Since the fallout from the NSA scandal, millions of Americans have begun to question their trust and faith in government insofar as their constitutional rights are concerned. In my previous article I went into great detail about how the Fourth Amendment is violated by the NSA and furthermore how National Security programs have successfully avoided having to face judicial scrutiny over such programs. So what other rights are under fire from the framework the NSA has created?
Ultimately the fear of repression from NSA-type programs will lead to mass self-censorship. Recently, The Huffington Post revealed another lesser known document published by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, EPIC, of the governments surveillance activities: the monitoring of non-terrorist groups and political persons (You can and should read their pdf report here).
The report is not talking about the IRS scandal, or the monitoring of reporters. It focuses on the way Homeland Security views “anti-government” groups. Groups like Libertarians, The Occupy Movement and various civil liberties minded organizations that reject the current, unaccountable government.
The government believes these groups are a threat because they “reflect adversely” on the government. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, EPIC reported the government was using key words to monitor the activity of such groups online. A House Hearing was conducted on the matter at EPIC’s request. During the hearing, several members of Congress were shocked to know just how vague the criteria for monitoring citizens truly was.
Now add up all of the incidents to date: The IRS, AP reporters being monitored, certain political groups being watched and scrutinized, and now the NSA surveillance apparatus. The ultimate effect will be and already has become self-censorship.
The Supreme Court has long taken an “absolutist” approach to the First Amendment; arguably the most important, and thus the first.
The First Amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Now, its clear that presently, the government has not instituted any known program which directly violates the First Amendment. However, the government in the post 9-11 era has laid the framework for a totalitarian state. While we may not become such a government, people recognize the framework, and are rightfully concerned.
People are monitoring their key words, just like the government. People are self-censoring out of fear they may be recorded and have their words used against them in the future — whether by the NSA, or even just Homeland Security.
The ultimate result? Millions of creative, engaging minds are having second thoughts about the content they wish to create. A student who wants to protest his government; redress his grievances and assemble peaceably to protest a decade of war stays home. A man who is peaceably inspired by the words of the Prophet Mohammed has second thoughts about converting to a religion that is associated with “key words” of his government’s war on terror. A reporter gets a confidential informant to leak documents which violate American’s rights, and maybe second guesses on whether to publish, fearing imprisonment.
That last example has already happened. Congressman Peter King (R-NY) has openly called for the prosecution of journalists who have exposed the governments wanton abuse of the Bill of Rights! Despite not revealing any information that would directly put people in harms way, or harm National Security, Peter King has called for the prosecution of Glenn Greenwald.
The government doesn’t need to pass any law restricting the First Amendment. People have already censored themselves out of fear. Why haven’t more NSA leaks come forward when we know they exist? What is the CIA doing to Snowden’s girlfriend? Where is Edward Snowden? Has the fear driven agenda, bullying tactics and abuse lead to self censorship in this case too?
The NSA scandal has far reaching consequences. While its certainly an assault on the Fourth Amendment, it has ultimately become an indirect assault on the First. The government has us all afraid, stifling speech without any law passed. And when Congressmen are now willing to prosecute journalists despite their freedom of press, we will prepare to directly assault the First. The fact you have done nothing wrong and are not concerned does not absolve the government from wrongdoing. If you turn a blind eye to the framework of a National Security obsessed quasi Police state today, history has shown you will be sorry tomorrow.