This week’s epic political scandal seems to have been born by Edward Snowden, the Booz-Allen employee who allegedly released secret information that our government was conducting erstwhile surveillance of US citizens. Some claim he is a hero, in the vein of a Julian Assange or a Bradley Manning. Others compare him to Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame. In some circles, he is a traitor and should get 20 years-in the electric chair. Or worse.
Snowden is neither hero nor heretic. He is nothing more than a publicity-seeking would-be political martyr, revealing what he surreptitiously stole before fleeing to, and get this, China, in protest of government surveillance of its citizens. Yup, he went to China to protest that.
(Commence thoughtful pause)
Snowden, having recently made that all too common passage from deserved obscurity to partial notoriety, isn’t the problem. He serves as a mere symptom of something we’d rather not face.
The problem is the presumption, driven by years of common-law based interpretations of the Constitution, that we have a right to privacy. In reality, however, nuh-uh. We don’t.
Any Constitutional lawyer can tell you that there is no affirmative right to privacy anywhere in the Constitution. This “right” is based, firstly, on the 9th amendment, which effectually says that just because a right isn’t actually listed in the Constitution does not mean that it doesn’t exist. This is known in legal circles as the Penumbra, or a body of rights held to be guaranteed by implication in a civil constitution. It also stems from Olmstead v US in 1928, in which Justice Brandeis argued that the Framers of the Constitution had created a framework for the greatest right of all: “the right to be left alone.” These sentiments are also found in the 3rd amendment, which guarantees against soldiers being quartered in your home against your will, and the 4th, which protects you from illegal search and seizure of persons, papers, houses and effects.
Irrespective how you read it, this ostensible right to privacy was not baked into the Constitutional cake, even though the Framers certainly understood the word and its implications. The word privacy does not exist in the document. It was left out as a specific article or amendment because, in my estimation, the Framers wanted to leave our privacy open for interpretation by the government. And so they did.
And so, as of today, here is the state of your right to privacy:
Facial recognition technology rivals the accuracy of fingerprints in its ability to distinguish one person from another. DNA can pinpoint not only your genetic identity, but that of your ancestors. Google knows everything you’ve searched for in the last 10 years, Amazon knows what you bought, and Apple knows where you’ve been and whom you’ve spoken to. All of this information is in the same form, stored in the same format-a series of ones and zeros, stored on electronic media. It can be mined, interpreted and acted upon by whoever has the juice to do so. That “juice” can be legal authority or financial heft. And they don’t even need to ask our permission, since we’ll never know that it’s been done.
Yes folks, it’s time to get over it. Whatever privacy you believe that you are currently in possession of is brought to you by your friendly neighborhood government, and it can be retrieved, in full, at the drop of a pressure cooker bomb.
This truth has special significance since Americans decided en mass, soon after 9/11, that their government was supposed to know what every terrorist was thinking, everywhere in the world, all the time, lest we lose any more of those really expensive buildings. Well folks, since terrorists don’t usually identify themselves for us, we have to mine what everyone is doing in order to separate the good guys and the bad. If you don’t know what you should be listening to, you must listen to everything and then sort it out later.
Anyone with a computer can search to see how so many faulted Barack Obama for the Boston Bombing, claiming that he was failing in his role as über protector of the weak. They also complained, quite loudly, about leaks regarding the Bin Laden killing and intelligence we had received about North Korea’s nuclear program.
Just last summer, near billionaire, Congressman and accused arsonist (he settled with the insurance company) Darrell Issa was threatening the Whitehouse with even more investigations into their supposed failures in not stopping leaks to the media of secret information. The Fox “news” reporter, James Rosen, was attempting to interview high level informants who feed us information from North Korea, putting the lives of these informants, as well as American military personnel, at risk, simply to further his career. Yet it is these same people who do Casablanca-esque Captain Renault impersonations when they hear that our government is investigating news personnel to find the sources of those leaks.
We expect our government to keep us safe from those who would harm us, yet god forbid if they also happen to find out anything about the rest of us. We expect the government to know who the “terrorists” are, as distinguished from the rest of us, yet no one has found a way to distinguish them from us. Remember Timothy McVeigh? Well friends, no one is born a terrorist-that tends to happen later in life. And you can’t tell who is becoming one unless you listen to everyone, not just those with funny last names.
As long as we remain terrified of our neighbors, immigrants and anyone who subscribes to a different religion than we, you can forget about privacy. You don’t have any, and you’ll have less tomorrow. Edward Snowden simply told us what we should have already known, if only we had been paying attention.
Move along folks, there’s nothing to see here.