“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.”
- The First Amendment to the United States Constitution
“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.”
- The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
When our nation was founded, we were a little a paranoid. The Crown had conspired in so many different ways to entrap the Colonial people in a web of control, that once the revolution had thrown off his grip, the men charged with ensuring the young nation’s future governance were adamant on precluding such governance from ever adopting the abuses of King George. Therefore, the Constitution of this new government would not be ratified without a Bill of Rights. The ten amendments that comprise the Bill contain such fundamental truth, that they have withstood 223 years of history largely intact. Yes, debate over gun control will ebb and flow. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments will continually get debated in the legislatures of the states and federal powers. But, up until the Patriot Act, no law had ever expressly denied any of the existing amendments of the Bill of Rights.
Since its passage on October 26th, 2001, the Patriot Act and its subsequent reauthorizations and expansions (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the so-called Protect America Act) have not only impinged upon the constitutionally protected rights of the American people, they have eradicated them. In essence, the powers granted to the Executive Branch by Congress in this group of legislation have allowed the Bill of Rights to be turned on its head. Now, the mere act of exercising your First Amendment rights is enough grounds to get a FISA warrant to violate your Fourth Amendment rights. That’s if the NSA even bothers to consult the FISA court for a warrant, the results of which are held classified from the public anyway. In the fine print of the FISA act, the NSA was granted special rights to bypass the Department of Justice altogether under the auspices of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. So, since 2008 it is legally up to the presiding NSA agent in your area whether you can be investigated for terrorism and on what grounds. There is absolutely no oversight on the interception of your communications, of wiretapping your phone, of breaking into your home and installing listening devices, scanning your documents, copying the hard drive of your computer and collating all of this information in a database for further review.
This has been sold to us as a necessary evil to protect us from harm. The government has basically told us the police of Gotham are powerless, and we must open our arms to our Dark Knight. But, that Dark Knight cannot stop James Holmes from shooting you in a theater. It cannot see an insane man stalking into a Sikh temple and indiscriminately murdering the faithful inside. It can’t stop criminal activity in New York City before police officers feel the need to discharge their weapons into a crowd of innocents standing in front of the Empire State Building. And, as far as former Counter-Terrorism Advisor Richard A. Clarke has told us, these changes in law would not have prevented 9/11, either. In fact, the men serving under Clarke had investigated, vetted and prepared a comprehensive report on Al-Qaeda and their imminent threat capabilities that was presented to the President and his staff on August 6, 2001, a full month prior to the attacks. I know that is old news, and Kristin Stewart and Rob Pattinson and ermahgerd…but come on!
The old system was in fact protecting us just about as well as we can be protected. The difference is that there was oversight. There was legal recourse. There was a fundamental protection of our inalienable human rights. Now, simply for typing these words and posting them on a public website, under the definition of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, I am a terrorist. I own no weapons. I have no criminal record. I advocate nonviolence and I try my very best to be a good person and a good citizen in my affairs with my fellow Americans. However, I question the laws of my country and that is enough. The First Amendment is now grounds for suspected criminality, and if the NSA so chooses, my family and I are now subject to all of what I have described above.
Now, you may think I am exaggerating, and l am. I know I’m no threat, and were the NSA to waste its resources to arrive at that same conclusion, I’m sure I would be perfectly safe. But this is the country in which we now live. There are small NSA dictators existing outside of the public eye with far too much power over the people in their districts. By supporting the Patriot Act and its like, we might as well have turned our individual protection over to Tony Soprano for all the governmental oversight it now receives.
Four years ago when I voted for Obama, I had hoped the madness was over. But with his cabinet appointments, the Justice Department he oversees, and the military that seems to do whatever it wants no matter what he says, I no longer look for a solution to this problem from on high. Yes, we were all scared after the events of 9/11. We were all willing to forego some freedom temporarily in order to do our part in making sure no further attacks occurred. But it has been over a decade now, and there is no end in sight to these abuses of power. If you think the President is going to willingly hand over his badge and his gun for no reason at all, I don’t think you’ve studied your buddy cop Americana. We need to demand our rights. We need to incessantly resist toadying to these invasions of privacy. We need to support the ACLU in its efforts to champion those whose rights have been trampled. We need to vote out of office these ridiculous excuses for Congressmen we currently have, toothlessly swallowing anything the Executive Branch feeds them. We, as a people, like Batman out of the Pit, need to rise. This is our country, not the President’s, not Homeland Security’s and not the NSA’s. We need to start acting like it.