Congress finally seems to have gotten the message: Americans are sick of being relentlessly spied on by their own government. Every day brings a new revelation of abuses of power. The National Security Agency already works with big computer and telecom companies to maintain lists of almost every phone number dialed in America, as well as websites people visit.
The IRS harasses groups in political disfavor. And the IRS incompetently “posted the Social Security Numbers of tens of thousands of Americans on government web sites,” according to an audit by PublicResource.org, a watchdog group. Such scandals have prompted Congress to shelve proposals to expand the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, first passed in 1994 by the Clinton administration. We opposed the CALEA because it forced telecommunications companies to make their equipment easy to be tapped by law enforcement officials.
Almost two decades ago, as the Internet only was beginning to expand, CALEA effectively installed “back doors” into telecom equipment that enabled the snooping going on now. At the time, government capabilities were limited because computer data storage was small. But further advances increasing storage capabilities while decreasing prices made possible the current vast data sweeps. Earlier this year the Obama administration, according to the Zwillgen legal news site, aimed its “Going Dark” agenda specifically to target “online service providers who provide messaging capabilities through instant messaging and web-based email.” That proposal is dead, at least for now.
Our position all along has been that the government ought to follow the Fourth Amendment “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” A warrant must be obtained “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Fighting terrorism and other crimes is important, but not at the expense of our sacred liberties.
Bipartisan bills also are percolating in Congress to protect our privacy. In the U.S. Senate, a bill to protect email privacy is sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and Mike Lee, R-Utah. It would require a search warrant to examine email.
“For centuries Americans corresponded primarily through the U.S. mail system,” Sen. Lee explained in Congress. “It was well settled throughout that entire time that such private correspondence would be entitled to the full protection of the Fourth Amendment. Modern technology has now evolved to the point where third party storage and cloud computing are now the norm.”
A similar bill has been introduced into the House by Reps. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan. and Tom Graves, R-Ga. When the bill was introduced, Rep. Yoder said, “Today, we affirm what most Americans already assume, that Americans’ privacy should be protected from government intrusion. Our bill has a simple aim — to make sure all private communications stored online have the same Fourth Amendment privacy protections under the Constitution as any other letters and documents Americans keep in their homes.”
We agree and we urge members of the House of Representatives to back these bills. Big Brother still will be watching. But maybe we can blur his vision a little.
From the Orange County (Calif.) Register