The Patriot Act is now repackaged with a new name, The USA Freedom Act and unfortunately the government’s unwarranted and indefinite storage of private records and communications continues. The new spy law, as was its predecessor, remains an attack on the 4th Amendment.
Unfortunately for big government advocates, collecting and storing data on its citizens is not cited or even alluded to in Article I, Section 8 where the powers of the federal government are itemized. Nor has such authority been added by way of an amendment to the Constitution.
Fortunately for us this behavior is specifically forbidden in the Fourth Amendment which reads: “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.” The amendment was specifically designed to prevent government spying on its own. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated” is the strongest possible language conceivable.
Prior to the American Revolution the British government used what was called “a general search warrant” which allowed their agents to harass the people thought to be doing, or saying, something disapproved by the government. No such flexible interpretation was allowed in our government until recent times. In our day, computers are our papers. Simply confiscating their messages and storing them, perhaps indefinitely, should be no different than the police walking into your home and taking from you any letters you have received or are about to send and housing them in police headquarters in case they should need them in a later day. As a first principle your house and papers are off-limits to the government.
Moreover, unreasonable was not to be decided by the police. All searches are unreasonable without probable cause that you are doing something harmful to others. Probable cause must be decided independently from the police unless you are in the act of doing something unlawful and immediate police response is necessary. Elected judges exist for assessing probable cause. Should they get too cozy with the police there exist other checks to keep them restrained as, for example, their defeat in the next election. As initially interpreted there were to be few federal laws hence few unelected federal justices. This was to be a state, county, or city matter. Judges rousted out of a good sleep in the middle of the night were not likely to be too happy about having to assess frivolous charges.
There exists no constitutional authority for a blanket extraction of all our electronic data. Judges swear an oath to preserve the Constitution. They are not to perform with a private view outside that document. Notice also the specific restrictive phraseology with respect to this power; they are to particularly describe “the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” — evidence that something unlawful already happened. There is no authority for a “fishing expedition.” NSA spying on its own citizens without a search warrant, formerly under the Patriot Act and extended now under the Freedom Act through proxy corporate entities charged with keeping our records for potential government inspection is clearly unconstitutional.
Moreover, the new USA Freedom Act violates the Fifth Amendment as well in that the accused is, in a very real sense, forced to be a witness against himself — perhaps the only witness. The Amendment reads in part: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, … nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” It is his papers, emails, and phone conversations that convict him. He has unconstitutionally been made the principle witness against himself.
“No federal government!” You must tear down your $2 billion NSA Bluffdale, Utah spy facility capable of storing a Yottabyte of our private information against our will. You must do likewise to your Oak Ridge plant that houses the fastest computer in the world designed to analyze our private data for your own purposes; and the latest revelation — to share that information with seven sister federal agencies. Spying on your own people directly as in the Patriot Act or now requiring corporations to do it for you under the Freedom Act, is a blatant violation of the Constitution. You may argue that you are only protecting us from bad people out there but who protects us from you? Fortunately the Constitution does if only enough will begin to use it in their voting practices and those we elect will honor their pledge to protect it, and us, from you.
Dr. Harold Pease is an expert on the United States Constitution. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College. Read more at www.LibertyUnderFire.org.