— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 16 May 2012, was last revised on 28 April 2014. © Govinthenews Vol. 3:1(1).
The U.S. Constitution is crystal clear about the rights of the government to spy on its own citizens. It can’t. Over the years, that explicit prohibition — which the founders meant to be utterly sacrosanct — has been subjected to numerous challenges. Most of those challenges failed, but others succeeded in diluting the sanctity of the 4th Amendment, which reads as follows:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Never mind that, since the dreadful events of 11 September 2001 (a.k.a. 9/11), the U.S. Government — acting in accordance with broad, extra-Constitutional powers either granted by Congress (in violation of its authority, inasmuch as Congress is pledged to uphold, not abrogate, the Constitution) or usurped by the Executive Branch as supposedly (but apparently bogus) “inherent rights” of the President and the Justice Department — has engaged in domestic spying on its citizens with alarming regularity.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), among others, has compiled a long list of such violations. In 2005, after it was disclosed that the National Security Agency was spying on American citizens on American soil, the ACLU published a well-researched article that detailed how and why those acts were illegal. That article, in a well-researched exposition of the tenets of the Constitution germane to the question at hand, opened with this question:
“What if it emerged that the President of the United States was flagrantly violating the Constitution and a law passed by the Congress to protect Americans against abuses by a super-secret spy agency? What if, instead of apologizing, he said, in essence, ‘I have the power to do that, because I say I can.'”
The president the ACLU was referring to in 2005 was George W. Bush. Their complaint was not off the wall. It can be shown that the ACLU’s assertion that President Bush was acting in violation of the U.S. Constitution was — in terms of the plain wording of that document — 100% correct.
Back then, however, many Americans — a surprising number of whom claimed to be strict-constructionist conservatives — dismissed Bush’s “little” violations as unimportant, particularly as they were seen as serving a greater cause, that of protecting the masses of the American population from the risks of “home-grown” terrorism. The ACLU, along with a number of other strong voices, pointed out what should be obvious to all, namely that — as with all other human endeavors — the ends must never be allowed to justify the means. Even a small erosion of individual rights tends to lead, over time, to more egregious erosions, and those ultimately, and one could even say inevitably, threaten the document as a whole.
Yes, it is that serious… And we received ample proof of how serious such things are from many of the extra-Constitutional laws enacted with careless abandon since 9/11. Any serious student of history can easily find a huge list of 4th Amendment violations emanating from Bush’s claim to powers he had no right, whatsoever, to exercise. Is it any wonder that Mr. Obama is following in Bush’s footsteps?
All, of course, in the name of National Security, of protecting the common man on the street…
The prize wasn’t, and isn’t, National Security at all, but power. And Bush not only received permission from the electorate to seize that prize, he (as might be expected) exercised it as though it was his constitutional right to do so. Never mind that his heart might have been in the right place. It might have been. In fact, it probably was. Unfortunately, though, from all indications the man didn’t have the sense of history needed to comprehend the enormity of the risks his constitutional violations entailed. Some sources suggest he viewed the power of the presidency with the dangerous kind of blind awe historians attribute to Louis XVI, with respect to the French monarchy of his day. But in that he has not been unique. The better vision of that office, i.e., that of our first president, George Washington, is so rare as to appear, from the perspective of the 21st century, nonexistent.
What Bush didn’t see, and what many others (Judge Andrew P. Napolitano a notable exception) still don’t understand, is that even small chips taken from the rights conferred on Americans in general by the 4th Amendment add up, sometimes quickly, to large erosions that begin to undermine every freedom the Founders sought to preserve. Look around, and you will find ample evidence of that truth. The subject of this article is one such.
In 1960, the year I graduated from high school, no sane person would have suggested that the government of the United States of America would ever have the right to spy on its own citizens. Today — a mere 52 years later, in the early months of 2012 — George Bush’s successor, flanked by a host of evidently sane and sober individuals in our government, is proposing that unmanned airborne drones be allowed to fill America’s skies, so that they can be used to monitor the activities of American citizens at the will of their desk-bound controllers. Not only are these drones capable of spying on every American citizen in the nation, but they also have the potential to be used — some day in the future — to kill Americans who their controllers judge guilty of criminal acts.
No, this president does not seem to suffer from the same blind awe of his office that George W. Bush had, but there is no doubting his appreciation of its power. This charismatic orator and past editor of the Harvard Law Review, though evidently not taught to love the constitution, did learn one extra-legal truism quite well: usurpers of power are rarely hoisted by their own petards at once. The rope is played out generously before that risk looms darkly ahead. In America, if history is any harbinger, our presidents are permitted as much rope as they wish for their entertainment, with scarcely a hint of retribution in the wind.
So, let’s see… These drones that are set to fill America’s skies… they will, at first, be unarmed. But for how long? After all, they were designed not just to surveil, but also to neutralize (read: destroy) the “enemy.” Not only that, but they do their neutralizing work cheaply. Vesting them with the combined power of judge, jury, and executioner makes them inordinately inexpensive and efficient. Not to mention, convenient. Don’t you love that word? It conveys so much, in only 10 letters. How nice…
And so, I ask the question again: For How Long? If, perchance, you think the question irrelevant, I beg you: study it further, thoughtfully, and carefully…
Remember this: there was a reason why the 4th Amendment was written into the U.S. Constitution. That reason, which — in case we’ve forgotten — was THE reason America fought the war of Independence, has NOT become moot in the 21st Century.
Then give serious thought to this question: is it now time to rein in the power of the Executive Branch, making strict adherence to the Constitution, without exception, an absolute imperative? Of course, if that is done with the Executive Branch, mustn’t we do the same with regard to the Legislative and Judicial Branches? Some, myself included, believe that time has come. No, in truth, that time has always been present, but we have ignored its voice. Perk up your ears, America. Let’s return to good sense and the Constitution, before it is too late…
- ACLU. 29 December 2005. NSA Spying on Americans is Illegal. American Civil Liberties Union.
- Napolitano, A. 2012. Where is the Outrage? Fox News.
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