4th Amendment

Some People Make It Too Easy

The Guardians

The Guardians (Photo credit: oefe)

Yesterday, the Guardian reported that the National Security Agency has been requiring Verizon to turn over certain information about its customers’ phone calls. The paper said the Obama administration got the ok from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court in April to demand that the telecom provide on an “ongoing, daily basis” all “‘session identifying information’, such as ‘originating and terminating number’, the duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, and ‘comprehensive communication routing information.’”

The Guardian wrote that the collection of such “metadata” does not require a warrant under US law, and that the order does not allow the government to listen to the actual conversations (because, you know, that would be going too far).

As far as I know this hasn’t been confirmed, but it’s probably true.

What irritated me even more this morning was the reaction I heard from an NPR listener, who took the “if you don’t have anything to hide, then it shouldn’t bother you” position.

Oh, well, when you put it that way….

No. That doesn’t make it ok. We have to stop thinking like that.

It’s un-American. In our Bill of Rights, Amendment 4 says

“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.”

What would the reaction be from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or someone else who risked everything to create this country: Disgust? Despair? Gape-mouthed shock that Americans would be ok with any government–Democratic or Republican–that holds itself above the Constitution? (after we explained “telephone” and “cell phone” to them, of course)

Could this kind of thinking lead anywhere good?

Three surveillance cameras on the corner of a ...

Three surveillance cameras on the corner of a building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Using the same argument, the police should be able to come into any home without probable cause. “Oh no, don’t mind us. Don’t let us interrupt your dinner. We’ll be out of your hair in a few hours.” And the people living there shouldn’t mind as long as they’re keeping out of trouble.

According to this mentality, those who object to warrantless searches must be people with something to hide. Not people who actually expect the government to obey the law. Yes, of course the government is run by imperfect, flawed humans, but being cynical about what we expect from those humans doesn’t get us anywhere.


Just think about this: The people doing the domestic spying aren’t necessarily the kind of “straight arrows” one might expect to be working at the NSA. I used to know someone who worked there and still downloaded pirated movies at home. As if he couldn’t afford to pay for them. Those responsible for protecting national security should have more integrity than that.

Among the people carrying out this or other surveillance could be the same kind of government employees and public servants who have been caught cavorting with prostitutes while on duty, spending taxpayer money on private parties and dance instruction videos, or providing classified information to foreign governments.

Is that the kind of citizen you want spying on you?