good faith nor truth is a defense." Yet she allowed the prosecution to repeatedly argue that the defendant made "false accusations," while blocking the defendant, on the basis of her "truth is not a defense" ruling, from introducing any evidence of the truth of his accusations. For documentation of the trial and ongoing appeal, see:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    All of this is perverse and irrational. No wonder there is so little concern among politicians for the invasion of our privacy, if they are willing and able to progressively narrow free speech into the most limp and hypocritical form of propagandized liberty. Montesquieu knew better, when he explained in a famous passage of which the Founders were well aware, why "democracies do not criminalize satire."

    But, are we actually living in a democracy? Apparently not, and Judge Napolitano should openly recognize this fact, rather than beating around the bush with pious analyses of discrete issues.

  • ||

    "The object of the conspiracy is to ..... make it easier to find among us those who are planning harm."

    What all tyrants fear the most are the people they oppress. The NSA is just feeling the pulse of political dissent. They dont give two shits about foreign terrorists.

  • wareagle||

    W was able to expand govt power under the guise of the "wah on terruh" and, no surprise, his successor expanded the very thing he bitched about as candidate. In usual fashion, govt treats as all as suspects.

    Hmmm...Jefferson: when govt fears citizens, something something. When citizens fear govt, something else.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    Like everything else in the world, it's perfectly natural if you understand the nature of the players.

    The occasional terrorist attack strengthens the turnkey state by affording it more domestic power and funding, whereas political dissent--in particular the liberal/libertarian sort--always weakens it. It should come as no surprise that the state would dedicate most of its efforts to marginalizing political dissent rather than terrorism, as it's just looking out for its own best interests.

  • OneOut||

    "strengthens the turnkey state by affording it more domestic power and funding, whereas political dissent--in particular the liberal/libertarian sort--always weakens it. "

    You must use a different definition of the word "liberal" than the one currently in use for your statement to be true.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    I use the European or classical meaning, which is applied to Locke, Jefferson, Hayek, and all of our fellow philosophical travelers.

    In other words, what liberal meant before it was corrupted by illiberal progressives and its proud tradition trammeled by the typically socialist attack on language.

  • fish||

    They dont give two shits about foreign terrorists.

    Crap!

    Foreign terrorists = Big appropriations+Promotions!

    It's why they do their best to bait foreign idiots into these things.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's right. This isn't just corruption or some vague abuse of power, this is an overt and intentional violation of constitutional rights. It is indeed a criminal enterprise, and I agree--failure to punish those involved and to stop what's happening will lead to more of the same and worse.

  • Nooge.||

    It's just not fucking with people's everyday lives enough; we're too comfortable. People will go along to get along for a long time. The continued existence of the TSA is a good example.

    We'll tolerate a little bit of hassle, a little bit of inconvenience- especially if it comes from a smiling, benevolent government who, it tells us, just wants to keep us safe from people who would harm us.

    As long as there is a lot of food, relatively cheap gas, and entertainments available, we'll go along. And along.

  • H. ReardEn||

    It was starting, it was starting at last! They could do nothing except stand gazing into one another's eyes […] unthinkable to disobey the iron voice from the wall. There was a snap as though a catch had been turned back, and a crash of breaking glass. The picture had fallen to the floor uncovering the telescreen behind it.
  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Snowden violated that agreement in order to uphold his higher oath to defend the Constitution.

    Where did he take such an oath? He was a contractor, not an elected or appointed official. He was neither a uniformed member of the military nor a civilian member.

    Unless the judge is talking about that "social compact" where the "oath" is imposed.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    From another Judge column (not vouching for its authenticity, but I'd imagine there was some sort of paper-signing taking place when he became a contractor):

    When Snowden began his work for Booz Allen, he took two oaths. The first oath was to keep secret the classified materials to which he would be exposed in his work as a spy; the second oath was to uphold the Constitution.

    Shortly after Snowden began his work with the NSA, he came to the realization that he could not comply with both oaths. He realized that by keeping secret what he learned, he was keeping the American public in the dark about what its government is doing outside the Constitution in order to control the public.
  • Austrian Anarchy||

    He probably signed a non-disclosure for BA too, which is not an oath either.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    He seems to be talking about 5 USC § 3331 - Oath of office which applies to federal EMPLOYEES (including military), not BA or Boeing, or other contractors. It applies to "white badge" feds. From the link: "An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath" none of which apply to Snowden or any other contractor. Other bloggers have made the same error: http://kerry-patton.com/edward.....aker-zero/

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    Thanks, AA, that's a helpful bit.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    In fairness, maybe the judge is talking about Apple employees contracted to the government. They might take an oath, but to the spirit of Steve Jobs, not the Constitution.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'd be surprised if Snowden wasn't required to take a loyalty oath, which should include reference to the Constitution.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Maybe I am just getting old, because I was a Defense Contractor from 1994 to 2010, for 3 different firms and NOBODY EVER swore me to any oath as a contractor.

    As a Soldier, yes when you swear an oath you know it because you actually participate in the oath swearing. I took them and I gave them too. You stand up, raise your hand, and swear your oath. Contractors do not do that.

    However, you do sign agreements that you are not going to disclose information. Those range from non-disclosure with the firm you work for, to all manner of non-disclosure stuff related to various clearances. None of those would I call an "oath" at all.

  • sarcasmic||

    He had a security clearance. I'm sure there is some oath taking in the process of getting one.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Nope, he just signed some "don't disclose or you go to jail" paperwork. He did not stick his hand up and swear/affirm anything.

  • Nooge.||

    He had a security clearance. I'm sure there is some oath taking in the process of getting one.

    I have one, and there is not. There are NDAs.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Oops, we might be messing up the judge's narrative.

  • Nooge.||

    I did take an oath when I got commissioned, and my oath as a military officer (similar to an enlisted person's oath) is to the Constitution. But I took no oath for my security clearance.

    An interesting aside: officers do not swear to obey (the biggest difference between enlisted vs. officer oaths). The rationale is that we need leaders who have maximum freedom to make decisions (taking into account regulations and all of that). I did not swear to obey the President, and I am required by oath to disobey orders which violate the Constitution.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    As mentioned above, I did too. Took an enlistment oath, and oath in ROTC, an oath at commissioning, and later administered several.

    Like you, none of my clearances or jobs as a contractor came with any oath. Not even the NATO clearances, which I held only as a contractor.

    My Officer oath was like this one, as far as I recall it has not changed in a long time: I, _____, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God." (DA Form 71, 1 August 1959, for officers.)

  • Monty Crisco||

    Get over it, people, the NSA doesn't give a shit about domestics - take it up with the FBI. And the IRS poses a FAR greater threat to your liberty than the geeks at NSA....

  • SugarFree||

    President Obama thanks you for your support.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Glad you pointed that out. It is like the Seinfeld line, "The IRS! They are like the Mafia! They can come in and take anything they want!"

    In my current book research, the initial investigation on a bank bomber began with the FBI and IRS, the latter because he didn't pay taxes on the bombs he made. The former because his bombs were in safety-deposit boxes at FDIC insured banks.

  • Nooge.||

    the NSA doesn't give a shit about domestics

    So, what? They're just collecting all that domestic data so they can throw it in the toilet?

    Get over it, people

    No.

  • Nooge.||

    the right to be left alone.

    Leftists in general, and progressives in particular (of any political stripe), do not recognize this right.

  • sarcasmic||

    This so-called "right to be left alone" requires forcing the people who force people to do things to stop forcing people to do things. This means libertarianism is force, because it requires force to stop those who use force from using force. Thus libertarianism is tyranny.

    /Tony

  • Nooge.||

    But forcing people to sell cakes to people to whom they do not want to sell cakes is SOCIAL JUSTICE!

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    The "get off my lawn" as fighting words theory.

  • Rich||

    a violation of the natural right to be left alone

    I am continually amazed at how many people express disbelief in such a right. ("You have no right to privacy." "There is no privacy -- get over it!") However, if these folks are willing to converse about it, I find their absolutism is generally quickly replaced by a spectrum. ("It's OK for the government to know that, but not *you*." "No, I won't detail my sexual fantasies!") Glimmers of hope?

  • Nooge.||

    When I was a young (and very very angry) libertarian, I had the same sort of conversation with a status-quo Republican supervisor of mine.

    "I don't care what the government knows about me," he said. "I've got nothing to hide."

    I simply asked him what happens when people who don't like people like him are suddenly in charge, and with unlimited access to all of that information about him. He had no response, and he eventually realized that the "right people in charge" argument cannot be taken seriously.

  • Dread Pirate Roberts||

    Nothing to hide... yeah right. If you think you have nothing to hide, you're completely confident about all of your tax returns? And you've never looked at online porn? Never paid anyone under the table? No poker games at your friend's house or friendly wagers over a football game?

    Do we want to live that way, where we really have nothing to hide?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    You know who else took a loyalty oath?

    That's right, ex-pfc Wintergreen.

  • PACW||

    I remember that book, Snowden died cold.

  • AdamJ||

    What if there is a Judge Nap editorial with no questions?

  • LIFE.time.opertunity||

  • LIFE.time.opertunity||

  • Ross Adams||

    I hate reading things about privacy violations because it consistently reminds me of the ignorant attitudes I'm surrounded by in Nowheresville, Midwestern USA. You wouldn't believe how many good ol' boys, who supposedly favor smaller government and more civil liberties, STILL vote in bullshitters hoping they somehow make things better as local representatives, as if they're not all in the same fucking club and only looking out for their own financial security and phony compassionate reputation.

    Some of these so-called freedom lovers will not only staunchly defend their morally detached party, but they will get downright belligerent with you if you start suggesting anything that supports the libertarian philosophy, because in their brainwashed minds, you simply cannot have views that are simultaneously liberal and conservative because that's "radical" and remember, radical = paranoid stoners.

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