Let me begin with a question. It is a simple question. We’ll come back to the context in a moment. In all seriousness.
Why are you surprised? Or, perhaps, better, why would anyone be surprised?
The Guardian newspaper this week, using leaked documents, “revealed” the existence of “PRISM” – a broad program to collect “so-called meta data on your telephone calls.” The article goes further to claim that the NSA also has direct backdoor access to the servers of major tech companies (Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple) which between them own the vast majority of all online communications between e-mail, video, and chat.
Again, why would anyone be surprised? This is really not news. The specifics of it might be new, but we have known about the existence of this program for years. I don’t think the public knew the name of the program, or had seen that nifty logo. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court was set up in the mid-1970s. The PATRIOT Act was approved by near unanimous consent (357 to 66 in the House and 98 to 1 in the Senate) and signed into law by George W Bush on 10/25/2001. It was introduced on 10/23. So, in less than 48 hours it went from concept to law. It was then renewed in 2006, and again in 2011 by the current POTUS. It is these two laws which provide the broad foundations for the program, however, there are many, many other laws which have been passed that have aided and abetted the development of these programs.
Again, why are you surprised? In 1979, the Supreme Court upheld this kind of invasion of privacy. They found in the Smith v Maryland case, that collecting, what was called at the time the “pen register” (that is the time equivalent of the meta data), was legal. This is the modern, technologically equivalent program. When it goes further into the courts, they will uphold it.
The NSA has been involved in this kind of snooping and has been caught at it before. We know this. It isn’t new. In 2005, the EFF filed a lawsuit against AT&T for illegally cooperating with the NSA to facilitate these actions. If you read this article, or remember from the time period, you will note that the defense from the administration is almost precisely the same.
In 2006, one of the sitting FISA judges quit the appointment and others urged congress to give the FISA court a direct role in overseeing the wiretapping program.
“The administration defends the eavesdropping program, saying it is only targeting communications to and from suspected terrorists, that government lawyers review the program every 45 days and that Congress authorized the president to track down 9/11 co-conspirators, thereby giving the president the ability to bypass wiretapping laws.”
In 2009, the director of the National Cybersecurity Center resigned, and blamed the NSA’s “pwer grab” as a threat to “our democratic process.”
In 2001, William Binney resigned from the NSA after more than 30 years, including time as director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, and started blowing the whistle, warning about the size and scope of the NSA’s surveillance program.
This is not tin foil hat conspiracy theory territory. This is you can only be surprised if you weren’t paying attention. This is, “If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention” territory.
For most of the last 60 years there has been talk of Project ECHELON. Not just in tin foil hat, conspiracist circles where we can laugh at it, but also in the halls of government, with official investigations. There have been actual investigations and acknowledgements of its existence with accompanying refusals to discuss its full expanse. Sound familiar?
Many in our governments, around the world, took Orwell’s 1984 not as a warning, but as a guidebook, just as many right wingers took Ayn Rand’s work not as a poorly written morality play, but as the writings of a prophetess.
Now, as I said, there is no reason that anyone should be surprised. However, that does not mean that we should not be outraged, nor does it suggest that we should accept it. I hope that this will be the moment that people will awake and arise. I do not expect it, but I do hope for it. Perhaps we will remember and live up to the words of at least one of the “Founding Fatherstm”
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