Despite the recent alleged termination of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass collection of Americans’ phone data, there have been numerous calls from U.S. government officials and presidential candidates to resume such programs or create similar ones in the wake of the Paris attacks. In addition to an expansion of surveillance programs, these calls have also included permission for the government to more easily bypass encrypted communications, falsely arguing it is imperative to our national security.
The programs and policies being proposed by these men and women would once again allow the mass collection of certainly all Americans’ phone data, and likely all Internet data, or at least easier access to that Internet data, an ineffective and morally and legally dangerous practice.
Before getting to the larger arguments against these programs, it is important to look at these calls for additional surveillance and easier access to encrypted communications in the context of the Paris attacks, as these politicians and officials are doing currently. Glenn Greenwald establishes an important fact in his November 25 op-ed in the LA Times writing, “There … is no evidence that the perpetrators in Paris used the Internet to plot their attacks,” nullifying requests to simplify government access to encrypted communications.
It is both problematic and disgraceful for our government officials to be, in terms of what is known about the Paris attacks at this point, baselessly hiding under the cover of this recent tragedy to advance a political goal, as these programs and policies have no connection to the attacks that took place in Paris and would have done nothing to prevent them.
Moreover, nearly identical issues arise — except in this case, substantiated further by years of evidence — when looking only at the general argument for surveillance programs that include all domestic communications outside of the false cover and context of the Paris attacks.
“The pesky, rather inconvenient fact is that the government’s mass surveillance programs … have never stopped an act of terrorism,” notes the ACLU in their case against the NSA’s previous collection of American phone and Internet data. “That is not the opinion of the NSA’s most ardent critics, but rather the findings of the president’s own review board and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. This program has had over a decade to prove its value, and yet there is no evidence that it has helped identify a terrorism suspect or ‘made a concrete different in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.’”
Based on this, it is clear that the endgame of creating an all-knowing, Orwellian state in which the government would have easy access to any and all phone calls and messages is seemingly pointless in its goal of protecting national security. And while these practices have accomplished nothing near to the lofty claims of what they were supposed to do in their 14 years of known existence, these practices and the very existence of these programs are antithetical to the principles of individual freedom and the protections our country were founded on.
These proposed programs and those that have been previously employed are lax in their safeguards for the constitutionally guaranteed protections of privacy and against unwarranted search and seizure and are possibly a threat to the rights enshrined in the first amendment.
Not only do these programs not work, as has been proven time and time again, they are blatantly unconstitutional and set a dangerous precedent for the erosion of — and are an existential threat to — our civil liberties.
Let’s be clear: the attacks in Paris were a horrific act of violence and a tragedy, but this is when it is most crucial to be skeptical, for it is in times of crisis when we are most susceptible to unfounded claims used to justify a slow chipping away at our most important legal protections. Combatting terror and protecting our nation’s security are vital, justified and necessary priorities. But we need to do these things and maintain our safety while respecting the rights of the innocent citizens of this country, especially when there is no evidence that any of these proposed policies or programs work.
by Let’s be Frank (Eli Frank)