Following President Obama’s recent appearance on Jay Leno, where he insisted that the government has “put in some additional safeguards to make sure that there’s federal court oversight [of the National Security Administration’s activities]… that there is no spying on Americans,” it seems that his assurances were a bit overstated.
Of course, whistleblower Edward Snowden would be timely this Thursday in leaking a classified audit report from May of last year. That report details 2,776 instances where privacy rules were violated in a single year alone. Nearly 69% of those instances, in fact, involved the wiretapping of individuals’ phones in the U.S. without a court warrant. The report is just another piece of evidence against the agency that can be added to an exponentially growing pile. As a result of his whistleblowing activities, Snowden – currently under temporary asylum in Russia – is still being sought by American officials on charges of espionage.
There have been some responses to the report. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), for example, asserted
Friday that there’s been no circumstance “in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority.”
That very statement alone should prompt another vital question: from whom, or what, is the authority of a department like the NSA even derived? And is that authority truly as inherent as Feinstein appears to suggest?
The question, ultimately, is not whether a program like this can be handled effectively by selfless public servants, nor whether abuses under it can be prevented. The simple fact is that the powers being utilized by the NSA in these instances have no authority derived from the Constitution at all. Privacy breaches without a warrant violate the Fourth Amendment, plainly and simply. It was only two years ago that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the NSA had violated it, which prompted the agency to claim in Congress that its privacy protections for Americans were being bolstered. I suppose we all just have to take their word for it, you know, being that most of their real actions are classified anyway.
Not only that, but it’s truly anyone’s guess as to how much money is actually being wasted on programs like this. Because the NSA’s activities are largely classified, we can never truly know what we’re paying. Just like the recently revealed U-2 spy plane project at Area 51, the funding of NSA activities falls under the so-called “black” budget of the Defense Department.
Obama’s claim on Leno that we’re somehow still “properly balancing our liberty and our security” comes off as extremely disingenuous. The privacy concerns are real and seem to be growing in their seriousness every day with each new document leak. But there’s certainly the fiscal aspect too. Where’s the liberty in having to pay taxes to support a program that I can never know anything about? There’s a price to this, and it goes beyond mere privacy invasion. How interesting it was to find out recently that even phone companies are directly charging the government – or more specifically, taxpayers – for wiretapping and surveillance activities.
Does the average taxpayer care? He or she might. But whenever the American public begins to ask that kind of question, you can bet on the press starting to release stories that talk about monumental crises which officials supposedly just helped to avert. Just this June, NSA director Keith Alexander claimed that we’ve already prevented more than 50 “potential terrorist events.”
Well, there you go. It sounds like we can’t do without warrantless wiretapping and secret information gathering on Americans. At least not until the experts tell us otherwise.
Written By: Chris Bacavis