Monday, June 10, 2013

The Falcon and The Snowden: Where Is the Line on Information Gathering

Echelon, Carnivore, Prism, all names that should send a chill down the spines of any American as they are the various code names the U.S. government has given to secret projects designed to collect intelligence information on everyday ordinary Americans.  The government tells us these programs are necessary for our safety. "Trust us," they say.  "We will never use this information for anything other than anti-terrorism."

The recent IRS scandal, in which the bureaucrats across the country were directed by their Washington office to scrutinize and harass various religious and political organizations revealed for the world just how trustworthy the government's assurances are.

Edward Snowden, the whistle blower who leaked details of President Obama's massive intelligence gathering operation to the UK press, has been heralded a hero by some and a villain by others.  The information he leaked showed the American government has been collecting details on every American citizen about who they call, when, and for how long the conversation lasts.

Obama tried to deflect criticism of the operation by telling the American people that they weren't listening to calls, that they were only gathering useless meta data.  He says what they are doing is legal, based on a 1979 Supreme Court opinion that stated the government had the right to gather such information because the parties involved will already willfully disclosing the information to a third party, aka the phone company.

The problem with this ruling is that in flies in the face of established privacy rights.  For more than 200 years the federal government has recognized the right to privacy regarding conversations held with clergy, lawyers, doctors, even spouses.  If the lower bar set by SCOTUS is to be believed, what can't the government collect data on?

Can they force Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express to tell them what you are buying and how much you are paying?  After all, they are a third party you must disclose this information to in order to use their payment services?

Can they force airlines, Amtrak, bus lines, and GPS companies like Garmin to disclose where you travel?  After all, you must disclose your destination to those companies in order to utilize their services?

The government has been caught red handed gathering sensitive communications of every citizen, whether by phone, email, SMS text messaging, among others.  It isn't that big of a leap to assume that kind of information gathering has already gone one step further into shopping and travel.

With the reams and reams of new regulations included in Obamacare, driving the number of codes used by doctors to describe the ailments and services of their patients from a couple thousand to nearly 150,000 one can only wonder if this massive intrusion into Americans' medical care is less about providing care than it is about gathering more information on them.

Thankfully not all in Washington are hell bent on expanding these powers within the government.  Rand Paul has recently gone on record that he is planning a class-action lawsuit over these latest revelations.  One can only hope it would be enough to reign in the now completely tyrannical federal government.

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