For Pragmatists, the 4th Amendment Is Essential

Our intelligence armory contains impressive tools for capturing, storing, and interpreting communications among bad guys and good guys.  Many of those highly advanced systems were built following the national anguish over intelligence failures leading to Sept 11, 2001.

The Patriot Act is a tool for NSA and other agencies to empower themselves with the latest technology and with authority to take private information that may be critical to save US lives.  As we heard recently, the US monitors domestic and international telephone metadata, international Internet, postal metadata, and presumably unbridled eye-in-the-sky images.  For those who are innocent, these are a major dilution of our 4th amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.  Beyond metadata, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance courts can grant authority for law enforcement to wire-tap or read mail whenever metadata is not enough.

Today about 3 million jobs require a clearance to use classified materials. Many of these jobs are technically demanding (advanced communications technology, data mining technology and translators).  These national security employees deserve our respect and gratitude for their work on our behalf.   If “signals intelligence” demanded only advanced systems and honest technicians to make it all work, we could judge NSA’s products to be worth the loss in privacy.   Indeed, we might tolerate the dilution of our 4th Amendment right.

Unfortunately, that’s not where it ends.  Signals intelligence comes with a layer of senior policy makers.  In secrecy, they decide whom to monitor, what budget to put behind specific themes, who gets the intelligence products, whom to prosecute, and what to tell the public, if anything.  If these decisions are politically biased or if they are reported dishonestly or if these decisions are often wrong, then our national security can run amok – targeting the innocent, hiding malfeasance, and failing in its core mission.

Some of the policy makers running our national security departments have exhibited arrogant political chicanery, poor judgment in allocating security budgets, probable misstatements to obtain search warrants, legislating by regulation, and have refused to respond truthfully to Congress and the American public.  Some of the key national security appointees are not suited for operating in secrecy.  They have the technology to find and punish political dissent, and their history suggests they may do so.  We would be safer if the 4th Amendment protections were restored.  We need to rescind any authority for wholesale surveillance of citizens.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who lives in Florida and who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research

 

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