Three leading anti-NSA senators, Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) recently penned an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times talking about the need for bipartisan reform to save the 4th Amendment and rein in government surveillance. They correctly identify the problems, but their solutions leave a bit to be desired.
In their Jun. 16 article “How to end the NSA dragnet,” they talked about the public reaction to the Snowden leaks and how it has changed the political landscape forever saying,
When the programs’ existence became public last summer, huge numbers of Americans were justifiably stunned and angry at how they had been misled and by the degree to which their privacy rights had been routinely violated. Inflated claims about the program’s value have burst under public scrutiny, and there is now a groundswell of public support for reform.
That is certainly the case, and the three senators deserve a great deal of credit for keeping the issue in the public eye and forming a bipartisan coalition against NSA spying. However, their actual plan remains suspect. They want the people to rely on Congress to fix things. They want us to trust the very people who created the monster to get their own act in order. Here is their reform plan in their own words:
This package of reforms includes overhauling domestic surveillance laws to ban the bulk collection of Americans’ personal information, and closing the loophole that allows intelligence agencies to deliberately read Americans’ emails without a warrant. It includes reshaping the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by installing an advocate who can argue for Americans’ constitutional rights when the court is considering major cases, and by requiring that significant interpretations of U.S. law and the Constitution be made public. And it would strengthen and clarify the government’s authority to obtain individual records quickly in genuine emergency situations.
These reforms are underwhelming, to say the least. Strengthening and clarifying the government’s authority to quickly obtain records should be the last thing we do after the NSA was caught betraying the public trust and continuously violating our privacy rights. As for the advocate, it seems likely that person will soon become an apologist for the agency, much like big corporations “capture” federal regulators. Who’s to say that the NSA follows any of these reforms at all? It has already violated the 4th Amendment repeatedly. What makes us think the it wouldn’t just disobey this new reform scheme as well?
Our rights are too important for us to entrust them with the proven liars at the NSA. While there is no reason to believe that Senators Paul, Udall and Wyden don’t mean well, their plan would likely accomplish little other than to make the public think that everything is fine while the NSA continues business as usual. Congressional reforms generally quickly devolve into “fox guarding the hen house” scenarios. The best way to fight the NSA is by denying it the compliance and material support that it needs to function. That can be achieved by bypassing Congress and working at the state level.
With the OffNow plan to turn the NSA’s water off, there is no mystery involved. There is no relying on the NSA to abide by the law. There is no relying on judges or public advocates to do the right thing. There is no relying on Congress to pass a bill without watering it down or otherwise taking the teeth out of it. Our reform plan can be accomplished far away from the army of bureaucrats in Washington D.C. We work at the state level to subvert unlawful federal power, and it works because the NSA needs our help more than it wants us to realize.
Without state level support, the NSA wouldn’t have the resources that it needs to spy on us. It wastes millions of gallons per day, usually taken from local municipalities, on its plan to destroy our anonymity and privacy rights forever. This can be stopped with legislation. With our 4th Amendment Protection Act, we also stop the federalization of local governments and police departments, corporate profiteering, environmental degradation, and university infiltration in one fell swoop.
Rather than hoping for the NSA to suddenly become honest and abide by the law that they have already shown to repeatedly break, our plan pulls the rug right out from under it. We aim to cripple Big Brother, giving it no recourse but to fade into oblivion. Don’t put the power in the hands of a bought-off Congress. Take the power in your own hands, and get involved in your state and local community. That is where the NSA can be hit the hardest.