“If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy”. This quote, originally uttered by James Madison in the early days of this nation, illustrates an age-old trade off that has recently returned to fore. Since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and scope of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic data collection program, there has been extensive public conversation about its constitutionality.
“The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything,” said Snowden. ”With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.” Officials within the government tend to deny this, claiming that they are only collecting and analyzing metadata. However, Stanford researchers have found that meta-data can reveal an immense amount about a person’s private life.
Many of those who oppose the NSA program fear that, once the constitutional protections are circumvented, there is no telling where to draw the line on privacy protections. Their fears were recently substantiated by a report released by Reuters that identified a program in which the NSA shared metadata insights with local law enforcement in order to fight domestic crime. The report unveils a program within the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) named the Special Operations Division (SOD).
In collaboration with the NSA, SOD accesses phone bank metadata for the purpose of providing law enforcement operatives with “tips” about where a drug deal was going to take place. However, the program insisted “that the utilization of SOD cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function”, according to the Reuters article. As a consequence of this secrecy, law enforcement had to fabricate the probable cause for initiating an investigation in a practice known as “parallel construction”.
In other words, because the DEA operatives could not reveal that they received the tips on the basis of information that was supposedly gathered only for national security purposes, they invented probable cause narratives. Proponents of this program point to several successful busts that resulted from this program, but many people have expressed concern that government overreach has gone too far. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said, “National Security is one of government’s most important functions. So is protecting individual liberty. If the Constitution still has any sway, a government that is constantly overreaching on security while completely neglecting liberty is in grave violation of our founding doctrine”. He is just one of many statesmen who have been attempting to energize opposition against the government overreach.
These policies have raised serious concerns about the balance between security and liberty in the absence of conventional checks. If our governing documents are discarded during challenging times then they are little more than figureheads. The Romans used to confront this problem by suspending democracy in the face of impending danger. This policy was implemented in order to give the consuls the flexibility to defend the Republic from immediate threats. The last time the senate voted to temporarily dissolve the republic power was given to Julius Caesar. This policy was the final act of the Republic for Caesar never relinquished power. History is full of examples of citizens misguidedly giving government dominion over their lives and regretting it, let us hope that this is not yet another one.