“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, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
If you don’t know what the aforementioned text is, you are not alone. If you don’t know what the above-quoted text means, you, too, are not alone. It seems as though pretty much everyone in the United States government has acted as though these very, very important words no longer exist.
You see, the quoted text is the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It was inserted into this document by our founding fathers to ensure that the United States government wouldn’t be able to run roughshod over the populace; to protect us from governmental investigation and seizure of our personal effects; and to guarantee that our things – our stuff – couldn’t be taken from us without some compelling reason.
These days, it would appear the Fourth Amendment is an antiquated, if not obsolete, collection of words. It used to be, if the government had some reason to investigate a citizen, it would need to conduct an investigation, file some papers, talk to a judge and get a warrant. Even then, the warrant couldn’t be “everything in the house” or “whatever we see we can take.” It had to be for a specific place for specific items (see “particularly”).
Over the past couple of decades, our Fourth Amendment rights have been chipped away by various federal courts’ rulings. As technology became more advanced and as threats grew more concrete, the government interpreted our rights as being a lot more flexible than what, I believe, were intended by the document’s authors. Now, in the year 2013, it seems as though our rights are gone forever.
We know this because of the acts of one, Edward Snowden, a contractor with the National Security Agency. Apparently, he decided that the collection of data he saw from American citizens was beyond the pale, and he needed to do something about it. Make it known. Publicize the heck out of the information because we as Americans HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW!
I don’t know whether I agree with Snowden. I’m sure it was a very difficult decision for him to make – do I keep quiet and keep doing my job, or do I blow the whistle on this extreme government intrusion upon its citizenry, and, in the process, potentially give aid and comfort to the enemy (the legal definition of treason)? Again, I don’t know what I would do if I faced such a decision, and I still don’t know how I feel about what he did and how he did it.
But now that the genie is out of the bottle, I’m outraged. I think about the tens of thousands of phone calls I’ve had in the past five years. I think about the hundreds of thousands of e-mails I’ve sent and the millions of websites I’ve visited. And the government knows about all of it. Every. Single. Thing.
I understand that we need to be more vigilant about attacks on our shores. I know that we are surrounded by enemies (well, maybe not Canada) both physically and electronically. It has not escaped me that we can no longer hold to an isolationist ideal when one ocean can be crossed in less than five hours and the other in less than ten. I’ve also heard the government say that major terror attacks had been thwarted as a result of this intrusion. Really? Which ones? Where were they going to happen? Who was going to carry them out?
I know the government will respond that the information I seek is protected for security reasons. But from everything I read about the Boston Marathon bombers, those guys were on a bunch of watch lists. Yet they slipped through the cracks at almost every opportunity. How does that work if we’re so concentrated on stopping terror attacks?
A few years ago, I thought of myself as hopelessly cynical. However, I seem, with each passing year, to top myself. Now, I have a hard time believing in the “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” I’m kinda going in the “Believe nothing” direction.
But, then again, the government should already know that.
Christopher Markham writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.