Edward Snowden said that he stepped forward because he came to realize that the US government is engaged in invasions of Americans’ privacy on a vast and unprecedented scale, and was hiding its interpretation of the law from the American people. Given that the NSA is contravening the 4th amendment guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure, some Americans consider him a hero.No, the acts of the NSA do not violate the 4th Amendment. First, the Verizon order Snowden revealed to the world is a COURT ORDER. You may not like the FISA court (and I certainly don't) but it's a legally constituted Article III court. So stop being stupid about how a court order violates the 4th Amendment because you don't like the content of the order.
And then there's the problem of what the 4th Amendment covers, and what it doesn't. For the 1000th time:
The key here is a legal principle known as the “third party doctrine,” which says that users don’t have Fourth Amendment rights protecting information they voluntarily turn over to someone else. Courts have said that when you dial a phone number, you are voluntarily providing information to your phone company, which is then free to share it with the government.So, sorry, you have no 4th Amendment protection over the "metadata" or "telephony records" created when you make a phone call. Get used to it. (and do you have a privacy expectation in e-mails, or anything you put on the internet? Probably not. Weren't people telling us a decade or so back that privacy was dead, thanks to internet transactions? Why are we surprised to find out this is true?)
This all dates back to a 1979 Supreme Court decision. Police had asked the phone company for information about the numbers dialed from a robbery suspect’s phone. The suspect objected, pointing to a famous 1967 ruling holding that the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to record the audio of a phone call. He argued that the same principle ought to apply when the government records information about the numbers a suspect dials.
The Supreme Court rejected this argument. “We doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the court. He pointed out that telephone customers are used to seeing numbers they’ve dialed on their monthly telephone bill.
And honestly, if I never see this line of stupidity masquerading as wisdom and insight again, it'll be too soon:
The governmental class, however, will attempt to destroy Snowden, with well-practiced tools of propaganda, demonization, and distortion, as a way of taking the focus off their own alleged wrong-doing. This is how it is done (although the points are given in the future tense, most have already been trotted out).What always follows (the particulars are irrelevant) is a line of allegations all presented as ad hominems which have nothing whatsoever to do with the "facts" of the case because, ad hominems, ya know? And then the persons making these arguments always claim they have the logical higher ground, because they know the government employees presenting an alternative set of facts are all liars because, well...they're government employees! I mean, what else do you need to know? You can't believe them! They're liars!
And 'round and 'round it goes.
Let me pause to point out that the father of logic, Aristotle, established in his Rhetoric that there are four crucial elements to an argument, and one of those four is ethos, or the character of the speaker. Nobody takes a speaker's statements apart from his character; it's part of how you evaluate what she or he says. Are the statements about Snowden's character slanders? Or relevant to establishing his veracity? And what do some of the listed complaints do to establish veracity? Viz:
5. Government spokesmen will assert without evidence that his allegations are simply untrue.Yup; and in part that's because the programs under discussion are secret and not to be discussed in public. We've been doing business this way since Harry Truman set up the NSA and like organizations in the early 1950's. It may be the government spokesmen are liars. It may be they are civil servants trying to do their best and follow the law. It could be both, and a little bit of neither. Stated as the quote has it, by the way, this argument is basically the same tactic being used by Darrell Issa and the House GOP to slam the IRS because, frankly, nobody likes the IRS. So whatever they IRS says is a lie in furtherance of their conspiracy to get Obama re-elected. Or something.
If, in other words, it's a crap argument, it's a crap argument no matter who is using it.
7. It will be alleged that the domestic surveillance is legal, even thought that assertion has never been tested in the courts because the US government won’t reveal the victims of its program, so no one is recognized by the courts as having standing to sue. (Everything the Soviet Union did was legal, too, by Soviet law).Which, by definition, makes it legal. Sorry. Welcome to the limits of the law. Is it right?, is perhaps what you mean to be asking. That's not the same question as: "Is it legal?" Again, I don't like the FISA court either, but it's a properly constituted Article III court. If I want to wander off into constitutional la-la land with the gun nutters and the guys who claim the 19th Amendment was never ratified and the whole Federal government is illegal....well, I don't, thanks. So don't start picking and choosing which parts of the government you think are legal, and which parts aren't. The consistent story coming out of the government right now is that these programs are conducted according to the laws. The argument that can't possibly be true because you understand the 4th Amendment better than the Supreme Court does makes you sound like a 2nd Amendment absolutist about to declare your own individual sovereignty.
And let's put all this talk about Snowden in context: as the lawyers say, he opened this door. He told the Guardian to publish his name, and he videotaped an interview in which he discussed his personal life and his reasons for revealing this information. He put it out there, and his defenders cannot now complain that people are talking about him and his motivations. In fact, he might be better off because, in the absence of any information, speculation would run amok. As I said, people will always want to establish the ethos of the speaker before they give credence to the speaker's argument.
This is still basically an issue of which you believe: the government story, or Snowden's story. Both, frankly, have about the same amount of credibility behind them, at least at this point. There is no vast governmental conspiracy propaganda machine. True, the politicians now denouncing these programs are all shocked, shocked! to learn there is gambling in this establishment. But by the argument Juan Cole is making, any response from the government except to confirm the most paranoid fears of the most misinformed person on the planet (Alex Jones, come on down!) is to be rejected out of hand.
Let's separate wheat from chaff here; but by all means, recognize some of that wheat is going to be the character and person of Edward Snowden. And maybe the issue should be this: with all the government cutbacks under Bush, and all the emphasis on private contractors doing government jobs, maybe the example of Edward Snowden is an object lesson in the failure of that particular public policy. Especially considering what essentially highly paid private citizens with no real ties to the government they work with (but not for) can do with access to what are, after all, government secrets.
What is the real scandal here? That the government has access to this data, or that private companies have access to it through their employees? The first notion doesn't really surprise me; the second, worries me one helluva lot more.