By Piper Bayard
I could list the civil liberties we have lost since 9/11, from security against unreasonable search and seizure to the officially sanctioned vilification of those who exercise their right to bear arms, but that would be a dissertation and not a blog. The sum total result, however, can be expressed in one sentence: The balance of power has shifted.
In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government answers to the people. Its operations and the governing subset are subject to the scrutiny of the public. The people are secure from search and seizure—even in their communications—by the ruling subset of the population, and the people have the right and the ability to overthrow that subset by elections should the government grab too much power. The people are the masters, and the government is their servant.
When the government spies on us with everything from street corner cameras to DHS agents on our highways that perform warrantless searches of random individuals to collection and analysis of our every electronic transmission and phone communication, we are no longer the masters, and the government is no longer our servant. It is our ruler. It is a parent searching our rooms and opening our mail on the off chance that we MIGHT be doing something it doesn’t want us to do.
The difference between the government being the servant and the government being the master is a warrant. When an agency such as the NSA, FBI, DHS, etc., is required to obtain a warrant, an official paper trail is created by which the people can make the government answer for who and how it searches, why it searches, and what it obtains. It is a record by which citizens can hold the government accountable for its actions in a court of law.
With PRISM, every email, every phone communication, every bank transaction, every purchase involving a credit card, debit card, or check, and, once Obamacare is fully implemented, every health record is collected on all Americans. When trigger words* like “snow,” “bust,” or “sick” alert analysts, countless individuals who work for the government and in the private sector are free to peruse and interpret the threads of our lives at their personal discretion. Everything they do is off the record. No probable cause. No warrant. No accountability to the public. It is the act of a ruler, not the act of a servant.
Even with the evidence out about PRISM, our president claims that his administration is not spying on Americans. Yet he also states unapologetically that his administration will continue to collect and analyze all of our private communications with no probable cause or warrant to do so—in the name of “safety.” He is only admitting this much because of Snowden’s leaks. The true question lies in the things our president is not admitting.
In 1972, America was shaken to its core by Nixon’s one warrantless wire tap. PRISM is a warrantless wire tap of every American and foreigner within our borders. Each and every one of us is now assumed guilty until proven innocent. Each and every one of us now answers to the government master that was once our servant. I’m not saying we shouldn’t spy on terrorists within or without our borders. I’m saying let there be warrants. Let there be public records. Let there be accountability. Do not allow the government to exercise such omnipotent power with impunity.
Prior to PRISM and to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, warrantless searches were allowed under urgent circumstances, but the after the search, the government agents involved still had to make a record and show probable cause retroactively. In most cases, terrorist investigators working in the US had plenty of time to take the few minutes needed to get a warrant from an on-call judge. There is no known history of any case in which the requirement for a warrant prevented investigators from acting in time.
Freedom is about dignity and responsibility—it is not about perfect security from cradle to grave. When we abdicate our responsibility for our freedom in favor of comfort and the illusion of safety, an illusion the Boston bombing should have shattered, we also surrender our dignity and our choices. We become wards of the state. What were once our rights as responsible adults are now merely our privileges as subjects, granted or withheld by our rulers at their whim and discretion. We must demand more of our leaders. Freedom can be won, and freedom can be surrendered, but Freedom will never be given back once successfully taken by the ruling class. PRISM is that taking.
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Piper Bayard is a recovering attorney with a university degree or two. She currently pens post-apocalyptic sci-fi and spy novels with Intelligence Operative Holmes when she isn’t shooting, SCUBA diving, or chauffeuring her children.
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