It would be nice if the news media paid nearly the same amount of attention to the NSA data collection scandal as the tragic events leading to the death of Trayvon Martin. After all, the government is spying on all of us.
It’s not just Edward Snowden sounding the alarms. Three NSA whistleblowers — William Binney, Kirk Wiebe, and Thomas Drake — have been screaming this from the rooftops for the past three years.
They say it’s not just metadata the government is collecting — it’s the content of our emails, text messages, bank records, credit card transactions as well information from our Facebook and Twitter accounts.
They should know. They were at the agency when it first began spying on Americans shortly after 9/11. In fact, Binney created the program the government used to do it. But his creation had built-in encryptions to protect Americans’ privacy. After 9/11, he says, the agency ripped out those encryptions and began spying on all of us.
It’s the equivalent of cc-ing the government on all of our emails. Only the government makes it easy — they do it for us. Sure, they might not look at it or read it, but they keep it on hand, you know, just in case.
Former FBI agent Tim Clemente suggested as much in a CNN interview in May, saying, “There’s a way to look at digital communications in the past. And I can’t go into detail of how that’s done or what’s done. But, I can tell you that no digital communication is secure.”
With this vast and unchecked power, and the possibility that millions of Americans are being spied on, why are so many media outlets talking about the Zimmerman trial?
They should be acting as government watchdogs, asking tough questions of our leaders. This is an issue that affects all of us, our form of government, our Fourth Amendment right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures. It has a chilling effect on our First Amendment right to free speech. It shouldn’t leave the headlines until it stops.
Our country is standing on the precipice of tyranny and that story is not being told. The news media needs to ask, “What does this mean for our future? Who is ultimately in charge of the NSA? Who can go in there and demand to see what information is being stored on Americans?” Hearing government denials and “Trust us,” is not enough.
After all, this isn’t the first time the NSA has spied on Americans. In the ‘60s and ‘70s there was Project Minaret. When that and other unconstitutional spy activities were exposed, an outraged Senator Frank Church formed a committee to investigate.
The result was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which made it a criminal offense for the intelligence community to spy on Americans without a warrant from a secret FISA court. Each violation would incur up to a $10,000 fine and five-year imprisonment.
As best as anyone can tell, that fixed things until 9/11, when the NSA turned the full power of its electronic spy programs on its own people – all in the name of national security.
Senator Church warned in 1975, “I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”
Have we already crossed over that abyss? Is there a new Frank Church waiting in the wings? Will the media stand up and ask the tough questions?
Tricia Owen is a freelance writer in Atlanta and producer of the forthcoming documentary, “One Nation, Under Surveillance”