“Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail,” Henry Stimson famously commented when in 1929, as the U.S. Secretary of State, he withdrew funding from the Black Chamber program that had been deciphering messages sent by foreign ambassadors.
By the time he became the Secretary of War, during World War II, Stimson ceased to be a gentleman, as he strongly supported the interception and decryption of messages, from those considered enemies.
Snowden realized that a gentleman should not spy on his fellow citizens and innocent people around the world. Hopefully, the strong response to Snowden’s revelations, will lead President Obama to reconsider his ungentlemanly attitude.
The revelations by Edward Snowden indicates that there are no gentlemen in the National Security Agency (“NSA”), as they are monitoring not only the communications of foreign nationals who might fall into the categories of terrorists or those supporting terrorists, but also gathering as much data as they can, from everywhere.
Within the U.S. the NSA has been collecting what has been labeled “metadata,” namely recording data about all telephone calls made within the U.S. including the telephone numbers of the calling and receiving phones, as well as the date and time the call was made, the duration of the call, and from where the call was made.
NSA is also collecting data from internet providers and main network systems around the world, as well as telephone calls made from outside the U.S. They are also taking photos of every envelope mailed in the U.S.
The fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution offers protection of privacy for all citizens: “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.”
This amendment came into existence to stop the wide, unreasonable searches that were being conducted by government officials. The effect of the amendment was that there had to be a good basis for conducting a search and the person who wanted to conduct the search had to provide a good reason for the search and to clearly state what was being sought.
The NSA program is what is usually called a “fishing expedition,” in that they claim they need to gather as much information about communications in the event that the information might be helpful at some future time. The logic of the program is that sooner or later there a terrorist will be caught. Then NSA would be able to make a list of all those who had telephone and internet links with that terrorist.
The program would extend to several “circles” of contacts, namely there would be a second list of all those who had telephone contacts with the names on the first list, and a third list of all those who had telephoned someone on the second list. These circles would easily involve thousands of innocent people and millions if someone on the first list telephoned to order a pizza. It would be very easy to make further circles of contacts.
Soon after the Snowden revelations, President Obama stated that Congress was very much aware of the various intelligence programs and supported them. We have seen this past week how inaccurate that presidential statement is.
The House of Representatives voted 217-205 to narrowly defeat an amendment intended to stop the wide collection of telephone records. However, there are indications there will be further attempts in the House of Representatives to stop or limit the NSA telephone record collection program, while some Senators are discussing possible legislation to bring the Patriot Act to an end.
Even though she voted against the amendment, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi has stated her vote should not be construed as opposition to limits on surveillance and added that a bipartisan group of members of congress planned to send a letter to the president calling for limits on surveillance.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has stated the Obama administration has actively misled American citizens about domestic surveillance. He appears to have hinted that there are other extensive intelligence programs.
Apparently if something is considered top secret, officials think they are duty bound to lie about a program’s existence, even when reporting to Congress. Senator Wyden is upset because the head of NSA had to admit that he gave false testimony when he testified to the Senate about the collection of phone records. Snowden has revealed some of the intelligence programs being conducted by NSA, but there are likely other such programs being done by other intelligence agencies.
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