Like most people, I was stunned to hear about the Edward Snowden incident and PRISM. That whole story was like an upside-down Escher painting. Snowden eventually immigrated to one of the most totalitarian, repressive nations on the planet. Isn't that just the craziest thing?
The disclosure of federal eavesdropping was a revelation that certainly grabbed our attention. Just think: At this very moment my every keystroke is being monitored. And if I get a phone call the NSA might find out that Maria wants to get back together again, but just for tonight.
Seriously? I could give a damn about Big Brother. The government can read my mail for all I care. The Snowden affair was compelling news, yes, but the only people who should really be concerned are terrorists and drug dealers. Possibly the governor of Illinois.
The feds weren't doing anything wrong anyway. The 1968 federal wiretap law permits the president to authorize telephone surveillance without judicial approval in national-security cases. Terrorism is a national-security issue, and collecting raw data to be used in the fight against terror is legal. I know what you're thinking, but I'm actually a libertarian. I should have the freedom to do what I want, and the government should be able to do whatever it wants, too. Now that's libertarian.
This Fourth Amendment issue of privacy and government intrusiveness can be traced all the way back to the Magna Carta, which protected clergy and barons against illegal search and seizure. Over time, a broader interpretation developed that applied the concept to most any Englishman. Everybody except political dissidents, Catholics, and the forebears of Monte Python.
In 1763 John Wilkes was charged with seditious libel in England. After his home was ransacked for evidence, his claim of illegal trespass was upheld in court. This ruling was celebrated in the American colonies, where authorities were breaking down a lot of doors to search for seditious material and weapons. We were planning a rebellion and we had guns stashed all over. Apparently the only place the British couldn't find guns was in Concord.
The protection against unreasonable search and government snooping has a storied history, and many of us consider it a fundamental right. But when has that ever really been true in America? Our government has been spying on dissident groups forever, and PRISM is just the latest twist in an old story. Union organizers, civil-rights leaders, and political parties have all been targeted. Well, we're done with all that discriminatory harassment. They're spying on everyone now. What could be fairer than that?
- Dave Sekharan