NSA

NSA Scandal Separates Liberty Lovers from Poseurs

Party lines play no role in the fight for privacy rights.

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Most Americans who pay any attention to politics believe the nation's great chasm is between "Red State" Republicans and "Blue State" Democrats. While the nation's two major parties have their differences, the real divide is and always has been between those who reflexively trust the authorities and those who recognize that their own government poses the gravest threat to their liberties.

The latest scandal, in which a whistleblower revealed two National Security Agency programs that gather the phone and computer records of Americans in a fishing expedition designed to find links to terrorists, has jump-started this debate. As the Associated Press reported, this has "reinvigorated an odd-couple political alliance of the far left and right. A number of Democratic civil liberties activists, along with libertarian-leaning Republicans, say the government actions are too broad and don't adequately protect citizens' privacy."

The most vocal spokesman for this group, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, recently said, "Get a warrant and go after a terrorist, or a murderer or a rapist. But don't troll through a billion phone records every day. That is unconstitutional." That seems obvious, but not many other political leaders are joining that chorus.

Since the scandal broke, the establishment has been telling the public that the government is not violating anyone's privacy. They tell us the program has "safeguards." NSA's chief and others claim it has foiled plots. Yet we already see the unraveling of official claims about this and other scandals. The only real check on it comes from a kangaroo court that almost always approves the government's request. Americans have reason to worry.

"Given the scope of these programs, it's understandable that many would be concerned about issues related to privacy," said Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "But what's difficult to understand is the motivation of somebody who intentionally would seek to warn the nation's enemies of lawful programs created to protect the American people. And I hope that he is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

McConnell has been feigning concern about abuses of federal power while taking shots at Edward Snowden, the source of the NSA leak. But Democrats have been just as loathsome. Obama has mocked concerns about privacy, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said, "Everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn't anything that is brand new."  I could hear him during the American Revolution: "Calm down. The British troops have been engaging in unreasonable searches for years, so what's the big deal?"

There always will be some threat to justify the government's demand for more power. But when that government operates in secrecy, how is the public supposed to make sure officials don't abuse their authority? The loud-mouthed defenders of uncontrolled federal snooping depict as traitors anyone who exposes what is going on, but that's the only way for us to learn the details when the government overreaches. At least we can see firsthand the kind of mindset that has allowed despotic regimes to fester in other times and places.

Many Americans embrace the "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear" school of thought. The list of potential wrongdoing keeps getting longer, by the way, when one considers all the regulatory rules that govern every aspect of our lives. Even these naïve souls ought to wonder about the next program that Big Brother might enact to make it easier to fight enemies.

U.S. citizens are supposed to have natural rights that are inalienable – i.e., that government cannot trample upon. Yet now we are all subject to whatever a bureaucrat in a federal agency decides, and anything we say or write on our computer can be subject to monitoring. We are supposed to just trust them. Revealing details of a program that should have been publicly disclosed, apparently, is an act of treason. That same government, by the way, claims the right to use a drone to kill anyone it determines to be an enemy of the nation. At what point does this echo a dystopian movie?

I've reported on government at the local and state level and have seen firsthand that agencies always grab as much power as they can. The most secretive agencies are the ones rife with abuse, and those agencies often cover up the misdeeds of their own agents. People often are drawn to power for less-than-noble reasons. That's the nature of humanity and of government, although such lessons – at the core of the nation's founding – are lost on the likes of McConnell and Obama.

As Andrew Napolitano wrote for Reason, "The modern-day British soldiers – our federal agents – are not going from house to house; they are going from phone to phone and from computer to computer, enabling them to penetrate every aspect of our lives. If anything violates the lessons of our history, the essence of our values and the letter of the Constitution, it is this."

That coalition of left and right better expand rapidly or else this program will just be the stepping stool to another bigger and more effective governmental intrusion designed to "protect" us from terrorists while destroying our liberties in the process.

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  1. Did anyone read this article?

    Victim of afternoon links, I guess.

    1. And a victim of the Rush Hour home for the weekend, of NSA-scandal overload, and my kid just finished the school year…

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    2. I don’t disagree with Reason doing this but this article is pretty much the same as a half dozen or more articles on Reason. Nothing new here, although I’m still glad they’re hammering the point. I want to see some goddamn heads rolling and policies taken out. One of the few times I want to see shitbag congress doing something they’re sitting on their thumbs waiting for the ADHD public to move on to the latest celebrity nonsense and forget all about the destruction of yet more of our liberty.

      1. hammer it every day

  2. I’ve been thinking about the information they could get from these phones without actually listening in to telephone conversations. These things have a camera, a microphone, an accelerometer and a GPS in them. It’s like carrying a little CIA homunculus around in your pocket.

    1. You have your thumb over your cell phone camera lens, please remove same.

      Your Government

      1. “You have your thumb over your cell phone camera lens, please remove same.
        Your Government”

        FUNNY!

      2. Uh…that’s not my thumb.

        1. *GASP* Obscenity!!!!!!

    2. I’ve been thinking about how, in the aftermath of Boston, the media reported that we got intel from the Russians on those guys who did it. So, if we don’t spy on Americans but they do, and they share their data with us, isn’t that amounting to the same thing? And why wouldn’t they, as long as we give them our intel on their domestic enemies?

      Using foreign intelligence agencies as a proxy to circumvent domestic spying laws is just as troubling to me as having the NSA doing it.

      1. *DingDingDing*

      2. That kind of trading has been going for a while. It, too, should probably be limited. But it’s no excuse for the NSA to collect even more data domestically.

        1. I’d much rather the Russians have that data than domestic agencies. I don’t think the Russians are not very likely to use that data to persecute political enemies in the United States or to exploit the tens of thousands of laws in the Federal Code. They’d most likely only take the trouble to send information about true threats. I’m much less confident in our own government’s desire to limit itself in such a way.

  3. “Given the scope of these programs, it’s understandable that many would be concerned about issues related to privacy,” said Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. ‘But screw that since I love power’

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  5. Defending the prerogatives of the state against the individual at all costs, Republican hack Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “But what’s difficult to understand is the motivation of somebody who intentionally would seek to warn the nation’s enemies of lawful programs created to protect the American people. And I hope that he is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

    OK, maybe we could help him out with this one.

    Imagine if the “lawful program” being outed was the one to protect the American people was mass internment of Japanese-Americans. Throw the book at the leaker? Or can he accept that just because something is the law, doesn’t make it right or wrong?

    What if the “lawful program” being outed was the one to protect the American people from evil rightwing 501(c)4 charities getting tax exempt status? Prosecute the leaker to the fullest extent of the law, and leave the nice people at the IRS alone, right?

    Or, at the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, how about if the “lawful program” was even more sinister – like the very lawful but *completely evil* program to protect the German people from having their race mixed with non-Germans. Throw the book at the leaker?

    It was only a few weeks ago that the GOP was in love with whistle-blowers. IRS, Benghazi, or further back – ACORN, Climategate, etc.

    1. “OK, maybe we could help him out with this one.”
      I bleeve you just did.
      Not that he’ll understand the help or accept it.

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  7. NSA story revealed the phonies (and there are plenty of them) but also revealed how little faith I should have in the people of this country.

  8. “If anything violates the lessons of our history, the essence of our values and the letter of the Constitution, it is this.”

    But if we want to elect politicians who will rein in the NSA, and we are prevented from doing so by a suppressive IRS, wouldn’t that make the IRS Scandal the greatest violation of our Constitutional values? The enabling characteristic of oppressive governments is corruption of the democratic process. If you think it is bad now, wait until the ruling party can’t be voted out of office.

  9. So how many FBI/NSA files would fit on a thumb drive? And how many thumb drives would fit in Hillary Clinton’s closet?

    1. I heard it might be fairly crowded in there, so perhaps not a lot 😉

    2. And how many have Mitch’s name on them?

      1. I yield the remainder of my time.

    3. OUCH!

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  11. Perhaps if it is “difficult to understand” for Mitch McConnell, it might be an indication that he lacks the intelligence and mental capacity for doing his job?

    I mean, regardless of which side of the debate you come down on, it should at least be fairly easy to understand the views of the other side even if one disagrees with them.

  12. When they say our politics is ‘broken’ and that the parties cannot reach bipartisan agreements, the statists need to be reminded of a few things.

    Patriot Act
    NDAA
    FISA

    When it comes to shredding the constitution and destroying your civil liberties, both parties are overwhelming in support of that.

  13. Reason should make a new prize. The William Franklin prize for unashamedly supporting tyranny.

    Reid is overqualified.

  14. This may not be completely on target with the article. But it seems to me that we have way too many ‘old establishment’ types on both sides of the isle. McConnell, Reid, Pelosi, Fienstien, Furthermore (and I mean no disrespect to older folks), but why cant some of these politicians retire? You had your moment of glory. Now go away! The U.S. has an average age of about 37 years right now. I think I read that from data based on the 2010 census. So why do we have a bunch of people in office that are steering the direction of a country that is 2 generations (or more sometimes) younger than them on average? We need more Rand Paul types. We need more Ted Cruz types. I make an exception on this for Ron Paul as well (and yes we supported him). But the business as usual old fart on Capitol Hill needs to go. When was the last time these people created anything in their professional careers besides more regulation? That doesn’t exactly add to GDP. It usually takes from it in government overhead costs for the types that can’t get a job in the real world.

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