Is the Government Reading Your E-mail?
America’s government wants to protect you—from foreign aggressors, terrorists, domestic extremists, online scam artists and other dangers. To do that, it wants to log every phone call you make, track most of what you do online and even record every time you drive your car.
Is this what America was supposed to be? Doesn’t the Constitution protect against such intrusive government behavior?
On February 27, the Guardian revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (nsa) and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (gchq) had secretly captured and stored the webcam images of millions of ordinary American Internet users not suspected of any crime. They are accumulating the images for future use.
Use for what?
This follows last year’s revelation that the nsa collected and stored data (not the contents) from every single phone call—domestic or international—made in the United Statesduring the last five years. And that it was building a massive new operation to do the same with e-mails and even Web-browsing activity.
The government enacted this enormous intrusion into citizens’ private lives quietly and without public debate. If not for a whistle-blower, it would still be secret.
Who gave the federal government permission to turn the land of the free into a police state?
No One Is Immune
A year ago, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was called in to testify before Congress. America wanted to know: Is the nsa indiscriminately spying on people without suspicion, and without a judge’s warrant? Clapper denied it. He was asked point-blank: “[Could you] give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the nsa collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
“It does not?”
It was a premeditated, bold-faced lie.
But what does the nsa care about what Congress thinks? In January it was revealed that the nsa was spying on Congress too, and America’s elected representatives didn’t have a clue.
In a December ruling that described the nsa’s action as “almost Orwellian,” Judge Richard Leon wrote: “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval …. Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”
Yet the surveillance goes on.
On March 11, Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused the Central Intelligence Agency of spying on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and hacking their computers.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m worried,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told students at the University of California–Berkeley on March 19. “If the cia is spying on Congress, who exactly can or will stop them?”
When running for election, then-Sen. Barack Obama campaigned against this exact kind of government intrusion that began under President George W. Bush. The nation reflexively looked to him.
In January, at the height of the phone spying scandal, the leader of what he has called “the most transparent administration in history” asked Americans once more to trust him. President Obama promised to do everything in his power to reform the nsa. His proposals “should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected,” he said, “even as our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe.”
Within that context he recommended two things: The nsa should get permission from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (fisa) court before accessing phone records, and the nsa should no longer store phone records for so long.
The fisa courts are not new. The nsa already goes to fisa judges to get authorization to spy on people (just not to collect phone metadata). The problem is that fisa judges almost always give permission. Not once in the past three years has a fisa judge denied an nsa request. Since first being instituted, the court has only turned down 11 requests—out of nearly 40,000. This is not a court; it is a rubber stamp. It is no advocate for the public. President Obama knows that. Nothing has changed. Secret government spies still secretly ask for permission to spy from unaccountable judges, who make their rulings in secret.
The president’s second recommendation—putting a stop to storing the phone records of Americans who are not suspected of any crime—should be a slam dunk. What possible justification could there be to secretly collect and store personal information from Americans who have done nothing wrong—and for five years? Now that the world knows about this obviously unpopular and clearly unconstitutional practice, who would keep this program running? Yet, despite the months that have passed since President Obama said he would stop this domestic spying, it continues. Federal employees and their contractors continue collecting data on your phone calls.
In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, the White House has now asked for special court approval to allow the nsa to store phone records for even longer.
Don’t Worry, It’s All Legal
While the nsa phone scandal has gotten plenty of attention, in some ways its webcam peeping should be getting even more.
We now know that video from Americans was being collected and stored with the nsa’s blessing by Britain’s gchq as far back as 2008, at least. This is personal video of people talking to their friends and family, consulting their lawyers, conducting business conferences and so on. That’s right—an American federal agency, chartered to protect Americans, permitted a foreign government to spy on them. According to documents recently made public by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, in one six-month period, gchq cataloged webcam imagery from 1.8 million different users just from Yahoo.
But the story gets even more troubling.
The Snowden files also indicate that the nsa and gchq are running that data against facial recognition technology to build a searchable digital database that can identify Web users who might otherwise remain anonymous. They are also working with social media networks like Facebook to gain as many picture profiles as possible.
The goal? To be able to know who said what when, where and to whom for every person using the Internet. With the rapid advancement of computing technology, this is feasible.
Senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich called the nsa/gchq actions “a breathtaking lack of respect for the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding citizens.” But the nsa says don’t worry; everything is strictly legal. And it is all done in order to keep America safe. We will only use this information on bad guys.
Smile: You’re on Camera
The Department of Homeland Security (dhs) doesn’t want to be left behind in the domestic spying business either. In February it requested quotes for building a national automatic license plate reader database.
Police departments nationwide are rapidly expanding automatic license plate scanner databases to track vehicles in real time. Drive past a traffic light camera, and your license plate gets scanned. Cross a major bridge, and your plate gets scanned. Have a police car pull in behind you, get scanned again. Enter a major freeway, ditto.
Individual police departments are using this technology to flag cars that are stolen and to help identify fugitives. But the ramifications for privacy rights are troubling, and the potential for abuse is alarming.
Now dhs wants to create a national database capable of tracking the movement of any vehicle anywhere across the country. And if it is anything like the other three-letter government agencies, it too will want to store that information for as long as it can.
There is even talk of expanding the program to include photos from traffic light cameras and security cameras to mesh the national automatic license plate reader database with facial recognition technology.
So the next time you go out for a drive, smile, you may be on camera—and stored in some dhs database.
Should You Be Worried?
For the first time in a decade, the majority of Americans are more concerned about the government spying on them than about potential terrorist attacks, according to a Pew Research poll from last July. Growing numbers of people from both parties are worried.
Can you blame them? Technology is now so pervasive that you can’t go anywhere or do anything without a government agency knowing about it. Carry your cell phone (turned on or off), and the nsa is tracking it. Swipe a credit card, and the nsa can track that too. Write an e-mail, and the federal government may have it. Play an online video game, and the government can record your chats. Go for a drive, and an unseen camera may be capturing your license plate and possibly tagging you inside using facial recognition software. Board a plane, Interpol knows and has your picture. Search for “pressure cooker” on Google, and if your spouse happens to have Googled “backpacks” a couple minutes earlier, you might get a visit from the police, as a couple living in Suffolk County, New York, found out. Call a friend in Canada—and the nsa can legally record all your communications for a week without even having to ask for a warrant.
On March 21, the Washington Examiner revealed that the military operates a huge national database that targets and tracks civilian data. It works with federal, state and local police databases to keep track of everything from parking tickets and minor fender-benders to pawn shop records and field information cards filled out by officers even when no crime has occurred. This formerly obscure database, known as the Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LinX), contains more than 506 million law enforcement records linking names to other personal information. It is fully searchable—and run by the military.
The websites you visit, the friends you have on Facebook, the tweets you post, the personal calls you make, where you drive after work—according to the government in none of these can you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Your personal life can be recorded in a government database for future reference.
It’s a “dystopian nightmare,” says Senator Paul. “I perceive fear of an intelligence community drunk with power, unrepentant and uninclined to relinquish power. … I am honestly worried, concerned about who is truly in charge of our government.”
Edward Snowden said in 2012 that while he contracted for the government, “I, sitting at my desk,” could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail.”
How hard is it to get someone’s e-mail? And why do little-known government contractors have such power at their fingertips?
Sadly, Orwell’s classic 1984 aptly describes America today: “You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement was scrutinized.”
Is this the kind of country we want? Already, government-appointed “experts” working in conjunction with the president have the authority to assassinate Americans overseas—as long as they are deemed a threat to America. The “threat” doesn’t even have to be immediate. And again: There is no judicial oversight, no legal defense, no trial by jury and certainly no public debate. Just a drone, a missile and a funeral.
What Is America Becoming?
There may be some outcry, but by and large, people are being conditioned to accept grave abuses of their most fundamental rights. As it gains more and more latitude, the executive office is circumventing Congress and refusing to protect or enforce the Constitution.
Last year, President Obama came under serious criticism for using drones to kill American citizens without trials, but also because that precedent drastically expanded his grip on power. Perhaps many or even most of the people being targeted by agents at the nsa and other law enforcement agencies are actually threats to the U.S. But the larger problem is that these agencies are expanding rapidly under an administration that actually disdains the law that it is sworn to uphold!
America’s leadership continues to flout the Constitution, and few people are speaking out. Many think of America’s founding document as outdated. Yet what most people don’t understand is that there is no freedom without law. Without the Constitution, without rule of law, society will always produce tyranny.
“Do you realize how deadly dangerous this trend of lawlessness is?” writes Gerald Flurry in his booklet America Under Attack. “Very few people do. But it gives profound insight into the real nature of the threat facing America today.”
Throughout most of its history, America has enjoyed a level of freedom unparalleled in the human experience. We have not suffered the turmoil that many other nations have. As a result, people are oblivious to what is really happening around us. Most think the American experience is the norm. They don’t know what it is like to live in much of the rest of the world. And they don’t see the danger in giving up their constitutional freedoms. They say things like: “I know the government is spying on me, but what does it matter as long as I am not breaking the law?”
This is a misguided and terribly naive mindset. We are not living in God’s world. There is a lot of evil in this world. There are Hitlers and Stalins and Charlemagnes ruthlessly enslaving people—even today. That is reality. As Winston Churchill said, the history of man is the history of war.
“[G]overnment tyranny is routine in human history,” writes Mr. Flurry. “Let’s not be naive and think something like that could never happen here. Our forefathers weren’t stupid. They wanted to guarantee Americans’ freedom. They really knew that God was a God of freedom; He wants us to be free. That’s a gift from God, and they understood that!” Such thinking formed the foundation of the freedoms they enshrined in the Constitution. The authors of that document understood human nature far better than we do today, and wanted to protect against the extremes of human reason. They did that by creating a Constitution that was based to a great extent on God’s law.
“That is why I believe it is the most noble document ever written by a government of this world,” continues Mr. Flurry.
Yet today, that Constitution—and along with it, the rights and freedoms of Americans—is being destroyed. If Congress cannot or will not rein in America’s spy agencies, there isn’t much protection left against a president becoming a tyrant.
This shocking development in a free society is also significant prophetically. Mr. Flurry’s booklet explains how. To understand the vicious attack being waged against the Constitution in this nation, and the spiritual reality behind the erosion of America’s freedoms, you need the perspective provided by biblical prophecy. If you haven’t yet, request and read Gerald Flurry’s free booklet America Under Attack.