Snowden has done Americans the enormous favor of shining the light of democracy on government behavior that, whatever its current purposes, created made-to-order weapons for constructing a dictatorship. Fortunately, our democracy remains sufficiently healthy to allow, despite the intense resistance of our dear Imperial Presidency, a public debate. Unfortunately, those favoring uncontrolled government intrusion in our lives are doing a very good job of blurring the core issues.

Even if it were to be concluded by the whole government that all Intelligence Community domestic spying were legal (note the recent highly questionable court decision supporting unrestrained domestic spying), many questions would remain:

  1. Is it legal for officials to lie about it to the public?
  2. Is it legal for officials to lie to Congress?
  3. Is it legal for officials to mislead the Congressional intelligence oversight committees?
  4. Is it legal for officials to mislead the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court?

Spying on all of us for the legitimate purposes of finding criminals among us is bad enough but perhaps a sacrifice society might, under carefully controlled circumstances, decide to accept.

Cheating the very regulatory bodies set up to ensure that abuses of power by a very power-hungry presidency (under both conservative parties) do not occur is a very different animal, and that beast must be decapitated. So that brings us to the essential question:

Why are the justice system and our elected representatives in Congress allowing the president and his intelligence arms to abuse them???

Fighting Back

From the website of Senator Ron Wyden:

WASHINGTON- U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today challenged the effectiveness of the National Security Agency’s bulk phone records collection program. The senators’ amicus curiae brief, filed in theFirst Unitarian Church vs. National Security Agency U.S. District Court case, questioned a central premise of the government’s argument. The brief argues that after extensive review, the senators have seen no evidence the dragnet collection of Americans’ private phone records has provided any intelligence of value that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means.

The senators also pushed back on the government’s overbroad interpretation of certain surveillance laws, warning the court that such an expansive reading of the law could potentially support even more intrusive surveillance practices, such as collection of financial or medical records, or even records revealing the location of ordinary Americans.

White House report on its domestic spying program, after Obama backtracks on his initial defense of it, recommends 40 reform steps. They could have saved a lot of time and money by just asking Snowden!

Judge Leon on NSA phone call spying, from the New York Times:

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Leon wrote in a 68-page ruling. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment,” which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Bottom Line: Transparency

Transparency, as every dictator knows, is the key threat to absolute power. If we Americans want liberty, we need–as a society–to wake up to the danger of trusting our leaders. Policy is of course difficult, and most people will never take the time to figure out which policy details are correct, but we can all understand this: if a leader is hiding what he is doing, it is probably wrong. If he is hiding what he is doing from the very institutions created to prevent abuse, then our democratic system of government is no longer functioning.

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