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Land of the free?

America. It's the land of the free, where freedom reigns, the internationally envied embodiment of a free society. The U.S. Constitution and accompanying Bill of Rights even guarantee our freedoms.

The Fourth Amendment in particular demands the government to have probable cause before a warrant can be issued to search or seize a person, their house, papers and effects. It struck the Founding Fathers that Americans could and should have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

No such privacy exists in the United States today. Only the delusional and ignorant remain unaware of the calculated undermining that likely has the Constitution's framers turning in their graves.

Working in collaboration, government and private industry track most every move we make. Thanks to the likely treasonous uncovering of the National Security Agency's collection of hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records, the balance of safety vs. privacy has become a hot topic for debate.

We know our phones are not the only effect being searched. Emails, internet postings, searches, updates and friending on social media sites, and text messages are being monitored as well. Credit card transactions, financial information, banking activity, hotel bookings, music downloads, court filings, arrest records, birth and death notices, marriages and divorces, property transactions, credit ratings, tax returns, professional credentials, driver's license information, and myriad other data are as accessible as the government allows.

We would like to say all that information is as accessible as the people permit, but most are in the dark. Many elected congressmen and women have little knowledge of what bureaucracies are really up to.

We do know individuals can be stopped, questioned and frisked. Automated scanners throughout the nation capture license plate information that is dumped into massive files. We track 911 calls, geo-locational data from phones, PING locations and cell tower dumps. Drivers may be pulled over just to see if they're breaking particular laws. We have no-fly lists with no accountability. We have secret courts that grant agencies permission to spy.

Fingerprints, footprints, photographs and biographical information is kept on millions of U.S. citizens. DNA samples get added when available. So will searchable face recognition images, iris scans, scars and tattoo records. Dental and medical records are going electronic for a reason. So-called commercial drones will add an entirely new layer of real-time information.

The justifications vary, but generally center on the current war. The war against terrorism, sparked by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and amplified with ever-sophisticated technology, has taken surveillance to unimaginable reaches. In their own ways, so did the war on crime, war on drugs, war on drunk driving and, of course, the real wars against other nation-states.

We put boots on the ground and sacrifice our sons and daughters to defend our freedom. When the same government that sends in the troops shreds the Constitution for its citizens, what freedoms are left to defend?

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net