The NSA and Fourth Amendment: Reliving 1984

The National Security Agency (NSA) used a top secret court order to collect telephone records on millions of Americans without their consent. The order demanded Verizon to provide records on an “ongoing, daily basis” to the federal government on calls both within the United States and between the United States and other countries. The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) granted permission to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on April 25 for a three month period of spying on the phone records of American people. The court expressly barred Verizon from disclosing this massive intrusion on privacy to the public. This court has allowed the federal government to spy on phone calls and track the American people without their consent or knowledge. Congress needs to intervene and restore the basic protections afforded to Americans by the U.S. Constitution.

This is just another step in the NSA plan to collect and track data on the American people.  The NSA has quickly become the largest, most covert, and with the help of technology and court orders, the most intrusive intelligence agency devised by man.  According to Wired, the NSA has established the country’s largest spy center in the mountains of Utah. Unless Congress acts, the NSA’s long train of abuses and usurpations will be permitted to take America down the road of tyranny. The power of the NSA should be constrained by the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment states “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…” When the British occupied the colonies, they seized persons and their property without justified cause. Based on these early experiences, the Founders recognized the importance of allowing people to be safe from unwarranted search and seizure. 

The NSA’s ability to catalog data on US citizens does not give them the right to do so. William Binney, a former senior NSA crypto-mathematician responsible for automating the NSA’s worldwide eavesdropping network, quit in late 2001. He stated, “They violated the Constitution setting it up…but they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way.” The world of digital technology does not give license to infringe upon free speech and neither should it permit federal intrusion into people’s private information.  The cyber world is not exempt from the Fourth Amendment and the U.S. Constitution.

A few senators seeking to obey their oath to defend the Constitution have introduced legislation to ensure Americans are protected even in the digital world. Senator’s Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have a bipartisan proposal to deal with the intrusions of the NSA and other agencies.  The Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013 makes it clear that a search warrant requirement is required in order for the government to obtain emails and other electronic communications of American citizen. Another bill, by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is even broader. “The Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act of 2013” would extend  Fourth Amendment guarantees to the cyber world and electronic communications. Rand Paul’s bill would protect all records held by third parties from any agency of government without a warrant issued by a judge. Congress must curb the power of NSA by following the Constitution before the nightmare of 1984 becomes a part of our world.