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.
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)