Saturday, July 27, 2013
Senator Ron Wyden on Domestic Data Collection and Privacy Rights
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is by far the most outspoken foe in Congress of the NSA and the domestic surveillance state that was created by Woodrow Wilson in 1917, accelerated by Harry Truman, and made exponential by the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001.
He delivered a remarkable speech on July 23 at a meeting held by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. This is a standard Democratic Party Beltway organization: pro-union, pro-global warming, pro-green, pro-big government. But on civil liberties, it is on the side of rolling back the federal government in general and the NSA in particular.
Wyden’s speech was a summary of how the NSA has provided incorrect information to Congress and the public. He did not say “lies,” but this is what he clearly meant. He admitted that Snowden — unnamed — blew the whistle on the NSA. Snowden provided evidence of the extent of the data collection, which the NSA’s director had categorically denied to Congress had been going on. Wyden’s speech is the best summary I have read on the extent of the NSA’s systematic deception of Congress.
He ended his speech with these words:
We find ourselves at a truly unique time in our Constitutional history. The growth of digital technology, dramatic changes in the nature of warfare and the definition of a battlefield, and novel courts that run counter to everything the Founding Fathers imagined, make for a combustible mix. At this point in the speech I would usually conclude with the quote from Ben Franklin about giving up liberty for security and not deserving either, but I thought a different founding father might be more fitting today. James Madison, the father of our constitution, said that the the accumulation of executive, judicial and legislative powers into the hands of any faction is the very definition of tyranny. He then went on to assure the nation that the Constitution protected us from that fate. So, my question to you is: by allowing the executive to secretly follow a secret interpretation of the law under the supervision of a secret, nonadversarial court and occasional secret congressional hearings, how close are we coming to James Madison’s “very definition of tyranny”? I believe we are allowing our country to drift a lot closer than we should, and if we don’t take this opportunity to change course now, we will all live to regret it.
The NSA — secret budget — is using a secret law and a secret court system — the FISA-authorized court system — to construct a truly Orwellian apparatus for spying on the American public. Members of Congress are not legally able to reveal any of this. He said that he cannot legally speak of what he knows. Were it not for Snowden, he made clear, he could not have spoken about what he knew before Snowden went public.