When it was revealed last week that the National Security Agency had been monitoring all of Verizon's calls — billions — for the last seven years, the furor was loud and sustained and split the nation into two camps that defied the usual political partisanship.
For as many Republicans and Democrats who denounced the invasion of privacy, there was an equal number saying such prying is necessary to save the country from terrorist attacks.
The government offered examples of how many attacks were thwarted with the NSA program but was vague on details. In fact, it sounded suspiciously like claims in the Bush administration that attacks were imminent whenever it got into political hot water.
Edward Snowden was a former CIA and NSA contractor operative who handed the trove of information to journalist Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian. Snowden was called a traitor by some, a hero by others, but he wasn't a whistleblower as many contended, not if the classical definition of the word — exposing wrongdoing — is applied.
What the NSA was doing was perfectly legal, an offshoot of the Patriot Act in 2001 that gave the government sweeping powers to spy on its citizens in order to stop terrorist attacks. Then, there was not much dissent as to potential damage to our liberties. The smoke of 9/11 had barely settled and people were scared. As the years went by, the government kept at its data gathering, and people were just glad there were no more terrorists attacks.
Despite the complacency of U.S. citizens concerning the Patriot Act and despite politicians defending the NSA data mining, only a complete disregard of the Fourth Amendment makes these assaults on liberties palatable.
The Fourth Amendment is clear — 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 — and there is no probable cause for the searches and seizures of information in the NSA dragnet.
What part of "shall not be violated" did Congress not understand when it passed the Patriot Act and, later, the Protect America Act of 2007 — which further eased restrictions on domestic surveillance?
These laws could be reined in and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which rubber stamps administrative requests for surveillance, could be made more transparent by having its decisions made public. This should be done at the very least.
But this is up to Congress, and keeping America safe is its top priority, one that trumps individual liberties. Even though the NSA program has been outed it will continue. Soon it will fall out of the headlines, people will forget about it and the utter disdain for the Fourth Amendment will continue until Americans themselves decide they've had enough.
In summary Surveillance laws can be reined in, and this should happen at the very least.