NSA Scandal Not about Republican vs. Democrat — It’s about Liberty vs. the State

Liberty and the NSA

It’s been a week since Glenn Greenwald broke the story on the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of calls made on the Verizon network. There have been a lot of arguments made for and against this program over the last week, and the battlelines have been clearly drawn.

First, let’s recap. This sort of surveillance has been around for at least seven years, perhaps even longer. The difference between what was going on with the NSA under the Bush Administration and what is currently going in the Obama Administration is that the former didn’t bother with court orders or warrants to conduct this sort of blanket surveillance.

So when the apologists for the program say it’s “legal,” like Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) did yesterday, they’re referring to the the statutory authority granted via Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, a controversial provision of the law that allows intelligence agencies to obtain a court order to collect this information from businesses. More on this in a moment.

Using this section of the law, the NSA obtained authority from a secret court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to force Verizon to turn over the phone records of millions of customers, even if they are not suspected of terrorist activity.

Government Sucks, But At Least You Get Your Money’s Worth

The number of bizarre, outrageous, infuriating, and baffling stories flooding the news cycle over recent weeks is so surreal that one could be excused for thinking the online parody site, The Onion, had somehow taken over the mainstream media. The stories provide more compelling evidence as to why big government is dangerous to not only liberty, privacy, and constitutional rights, but to plain common sense. Some stories stoke fear about the rising tyranny of big government, as if they were ripped from the pages of George Orwell’s prophetic novel 1984, while others show a level of such confounding incompetence that one wonders why we ever feared such idiots seizing control of the reins of power.

The truth is somewhere in between. While it is clear that there are those within the upper echelons of government that have conspired to seize power and spy on their fellow citizens, it is also clear that the majority of the abuse inflicted by government on those it “serves” comes from the crushing weight of a federal bureaucracy that is fully entrenched with little fear of being fired; wielding power over their fiefdoms and their helpless subjects therein simply because they can. Here are just a handful of the stories we’ve heard of late, each one a testament as to why every American should fear the enormous and metastasizing power of government in our lives, and why we should all fight to take a chainsaw to the size of government, regardless of political philosophy or party affiliation:

Why The NSA Collecting Your Phone Records Is A Problem

Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Privacy advocates and surveillance experts have suspected for years that the government was using an expansive interpretation of the Patriot Act’s §215 “business record” authority to collect bulk communications records indiscriminately. We now have confirmation in the form of a secret order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to Verizon — and legislators are saying that such orders have been routinely served on phone carriers for at least seven years. (It seems likely that similar requests are being served on Internet providers — increasingly the same companies that provide us with wireless phone services).

Some stress that what is being collected is “just metadata”—a phrase I’m confident you’ll never see a computer scientist or data analyst use. Metadata—the transactional records of information about phone and Internet communications, as opposed to their content—can be incredibly revealing, as the recent story about the acquisition of Associated Press phone logs underscores. Those records, as AP head Gary Pruitt complained, provide a comprehensive map of reporters’ activities, telling those who know how to look what stories journalists are working on and who their confidential sources are. Metadata can reveal what Websites you read, who you communicate with, which political or religious groups you’re affiliated with, even your physical location.

NSA Scandal Brings Opportunity for Constitutionalists

During the commencement address last month at Ohio State University, President Barack Obama talked up what he views as the virtues of big government and told graduates that they should “reject” those who warn of tyranny.

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works,” President Obama told the students. “They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner,” he continued. “You should reject these voices.  Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”

Since that speech, four major scandals have emerged — the Benghazi cover-up, the Internal Revenue Service’s politically-charged targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups, the Justice Department’s war on the First Amendment, and, now, the National Security Agency’s broad seizure of millions of phone records. Each of these scandals bring a unique dynamic to the political landscape, but the NSA scandal is one that the blame is equally spread between the Obama Administration and members of both parties in Congress.

The NSA’s complete disregard for the Fourth Amendment has drawn outrage from all sides. The New York Times notoriously Leftist editorial board wasted no time in condemning the Obama Administration for its secrecy.

Google at Your Own Risk - the FBI could be Watching

Google - Robert Scoble (CC)

Riddle me this, riddle me that. Who’s afraid of the big government?

Taking a little literary liberty by twisting the line of the Riddler there, but it does seem fitting at this moment to call that twisted character to mind right now. Only a villain with his particular brand of psychosis should be able to understand the logic of the latest legal debacle facing the internet giant, Google right now.

Anyone that was smart enough to point out that the Patriot Act wasn’t necessarily the smartest move to make in the wake of the 9/11 attacks can gloat a little now. But, that is cold comfort, given the current situation. In a ruling dated May 20, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston ordered Google to comply with the FBI’s demands to turn over search data requested in “secret letters.”

It is assumed that the legal wrangling is not over, since Illston put her ruling on hold until the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals could decide on the matter. As reported by the Associated Press and Fox News:

Illston’s May 20 order omits any mention of Google or that the proceedings have been closed to the public. But the judge said “the petitioner” was involved in a similar case filed on April 22 in New York federal court.

Public records show that on that same day, the federal government filed a “petition to enforce National Security Letter” against Google after the company declined to cooperate with government demands.

Big Brother Government Says “Trust Me”

Big Brother Obama

We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.” — George Orwell, 1984

On May 5th, speaking at Ohio State University, Barack Obama lamented that “Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”

Obama has it exactly wrong. It is not that our experiment in self-rule is a sham, or that it can’t be trusted, it is that the experiment has been undermined by the growing power of government in our lives, the very danger of which the Founding Fathers warned us. James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” declared that “The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Obama tries to convince us of just the opposite; namely, that we should place our trust in a benevolent government which will take care of us, and all we have to do is give up a little freedom.

The Best Defense Against Terrorism


The specter of terrorism, especially on the American homeland is very frightening. These fears are especially acute in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack such as the bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

More recently and prior to this latest attack, however; according to a recent Gallup poll, terrorism received 0% when asked about America’s greatest problem. Sen. Mitch McConnell said in response to the mathon bombing: “I think it’s safe to say that, for many, the complacency that prevailed prior to September 11th has returned. And so we are newly reminded that serious threats to our way of life remain.

Is Sen. McConnell right? Have Americans become complacent to these “serious threats”? Are Americans to blame for failing to be vigilant? Should we demand the federal government “do something” more to protect us?

Lies My History Teacher Told Me About the War on Terror

Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf gives us a disturbing glimpse of what American schoolchildren are being taught about the War on Terror, in the form of excerpts from a widely-used high school history textbook. The whole piece is a disturbing catalog of hilarious propaganda presented as fact to kids who are increasingly too young to remember much about the immediate aftermath the 9/11 attacks, but  I figured I’d focus on the paragraph dealing with the Patriot Act, which manages to get a truly impressive number of things wrong in a short space.

The President also asked Congress to pass legislation to help law enforcement agencies track down terrorist suspects. Drafting the legislation took time. Congress had to balance Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure with the need to increase security.

Another conservative plea to libertarians falls flat

Mitt Romney

In what is becoming its very own genre of blog post, another conservative voice has come out with a plea for libertarians to support Mitt Romney.  To those of us who were not born last week, this all seems quite humorous as most of the time libertarians are treated as irrelevant.  In this election, though, things have gotten tight and our votes count as much as those of the most hardcore Republicans.

As I wrote here two weeks ago, Republicans have a long way to go before they can make a truly credible case to libertarians.  For one thing, they need to understand that most libertarians do not see themselves in the same way as conservatives and liberals.  For the most part, both of these groups line up pretty well with a major party.  Sure, conservatives will say they want the GOP to be more right-leaning, and liberals will say they want the Democrat Party to veer more progressive, but they are both going to vote for their respective parties in the end.  Libertarians, though, mesh with elements of both parties - and find plenty to dislike about both as well.

It’s clear to me that the writer of the post, Mr. Brady Cremeens, didn’t read that post, and doesn’t understand the first thing about libertarians.  His entire piece is premised upon the idea that libertarians are just another element of the Right that simply needs to be brought back into the fold.  In Cremeens’ world, we really are just “conservatives who smoke pot” as the saying goes.  With his initial premise being flawed, then, it does not bode well for the rest of what he says.  If he does not understand where libertarians are coming from, how can he possibly make a convincing case?

Weighing the Paul Ryan Announcement

Paul Ryan

This weekend Mitt Romney announced that his running mate would be Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin. Ryan gained a lot of notoriety recently with his better-than-Obama’s budget proposal, which aimed to balance the budget in the next 3 or 4 decades.

It’s a sad day for conservatives when the hero to save them from their budget woes needs 30+ years to balance the budget.

Still, Ryan is the latest non-libertarian making waves about balancing the federal budget, so I would like to believe that Romney’s pick of Ryan is more about sending a message that he is (or that he wants to be) serious about fiscal issues rather than a pick to appease the Tea Party folks who don’t really care for Romney.

I am, however, a bit confused over the Tea Party excitement of Ryan. Sure, Romney could have made a worse choice, but Tea Party leaders are acting like the problems with Romney have vanished now that Ryan is on the ticket.

Let’s remember this is the same Paul Ryan who not only supported TARP but went to the floor of the House to beg his colleagues to do the same. This is the same Paul Ryan who supported the auto bailouts. How do those positions qualify anyone as a fiscal conservative?

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