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From Snail Mail (USPS) to Email (NSA), They’re Watching: Happy 4th


With promises from Glen Greenwald that more and bigger news is yet to come about the National Security Agency, Barack Obama’s near fixation on whistleblowers, the leaks from Edward Snowden and now news of the United States Postal Service monitoring and tracking efforts, seeing people focusing on the 4th Amendment feels something like a reality check. What protections is it meant to provide, and what is our government – nationally and internationally – doing to limit those protections?

The 4th Amendment:

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.

Who gets to define “unreasonable searches and seizures”? How do we know when such things are happening? The NSA / Snowden story is the latest, but far from isolated, and far from just the NSA involved. This is, though, a very big and getting bigger story, and at least for a while – our national short attention span is always in play – seems to be alerting more people to what others know, some first-hand. Talk to activists and advocates about that.

The NSA, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald are still very much in the news, but today we learned of another indication of how our government defines (because they are the ones doing the defining) “unreasonable searches and seizures. From the NY Times:

U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement

Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: A handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home. …

Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, but that is only a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

Over ten years ago, Pickering was a “spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front,” described the Times as “a radical environmental group,” and by the FBI as “eco-terrorists.”

You don’t have to be online, have a smart phone or use a credit card to get the attention of Big Brother / Sister (no sexism here).

At Politico, Greenwald recently said that “the world will be shocked to learn” what’s still to come from the Snowden leaks. Given what we already know, what’s still to be known probably will be “shocking.”

One response to the defining actions of the NSA, FBI, CIA, USPS and who knows who else, is from Restore the Fourth,

… a grassroots, non-partisan, non-violent movement that seeks to organize and assemble nationwide protests on July 4th , 2013. Protesters in over 100 cities across America will gather to demand that the government of the United States of America adhere to its constitutionally dictated limits and respect the Fourth Amendment.

You can find an interactive map, with protest locations, at the link above.

I see all of this connecting to things I’ve been writing about for quite some time now: surveillance; police state antics; spy center and super computer construction; coordinated efforts of federal, state and local agencies and law enforcement offices in relation to, for examples, the Occupy movement and the eco-activist efforts, such as Tar Sands Blockade. It’s all one, big, ugly, scary picture, supporting the idea that “Restore the Fourth” and though with a different, but “Big Brother” kind of focus, Stop NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act). Whistleblowers, advocates and journalists who aren’t afraid to write about the issues, are needed.

For some news about the Snowden story, check out a couple of Taylor’s recent pieces here and here.

More from Greenwald, at Politico:

‘I think what the Obama administration wants, and has been trying to establish for the last almost five years now with the unprecedented war on whistleblowers … is … to make it so that everybody is petrified of coming forward …’ .

Obviously there are significant differences in the situations of Edward Snowden and Leslie Pickering, but there are just as obvious connections. We’re being watched. And whether by the NSA or the USPS, vast amounts of information are sucked up and stored (for however long). As Mark D. Rasch, quoted in the Times report and identified as the “former director of the Justice Department’s computer crime unit,” said of the Postal Service efforts:

‘… (I)t seems to be ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’’

Or as Bruce Schneier, “a computer security expert” said in the same piece:

‘Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata … of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents.’

So, what does the 4th Amendment mean by “unreasonable searches and seizures”?

Sometimes we know we’re being watched, but very often, we won’t know until somebody not only discovers it, but talks about it. We need whistleblowers, citizens who will speak out, journalists who will investigate and publish what they find.

Have a happy 4th.

(Restore the 4th Logo via Restore the 4th)

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3 Responses to From Snail Mail (USPS) to Email (NSA), They’re Watching: Happy 4th

  1. fangio July 3, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

    What I have begun to see is something more ominous. I see state governments: Texas, Ohio, North Carolina and others, turning against their own people. They blatantly spit in the voters faces. This, to my mind anyway, is unprecedented in it’s scale. With the revelations provided by the Snowden leaks ( not to me ) it is apparent that ” We The People ” have become the enemy. We have become the enemy because we have constructed this huge security apparatus that now needs to be fed. It is somewhat serendipitous that this should all come together on the 4th of July. It was on another 4th of July that the government was seen as turning against it’s people and making them the enemy. Of course in the end, it was the people who turned against the government. The security state must be dismantled, it has proven itself untrustworthy, as we all knew would happen. Obama will go down in history as one of the biggest and most paranoid disappointments in U.S. government history. Someone on this sight once said that comparing him to Nixon was overblown; I’m not so sure. Have a happy 4th, Joyce.

    • Joyce Arnold July 4, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      Agreed. Somehow, in spite of the obvious security / police state abuses of a just our last two WH occupants, George W. Bush and Obama, the arguments to, basically, do nothing remain strong and consistent, with contemporary variations, of course: I have nothing to hide so it doesn’t bother me. We have to trust them, since they know more about what’s going on than we do. We have to do whatever it takes to protect our nation from communism / socialism / terrorism / people who hate our freedoms / illegal immigrants / eco-terrorists / dirty old hippies / Occupiers / people different from me, which can include just about anything, including ethnicity, race, and religion. Etc.

      Hope you have a great 4th, holiday and amendment, too :)

  2. thinker July 7, 2013 at 1:10 am #

    Geez, many people wanted to have Obama as the President for not just one time, but two! It was obvious to me, what he was really all about before he was elected the first time.

    Slowly, the public is starting to see, that Obama is not what he stated he was. He NEVER was what he stated he was. Sadly, we as a Nation and many other Countries will suffer problems and have to pay for a long time after Obama is either kicked out of office or finally leaves office some day (he is tricky enough to impose a martial law to keep himself as President until hell freezes over)…, but in some future, a close examination into who and what Obama is, will produce a far greater traitor than any other famous traitor in the world’s history.

    Connect the dots, please, J. Edgar Hoover remained in power for a long time, having something on everyone to keep himself in power and immune to any violations of law he himself made while in charge of the FBI. Adolf Hitler, literally scooped up as much information as he could about anyone and everyone before he put his plans in action to take over Germany and install his way of evil life upon the rest of the world. This is the same place in history that Obama will fall into…(he is already there now, but we have not acted upon that knowledge to deal out justice to him yet). This is the concern everyone should have, not directing it to the agencies that carry out the President’s command, but we as a Nation should be directing the spotlight on the President.

    As far as any real national security issues are concerned, there is not any left. Obama himself holds news conferences and tells all our national security secrets all the time, and gives them away to other Countries leadership like offer them a bag of potato chips at a card game. But how do we expect anything else from this anti American President?

    The news story should be, the public demands accountability and is given that. That the public demands the President to be fully held accountable for what he has done against all the citizens of the United States.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong