Don’t Cry 4th Amendment

A new name has entered the news.  Edward Snowden, a regular sort of person, who worked for an NSA contractor, has become today’s 4th Amendment face.  Snowden has said he leaked PRISM (NSA data collection program) details.  Now Washington officialdom is lining up accusing Snowden of treason.  Washington is also denying PRISM is an invasion of the 4th Amendment.

The 4th Amendment protects Americans from “unreasonable searches and seizures”.  In the past, and in most other countries today, governments regularly gather information about individuals and organizations that oppose government policies.  This American protection had been clear until the advent of nationless adversaries (such as al Qaeda).  Under the cover of terrorism hysteria, the Patriot Act was passed (and subsequently renewed).  The slippery slope emerged and the Obama Administration has been sliding down it following right after the Bush Administrations example.  Why?

It would seem there are many reasons.

  • Nationless causes present a new set of challenges when US national security is threatened.  Who are they, where do they live, and how are their terrorist acts to be thwarted?  Gathering electronic information from cell phones and internet sources seems obvious and reasonable.
  • Nationless groups do not possess other methods of communicating rapidly.  As with Osama ben Laden, they could use couriers.  But that is slow and prone to discovery through ordinary anti-espionage techniques.  Hence, cell phones and internet services are necessary for Nationless organizations to operate.
  • Nationless groups, at least until now, are not American citizens.  Therefore, it can be supposed that the 4th Amendment doesn’t apply to their activities anyway.  (Catch 22 of course is what if these Nationless groups are communicating with American citizens who may be sympathetic?)  Do they think being half pregnant is ok?
  • Government organizations such as the FBI, CIA, and the NSA are composed of professionals who strive to complete their assigned objective.  Given tools such as those which can intercept or interpret massive amounts of electronic data, the opportunity to gain more data is like feeding red meat to a lion.

Snowden’s disclosure may serve to generate a genuine national discussion over reasonable 4th Amendment limits.  Hopefully it will.  Snowden, however, released highly classified documents and violated his security clearance.  He will pay for this, the only question is how much.

As a comparison to Bradley Manning (Wikileaks fame), Snowden released legitimate and highly classified information.  Manning leaked a lot embarrassing information which had very questionable classification.  Manning is looking at a very long time in prison.  What about Snowden?   Hmmm.

The Snowden releases have stirred a lot of public interest.  It is important that the public also keep the issue of Snowden’s punishment separate from the 4th Amendment protection he is warning about.  Both of these individuals knowingly released classified information and knew that was against the law.  Both must pay some penalty.  Excessive sentences, recommended by some as a deterrent for copy cats, could potentially take the publics eye off whether the government had also overstepped the law or the Constitution.

What is also worrisome about this incident is Newton’s first law.  President Obama denounced this type of government intrusion as a candidate, yet seems to have followed the practices which were already in motion.  The President may not have begun this 4th Amendment infringement, but he appears to have done nothing to slow it either.

Hmmm.

 

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