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The National Spying Agency

Connor Roth | Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Wednesday, July 24, the House of Representatives voted on amendments to the Department of Defense’s appropriations bill for the 2014 fiscal year. At the same time the National Anthem was being played at the United States-Honduras CONCACAF soccer game, Congress refused to support an amendment that would have curtailed some National Security Agency (NSA) abuse of the American people. For those that have not heard, leaks from Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has a backdoor program that allows the agency to search through private emails and phone calls without warrants.
Representatives Justin Amash (R-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI) submitted an amendment to the defense bill that would have made an incremental change to how the NSA goes about collecting information. The text of the amendment simply required a reasonable connection between a suspected individual under investigation and the documents the NSA would seek. This amendment additionally only would have applied to domestic targets, meaning the agency could still conduct surveillance on foreign individuals believed to be terrorists without any such warrant.
The beauty of this debate is that the Amash-Conyers amendment was not a partisan issue. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been calling for additional scrutiny of the NSA for years. Republican Justin Amash has led the charge in the House, often posting on Twitter to garner more public awareness about what has been going on, with support from the civil libertarian left to the younger Tea Party Republicans on the right. Over the past month, Amash has tweeted about articles published in the Washington Post and The Guardian that describe NSA abuses including: Giving tips to the Drug Enforcement Agency to help them incarcerate non-violent drug users, the nine-hour detention and interrogation of Glenn Greenwald’s partner at Heathrow airport, the agency’s ability to defeat the encryption of private data, 3,000 documented cases of internal privacy rule violations in a one year period, spying on love interests (codified LOVEINT) and Yahoo’s Chief Executive Officer, Marissa Mayer, describing her fear of being accused of treason for not complying with the NSA. Both halves of those critiquing America’s public surveillance programs have received some scrutiny themselves. Congressional old-guard leadership including Lindsay Graham, Dianne Feinstein, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan and even President Obama have offered their vocal support of domestic surveillance, generally arguing that it is vital for national security.
The Founding Fathers fought off King George III and understood that an overbearing government would impede a functional, free society. Before the Revolution, British troops and tax collectors had general warrants called “writs of assistance” that allowed them to scavenge the homes of the colonists and take whatever goods were deemed prohibited (whatever they wanted). As Rep. Amash put it, the Framers weren’t worried that government was going to say, “We need your papers because we want to find some recipes.”
The Fourth Amendment was added to the Constitution and included in the Bill of Rights because of how blatantly repugnant a police state is. Just as Americans demand privacy in their own homes, they also expect the same standards with their private, personal information.
While it is important to debate whether or not the NSA’s actions actually make Americans safer, we should first ask a different question: Is it fundamentally right for our private information to be taken without our being involved in a crime? At this stage in the game, whether or not the documents are actually read or mined is a secondary issue. I believe the sole taking of private information by unelected bureaucrats is something to be rebuked, regardless of promises to “only use the information when necessary” or to “keep us safe.” I hope you’ll give this issue some consideration too.
In the recent Supreme Court case Maryland v. King, which approved the cheek-swabbing of suspected criminals on the streets for DNA collection purposes, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dissented: “I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.” In the previous statement, we can easily replace “open their mouths” with “make their telephone records and emails public” and see why many cringe at how the NSA operates, even if one buys the argument that it actually does make us safer.  
In the case that you aren’t bothered by Snowden’s leaks and recent revelations since then, the National Security Agency will be at Notre Dame on Friday to recruit for 400 internship positions and 1100 full time jobs it needs to fill for next year. The possibility of being assigned to LOVEINT alone might make attending the session worth your while.

Connor Roth is a junior studying economics and constitutional studies. He lives in Duncan Hall, hails from Cleveland, Ohio and is currently
participating in the London abroad program through Notre Dame. He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.