Can You Trust the President, Congress or the Courts to Protect Your Privacy Rights?

Nothing you write, say, text, tweet or share via phone or computer is private anymore

With all branches of the government, including the courts, stridently working to maintain its acquired powers, there seems to be little to protect the American people from the fast-growing electronic surveillance state. Making matters worse, Congress has chosen to dig the hole even deeper. The Senate is set to vote on a bill which will give 22 regulatory agencies…the power to access people’s email, Facebook and Twitter accounts without a warrant.

 

 

“The game is rigged, the network is bugged, the government talks double-speak, the courts are complicit and there’s nothing you can do about it.”—David Kravets, reporting for Wired

Nothing you write, say, text, tweet or share via phone or computer is private anymore. This is the reality of the internet-dependent, plugged-in life of most Americans today.

A process which started shortly after 9/11 with programs like National Security Agency (NSA) wiretapping and Total Information Awareness has grown into a full-fledged network of warrantless surveillance, electronic tracking and data mining, thanks to federal agents having been granted carte blanche access to the vast majority of electronic communications in America. Their methods generally run counter to the Constitution, but no federal agency, court or legislature has stepped up to oppose this rapid erosion of our privacy, and there is no way of opting out of this system.

Consequently, over the course of the past 12 years, Congress, the courts, and the president (both George W. Bush and Barack Obama) have managed to completely erode privacy in America. Complicating matters further is the fact that technology is moving so rapidly that we often find ourselves making decisions (or subjected to decisions) whose consequences we can scarcely comprehend.

A good case in point is Presidential Policy Directive 20, a secret order signed by President Obama in mid-October as a means of thwarting cyberattacks. Based on what little information has been leaked to the press about the clandestine directive, it appears that the president has essentially put the military in charge of warding off a possible cyberattack. A FOIA request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) seeking more details on the directive was allegedly denied because doing so could cause “exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” However, EPIC believes the order allows for military deployment within the United States, including the ability to shut off communications with the outside world if the military believes it is necessary.

Dependent as we are on computer technology for almost all aspects of our lives such that a cyberattack on American computer networks really could cripple both the nation’s infrastructure and its economy, this puts us in a somewhat precarious position. Do we allow the government liberal powers to control and spy on all electronic communications flowing through the United States? Can we trust the government not to abuse its privileges and respect our privacy rights? Does it even matter, given that we have no real say in the matter?

Essentially, there are three camps of thought on the question of how much power the government should have, and which camp you fall into says a lot about your view of government—or, at least, your view of whichever administration happens to be in power at the time, in this case it being the Obama administration.

In the first camp are those who trust the government to do the right thing—or, at least, they trust the Obama administration to look out for their best interests. As then-Senator Obama himself observed during a 2006 trip to Kenya: “In the end, if the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists — to protect them and to promote their common welfare — all else is lost.” With a religious fervor not unlike that of many George W. Bush devotees, Obama’s most ardent followers largely want to believe that their “chosen one”—the man Jamie Foxx refers to as “our Lord and Savior Barack Obama”—will save them.

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