Americans generally are split on whether the federal government's widespread phone and email surveillance should continue, according to recent polls.
Some think that individuals fretting over privacy invasion are running off with woodland fairies, arguing that the National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance program is helpful in preventing future terrorist attacks. Others aren't so trusting of the government's intentions and counter that how U.S. citizens use the internet day-to-day or what they do legally in their own homes is no one's business but their own.
I fall squarely into the latter category as I feel federal agencies tasked with Americans' safety can find other ways to fulfill their duties without stomping all over the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. I mean, come on, homeland security can be achieved sans collecting and storing metadata from all private communications. (That's a little much, Mr. President, especially for a Democrat and – since you're upholding a lot of former President Bush's so-called presidential or national security directives over the course of your two terms and so seemingly acting like one – even for a Republican.)
Now, despite the citizenry division, according to still more research, times have changed. A Quinnipiac survey, in particular, reveals that while most Americans supported anti-terrorism efforts to the detriment of civil liberties about three or so years ago, now, a small majority is starting to think that these anti-terrorist initiatives are beating up too many of the freedoms for which the U.S. is known.
Enter some members of Congress who are trying to initiate laws to address concerns that government anti-terrorist initiatives are trampling rights. These undoubtedly are being undertaken to assuage voter concerns of government overreach, but something that ushered them along came in the form of a secret court order that was recently made public, which showed the Department of Justice's (DOJ) use of Section 215 of the Patriot Act to call on Verizon to furnish the NSA with a record of every customer's call history for the last three months, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). These government demands for information were confirmed by various officials, including President Obama, who said they amounted to routine requests tied to a program started in 2007.
So far, according to the EFF, four bills to address such dragnet surveillance have been put forth by Senators Leahy, Sanders, Udall and Wyden, and House Rep. Conyers. But, EFF reps say the bills still fall short for a couple of reasons. First, they fail to account for the NSA's much-ballyhooed PRISM program, which uses Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to collect citizens' emails and phone calls. And, secondly and perhaps more importantly, the efforts reveal just how little members of Congress know about domestic surveillance programs.
Noting congressional efforts as “drafting in the dark,” EFF's Mark Jaycox recently wrote that a more thorough investigation of internal spying programs is required. Advocating for more transparency and, critical to the cause, more accountability, he explains that “over 100 civil liberties groups and over half a million people are pushing for a special congressional investigatory committee” to undertake a deeper dive into these programs. As part of this effort, EFF has started a petition for supporters to sign that will be forwarded to legislators to encourage the organization of the investigatory committee.
With the initial goals being transparency and accountability, the ultimate end to this effort hopefully will see the advocacy and passage of more impactful, well-thought-out and knowledge-based legislation that will protect every American citizen's Constitutional rights, while keeping the country safe.
It sure sounds like a tall order, but it's a worthwhile one to pursue. Indeed, while optimism on my side has been in short supply on this overall problem, I think I can dole out some to back up aims to call U.S. leaders to task. Anyway, I'm pretty sure speaking out against ham-fisted, backdoor, shady and secretive government actions is one of my indelible rights.