The Death of the Fourth Amendment

* This post originally appeared on, republished with permission from the author

“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”

Violations of the Fourth Amendment have been rising in the last couple decades, particularly since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Every part of this constitutional amendment has been debased in the last ten years and for the most part, the people it’s supposed to protect don’t care.

uncle-sam-622x777These truths came to the forefront of the national dialog this past week with the leaking of the National Security Agency‘s controversial data mining programs. First reported by Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian; the NSA had been obtaining millions of phone records every day.

A couple days later the Washington Post revealed that the NSA program “PRISM” had tapped into personal data from several major tech companies, including Google, Apple and AOL. This same week, the Supreme Court came to another 5-4 decision in Maryland v. King which found DNA testing to be constitutional upon any arrest.

Just like the Justice Department’s subpoenas of Journalist’s phone records, the NSA’s actions here don’t qualify as a scandal, although it is just as shameful. Many of these spy programs started under George W. Bush and are legal under the USA Patriot Act.

What makes these programs shameful in my view is that they shouldn’t be legal in the first place. The Patriot Act effectively overrode the privacy we held dear under the Fourth Amendment. To add insult to injury, Barack Obama promised to change things back in 2007.

“That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more (spying) on citizens… No more tracking citizens…” Instead of repealing the patriot act or allowing it to expire, Obama extended it in 2011.

Before I move on, I’d like to address the Supreme Court decision on DNA collection. DNA can be critical in prosecuting criminals and clearing suspects. The question is should it be allowed to be taken without a warrant or the suspect’s permission?

In the 1980s The Supreme Court affirmed that corporations could patent living organisms, the DNA of which would become corporate property. If that’s true, DNA is personal property and according to the Fourth Amendment you need a warrant to search or seize it. Just a little bit of hypocrisy on the Court’s part in my view.

Back to the NSA, is the government listening in on every phone call? No. Is the government reading every one of our emails? No. Does this mean we should sit idly by and surrender our privacy in the name of security? No.

Few people are very surprised by the National Security Agency’s data mining, but what’s troubling is the few who care. Everyone seems to have some kind of Facebook disease. We’ve gotten so used to sites like Facebook and Google using our information to direct their advertisers toward us more effectively, that we’ve lost all desire to keep our data to ourselves.

I have many friends who refuse to sign up to these sites simply due to privacy concerns. Herein lays the difference; people who sign on to Facebook know about their policies and can choose to stay away, the NSA is not giving people a choice. If you’re feeling patriotic, by all means let them collect your data.

Quiet Mike’s writers have covered this topic in recent days and the feedback has been mostly positive, but as always there are differences of opinion. The most common response in favor of the data mining is the classic “who cares, you’re fine if you have nothing to hide.”

patriot-act-surveillanceThat’s a fairly apathetic, but dangerous comment. People with that type of opinion are basically saying it’s OK for the government to supersede their rights. Furthermore, it’s my experience that almost everyone has something to hide, whether it’s an adulterer, a drug user or a political activist. The NSA’s actions are classified, who’s to say whether the data will be used against you eventually.

The Patriot Act was passed on a bi-partisan vote with little debate, only a handful of politicians who bothered to read it and only one Senator voting against it. I’m not surprised to see supposed Liberals and conservatives defending it still.

What really gets my blood boiling is those who are so quick to defend a false interpretation of the Second Amendment by opposing background checks for gun purchases, but are just as quick to see the death of the Fourth Amendment. It’s as if they think the Patriot Act is kind of patriotic act.

As most of my readers know, I’m a Canadian and according to some people I have no business writing about American affairs whether I have the knowledge to do so or not. Well, this story does affect me and my fellow countrymen, the NSA is not restricted to the US and neither is their practices.

How much privacy should we be willing to give up in the name of security? If we are complacent in giving up the little things now, it won’t be long until they ask for more and more.

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