- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2013


The government’s snooping on Verizon customers ought to be a wake-up call for every American. The “security” bureaucrats have spent more than two decades laying the groundwork for the “right” of the government to keep tabs on everyone’s movements and communications. It’s only going to get worse.

A court order, revealed by the London Guardian, a liberal newspaper, forced Verizon to turn over “all call detail records” for every domestic or international call placed on its network. This expansive request reveals not only who called whom and when, but the precise location of everyone using a cellphone.

In a recent speech at the National Defense University, President Obama revealed his desire for even more of this kind of surveillance. “In the years to come,” he said he would be “reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication.”

It’s not like the existing communications interception infrastructure is weak or ineffective. More than a decade ago, the National Security Agency set up shop in Room 641A of an AT&T office on Folsom Street in San Francisco. A lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2006 revealed the spy agency used this extraordinary office to tap into an Internet backbone line, enabling agents to review the millions of emails, website visits or conversations passing over the connection.

Mr. Obama assured his audience that he would “build in privacy protections to prevent abuse” and have a “strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to review those issues where our counterterrorism efforts and our values may come into tension.” This board, recommended by the 9/11 Commission report in 2004, has always been a joke. It took until this week for the board to publish its rules of operation. We don’t expect it, or any other task force, commission or blue ribbon panel to keep the federal Leviathan in line. Nor should you.

The Internal Revenue Service scandal is Exhibit A in the case against trusting anyone in the government to behave when it has unfettered access to sensitive information. Agency officials used their privileged access to the secrets included in tax forms and on tax-status applications to harass and intimidate the president’s political opponents in advance of the 2012 election. There’s no way to know whether the National Security Agency has been engaged in similar abuse because we have no way of knowing the full extent of its domestic spying effort.

Mr. Obama is taking the privacy invasion to the next level, and this isn’t a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats at all levels of government have joined in enthusiastically shilling for surveillance machines that “protect us,” including drones, cameras and airport X-ray scanners. When Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah advanced a modest proposal to make sure that Fourth Amendment protections apply to modern communications devices, only a dozen senators voted for it.

That’s a shocking abdication of responsibility, considering the nation’s founding document is not ambiguous on this point. A man’s “papers” — his communications — are not to be seized without probable cause and a warrant “particularly” describing the items and places to be searched.

The breathtaking scope of the Verizon order resembles a writ of assistance, the blanket authorization the British crown once gave to its agents in the colonies to snoop anywhere they pleased on the hunt for “contraband.” This is the abuse that inspired the Fourth Amendment, but lazy and irresponsible congressmen of both parties have enabled its return. Only Congress can investigate what the administration is doing and update the laws to impose the appropriate restraint, but politicians will always abdicate their responsibility until the public demands they do the work they came to Washington for, or sends them back to West Gondola to find a job they can do.

The Washington Times

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