This was posted on the Tully Center for Free Speech's blog Free Speech Zone, and can be found here.
Today is Constitution Day, which marks the 226th anniversary of the ratification of the document which forms the legal outline of our society. This document includes values such as limited government powers, inter-branch checks and balances, and the personal right to be secure in one’s effects. Today is the day to reflect on how poorly we have done to maintain these values.
While government surveillance and opacity are not wholly new, the recent revelations of NSA metadata collection and activity exceeds the scope of all previously known examples of government overstepping. The National Security Administration (NSA) routinely engages in the compilation of information on both domestic and foreign communications, acting inconsistently with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). More importantly, in October 2011, U.S. District Judge Bates wrote that the NSA acquires information with “substantial intrusions on Fourth Amendment protected interests.” To do this, the NSA has not only created an array of data collection technologies, but has also co-opted private data collected by complicit corporation. The NSA has hacked into the United Nations and has given your private information to the Israeli government. How can any American feel secure in his or her personal effect?
One might respond that we are in a time of war, exempting us from Constitutional limits on the grounds of necessity. However, the horrors of war were just as real to those who fought the Revolutionary War and created our founding documents as it is now for those who witnessed the horrors of 9/11 and face endless threats to domestic tranquility. We must remind ourselves that those documents originate from the cauldron of war by people who surely faced death if their revolution proved unsuccessful. Their values remain as true today as they did over two hundred years ago.
Any law is only as good as its enforcement, and the Constitution is no exception. We must stand and assert our fundamental rights if we fear their erosion. Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that nearly 60% of Americans oppose the NSA’s metadata program. But without constituents in the streets and anger in their inboxes, our representatives have no incentive to challenge the current national security structure. As such, action is required to show Congress our disagreement of these programs. I call on all Americans to join the Stop Watching Us Coalition and Restore the Fourth in Washington, D.C. during the weekend of October 26th for a day of action against the NSA’s mass surveillance. This day marks the anniversary of the USA PATRIOT Act, legislation passed in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks aimed at shaking our great nation’s strong foundation.
America is indeed an exceptional nation, full of amazing people and unthinkable potential. But if we the people don’t hold our government to its Constitutional limits of power, our liberty will be irreparably eroded by the fear of a possible enemy at the gates. As such, we must realize now that the true enemy of liberty comes from within–our own complacency.
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