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A False Choice: National Security or Individual Rights & Freedoms | Edward Snowden & Government Surveillance

By Martie Hevia | Blue Beach Song™

[Updated: May 29, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. PT]

5/29/2014 NOTE: Since I initially wrote and updated this blog post, Mr. Snowden has settled down somewhere in Russia, for the time being, doing numerous interviews for American audiences which have begun to turn the tide of public opinion in his favor. Meanwhile the NSA documents he gave to a team of journalists from various news agencies continue to be reviewed, vetted, and written about… and they continue to shock, concern, and dismay. (Read my latest blog post: Edward Snowden a Patriot? He’s Changing People’s Minds)

9/20/2013 NOTE: Since I initially wrote and updated this post a great deal has been going on with Mr. Snowden. He has since left Hong Kong, from where he conducted his interviews with The Guardian and disclosed that the U.S. was spying on its citizens, and reportedly is in the Moscow airport. As of this morning, nobody really knows where he is and Russian President Putin is denying Mr. Snowden has touched Russian soil. What we do know is that Mr. Snowden apparently took four NSA (National Security Administration) laptops with highly sensitive information that should not be in the hands of foreign governments. Mr. Snowden is in danger of transitioning from whistleblower-hero to traitor. As he traverses the globe, let us hope those laptops and the information they contain do not end up in the hands of those who may wish us harm. If nothing else, consider your place in history, Mr. Snowden, and do the right thing.

Allegations of Government Surveillance of American Citizens
The other morning I was watching the news and the big story was that a former CIA technical assistant and current National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden, had turned over highly classified top secret documents and information to the British newspaper, the Guardian, regarding a U.S. surveillance program code-named, PRISM.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden
Interview by the Gurardian – June 9, 2013

These documents reveal that the United States government has been spying on and collecting personal information on every American citizen – no, not just the ‘bad‘ guys, but all of us – from emails, to phone calls, to text messages, to passwords, to credit card purchases, to Internet searches and activity, and much more.

This morning, the news was that the FBI director, Robert Mueller, testifying yesterday (6/19/2013) before Congress, admitted for the first time that drones are being used to spy on American citizens, albeit, “in a very, very minimal way.”

Privacy isn’t what it used to be.

What struck me about the morning news interviews with government officials and congressmen was that the focus seemed to be on how Mr. Snowden’s leaks may jeopardize our national security or how it reflected poorly on the Obama administration.

All important concerns, I’m sure, but what about the central issue to which Mr. Snowden was trying to bring attention, the fact that our government is spying on us, invading our privacy? That is truly scary stuff right there.

Big Brother

To be honest, it is all a little too close to the George Orwell novels, 1984 and Animal Farm, stories most of us read in grade school. Scary stories coming true. Big brother is watching and listening and collecting information on all of us.

Of course, those in Congress who voted to approve the Patriot Act, and President Obama who signed its four-year extension without any reforms, had to know that they were granting unreasonable powers and permissions to the government that eventually would extend from spying on foreign terrorists to spying on American citizens.

Give someone an inch and they take a mile.

Candidate Obama 2007/2008 vs President Obama 2013
Most disappointing is how far President Obama has strayed from Candidate Obama on the issue of whether government surveillance for national security justifies destroying basic civil liberties protected under the Constitution.

Candidate Obama debates President Obama
on Government Surveillance

Candidate Obma promised “no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens” while criticizing the G.W. Bush administration for offering a false choice “… between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.” Poignantly stating, “That is not who we are. It’s not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists.”

However, President Obama sees things very differently. He believes that these NSA programs, like PRISM, and the authorities granted under the Patriot Act, “help us prevent terrorist attacks.” Explaining that “[y]ou can’t have a hundred percent security and also then have a hundred percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”

Candidate Obama vs President Obama

“This administration (President G.W. Bush) acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not.” -Candidate Obama 2007

“But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they (the NSA surveillance program) help us prevent terrorist attacks.” -President Obama 2013

This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.” -Candidate Obama 2007

“You can’t have a hundred percent security and also then have a hundred percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.” -President Obama 2013

“I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. It’s not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists.” -Candidate Obama 2007

“And what I can say is that in evaluating these programs they make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity. In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is, ah, ah a potential, you know, you know, program run amock, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.” -President Obama 2013

Guaranteed Civil Liberties: The First & Fourth Amendments
The founding fathers of these United States put great thought and emphasis on creating checks and balances that would keep the newly found government, or any one group or individual in the government, from acquiring too much power. They divided the federal government into three branches: the executive, the judicial, and the legislative. They wanted to ensure that individual liberties and privacy would be protected from an invasive or abusive government.

The founders empowered the average citizens through the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This first amendment’s provisions protecting freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the Government for redress of grievances, all give individual citizens certain rights they can use to help keep their government accountable and honest by exposing abuses of power and the erosion of our civil liberties. (Perhaps that’s what Edward Snowden was trying to do.)

A serious concern to consider is the government hacking into reporters’ phones and computers, trying to access information about sources, whistleblowers, and leaks – recently in relation to stories about Benghazi, Syria, and the Middle East – which would clearly affect the ability of the press to be effective in exposing abuses, corruption and cover-ups. (Video)

Watergate, anyone?

Finally, let’s not forget about the fourth amendment which addresses directly Mr. Snowden’s allegations of the government invading the privacy of its citizens by collecting information and spying on them. Specifically, the fourth amendment affirms: “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 probable cause can exist against all U.S. citizens that allows broad searching and collection of information? Shouldn’t this mass-spying be construed as unreasonable searches and seizures of data and information?

A Time for Serious Reflection

One-In-Five Phone Calls Are Recorded
Shia Labeouf on Jay Leno – September 16, 2008

Is it acceptable to us that our government should continue to spy on us, to read and to collect information on our Internet searches and activities, our phone calls, our text messages, our emails, and God knows what else, because someone in Washington D.C. decided that the only way to achieve national security was to violate our right to privacy and destroy our civil liberties and freedoms granted to us by our founding fathers?

Should you be afraid to write an article like this one? Should you be concerned about any searches you might do on the Internet to satisfy your intellectual curiosity? If you research an unsavory subject for a college paper, will you end up on some kind of watch list? Who might read your private emails and text messages because you used a trigger word? Are we deluded in thinking that there should be a presumption of privacy when we use our computers from our homes?

We need to do some serious reflection on one central and important question: Is national security worth more than our individual privacy rights and freedoms?

The government is right, there is a great deal to be concerned about with the leaking of documents and the revelations Mr. Snowden has made, however, I think the real danger is not so much to our national security, but to our constitutional rights. It is a danger to the very heart and soul of what makes our country different from so many others.

As Mr. Snowden said in his video interview with the Guardain, “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.

Martie Hevia (c) 2013 | All Rights Reserved

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