June 7, 2013

I had just put the finishing touches on this column when up popped a breaking report from the Washington Post. Exposing the largest government domestic program in American history, reporters Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras noted

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time. The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues...The technology companies, which participate knowingly in PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted significant traffic during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Dropbox, the cloud storage and synchronization service, is described as “coming soon.” Government officials declined to comment for this article.

The Post went on to describe the current program as President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program on powerful steroids, with Bush's successor -- who was fiercely critical of that effort -- presiding over PRISM's vast expansion.

I had to refine my original thoughts (which was to criticize Sen. Lindsey Graham and columnist Charles Krauthammer for their position on wiretapping and court orders for American's phone records) and broaden the topic to deal with the ever expanding police state.

Let's consider some facts made known to us over the the last few days:

  • The U.S. government has obtained a top secret court order that requires Verizon to turn over the telephone records of millions of Americans to the National Security Agency on an “ongoing daily basis.”
  • The Obama administration is secretly carrying out a domestic surveillance program under which it is collecting business communications records involving Americans under a hotly debated section of the Patriot Act, according to a highly classified court order.
  • The Obama administration acknowledged that it is collecting a massive amount of telephone records from at least one carrier, reopening the debate over privacy even as it defended the practice as necessary to protect Americans against attack.
  • The National Security Agency has long justified its spying powers by arguing that its charter allows surveillance on those outside of the United States, while avoiding intrusions into the private communications of American citizens. But the latest revelation of the extent of the NSA’s surveillance shows that it has focused specifically on Americans, to the degree that its data collection has in at least one major spying incident explicitly excluded those outside the United States.
  • U.S. border agents should continue to be allowed to search a traveler’s laptop, cellphone or other electronic device and keep copies of any data on them based on no more than a hunch, according to an internal Homeland Security Department study. It contends limiting such searches would prevent the U.S. from detecting child pornographers or terrorists and expose the government to lawsuits.
  • The FBI is unhappy that there are communications technologies it cannot intercept, and wants a new requirement that software makers and communications companies create a back door so they can listen in when they want.

If these headlines appeared over the course of a 10-year period, there would be plenty to worry about in terms of privacy rights in the United States. But, amazingly, these news stories all appeared in just one day – yesterday – in the reports of news organizations around the world.

What it suggests is that America is facing a constitutional crisis in which government is moving to be master of the American people rather than their servant.

But there’s another aspect of this Big Brother-style trend that has not yet captured the imagination of the public and press: While this spying scandal certainly ranks right up there with Fast and Furious, Benghazi-gate, Reportergate and IRS-gate in what it portends for the future of the American republic, few have noticed how government’s thirst of information about the activities of the people also provide a potential solution to the search for the truth about government abuse and corruption.

I’ve pointed this out before and I will point it out again: The truth is out there. It’s not only on documents that have been shredded for the protection of government officials. It’s not only secreted away on hard drives. It’s not only being concealed in cables and satellite video feeds unreleased to congressional investigators. It’s not only in the hands of an administration hell-bent on stonewalling its misdeeds and crimes.

It’s all stored on databases that can be retrieved by the most powerful branch of the U.S. government – Congress.

Congress needs to stop acting like it is impotent in getting to the truth. It needs to stop being timid as Rome burns. It needs to stop asking for the evidence that Barack Obama and his executive branch have been systematically abusing their authority.

Instead it needs to fight fire with fire.

Congress, which has oversight authority over the NSA and the FBI and CIA and all other law enforcement and intelligence agencies collecting data in unprecedented volumes, needs to demand the documents, the emails, the videos, the telephone conversations and the other evidence that will conclusively reveal the truth about all of these scandals.

The guilty parties must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, no matter where they work or how high their office might be.

It’s just that simple.

It’s not rocket science. It’s computer science.

The truth is out there. If Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder won’t cooperate, it’s time for Congress to use its authority by doing an end-run around the administration.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.