A lot of people are shocked and outraged over the leaked report which show the government has been collecting data on web activity as well as demanding phone records from companies like Verizon and others. While it is very unlikely, and extremely difficult for the government to actually listen to cell phone conversations, text and call logs are easy to obtain. I worked for Sprint for 5 years and have a pretty extensive knowledge of how the industry works.
Even though I’m quite sure the surveillance agencies are probably not interested in your 2 AM text messages or Facebook chats with your ex during a moment of drunken weakness, it is still troubling that they have access to services you signed up for with at least somewhat of an expectation of privacy. In fact, it could very well be considered a breach of contract depending on the agreement you signed when you got that shiny new tracking device — I mean smartphone that you plug so much private information into on a daily basis.
Regardless of all of that, we can’t blame the government for doing something we gave them the power to do. I hate to sound like a “political hipster” who complains constantly about how both parties are the same, but in this case, they are both guilty. There are a lot of politicians worshiped by both sides that have repeatedly voted for renewing the Patriot Act, and enabling an erosion of our civil liberties in a slow slide to an Orwellian-lite society where anything and everything we do could be monitored, at any given time.
Again, we gave them this power. We’ve settled for politicians who’ve pandered to the fringe elements of their base, the people who show up at the polls and decide primaries. We’ve voted based on promises that they’d protect our reproductive rights on the left, or Second Amendment rights on the right, while they’ve actively undermined our Fourth Amendment rights from both sides. We have collectively stuck our heads in the sand when the party of our preference was calling the shots, only to hypocritically howl about it when the other folks are in charge.
Do I think some guy in a sea of cubicles inside a secret building somewhere is reading every word I text to my girlfriend as we have quirky conversations involving squirrels, gluten-free cupcakes and being ADD? No. I’m sure there are other more interesting things for them to review. Do I think the government has the right to know where I am at and what toilet paper I am using at any given time without a warrant from a civilian judge? Absolutely not.
This comes on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling that police can collect your DNA if you’ve been arrested but not convicted of a crime, for placement in a federal DNA database. Funny how the gun nuts freak out about a nonexistent national gun registry, but don’t seem to have any issues with a national DNA registry which will include the DNA of law-abiding citizens who were never convicted of a single crime.
Which begs the ultimate question, “What exactly happened to our Fourth Amendment rights?” We gave them away, that’s what happened. We’ve given in to apathy in the name of “national security,” and as a result we’ve seen the Fourth Amendment slowly disappear from existence with help from all three branches of government.
Look, I want my government to do what it can to protect me from all enemies and criminals, both foreign and domestic — but not at the cost of giving up my civil liberties granted and promised by the Bill of Rights. I have no problem with a federal surveillance agency accessing my records, so long as they have a real and probable cause, and get a warrant to do so. The fact that the Patriot Act has seemingly nullified our Fourth Amendment rights as United States citizens is both concerning and downright scary, and if you think one party is more to blame than the other for this monstrosity of government overreach… well, you simply haven’t been paying attention.