In the Name of National Security

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.

-C.S. Lewis

News breaks this morning that the NSA has the ability to monitor 75% of the nation’s internet traffic at once. They can watch what 75% of Americans are doing at any one time online. Think on that for a moment.

We have already learned that they can monitor your cell phone. They can get access to your individual online browsing history via your internet service provider, and read your emails. Now we learn that they can watch over three-quarters of the nation’s internet traffic at the drop of a hat.

This has gone far beyond national security.

On Coffee & Markets yesterday Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said it is time for more transparency of the NSA’s monitoring efforts and called for better oversight of these programs. Both of those suggestions are great first steps to reining in the NSA, but there is more that needs to be done.

“In the name of national security,” has become the most overused and hollow phrase in Washington. It seems any activity can be justified “in the name of national security.” The TSA is allowed to practically molest your child or harass a frail elderly lady as they pass through airport security, “in the name of national security.” That same agency is even moving to large public gatherings so they can perform searches that would otherwise be called assaults “in the name of national security.”

A TSA program called VIPR, short for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, dispatches squads of federal officers to sporting events, highway weigh stations, train terminals, music festivals and even rodeos as part of the nation’s counter-terrorism efforts.

From the New York Times:

“The problem with T.S.A. stopping and searching people in public places outside the airport is that there are no real legal standards, or probable cause,” said Khaliah Barnes, administrative law counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. “It’s something that is easily abused because the reason that they are conducting the stops is shrouded in secrecy.”

The agency’s response to questions about this program is that these searches are “special needs” or “administrative searches,” which are apparently exempt from constitutionally protected probable cause, “because they further the government’s need to prevent terrorist attacks.” There it is. These new public searches by TSA’s VIPR squads are all “in the name of national security.”

It seems we are headed to a point where once you leave your home, whether you are going to a football game, catching a train, driving the highway or any number of other public outings you are subject to random and invasive searches “in the name of national security.”

The NSA’s electronic invasion is no better. Every technology enabled activity you perform in a day, calling a family member, reading your email, browsing the web, all of that may be monitored by a 20 or 30-something year old bureaucrat in Washington. You don’t even need to leave your house for this invasion of privacy.

Although the administration is supposed to get approval for the invasive monitoring of their citizens, the FISA court, or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, where they obtain these warrants is nothing more than a rubber stamp for their requests. Even NPR thinks there may be something wrong with this secret court.

The criticism of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is simple: that it’s a rubber stamp, and that the government always gets what it wants. And here’s a number that seem to support that: 1,856. That’s the number of applications presented to the court by the government last year. And it’s also the number that the court approved: 100 percent success.

We must develop a better means of requesting these searches, one that takes into account the privacy rights of American citizens. This court was created to keep the government from abusing surveillance powers, but if that body is no longer willing to stand up to those they are supposed to hold accountable, it is time to look at new options.

We could also go into the excessive costs related to harassing and monitoring you. The billions of dollars from your pockets used to fund the data centers, the training programs, the salaries, the contractors, the next-gen technology, the patrol teams, the drones and more all “in the name of national security.” 

What is the limit of Washington’s intrusion?

It is time for Washington’s security Leviathan to be reined in. It is time to provide a voice for the little guy in this process. It is time for the nation to understand that sacrificing nearly every aspect of your privacy, both inside and outside your own home, is unacceptable.