Menu

Opinion

America has become an empire of databases

If you’re reading this, the federal government probably already knows it.

Sure, that's being sarcastic.. but not really.

The Washington Post first revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI are “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time” through a secret program called PRISM, which dates back to 2007.

The United States has become an Empire of Databases, monitoring innocent civilians, around the clock, from cradle to grave.

The NSA’s eavesdropping on innocent civilians joins a number of 4th Amendment violations in the U.S. that have surfaced in recent months.

The NSA has also collected the telephone records, call location, duration, time and unique identifiers of Verizon customers in the U.S. for the past seven years. 

The Supreme Court ruled that DNA swabs can be taken from arrestees without their consent.

The Justice Department is spying on reporters, the Homeland Security Department is searching travelers’ laptops based on a ‘hunch,’ and the IRS is targeting groups of citizens based on expressed political beliefs.

It doesn’t stop there. 

The federal government is in the process of building unprecedented, massive databases that will contain a disturbing amount of information on private civilians: medical records as mandated by ObamaCare, along with educational and biological information (including creepy iris scans) collected through Common Core, which tracks children from preschool to high school graduation.

But if the preschoolers have nothing to hide, they have nothing to worry about, right?

Forget Chalmers Johnson’s “Empire of Bases” abroad -- the United States has become an Empire of Databases, monitoring innocent civilians, around the clock, from cradle to grave.

But our concerns are falling on deaf ears in this new culture of data collection. We are witnessing the arrogance of the political elite, a governing class that feels entitled to know the minutiae of the lives of private citizens, regardless of whether they are suspected or charged with a crime.

President Obama didn’t start the assault on privacy, but his policies have encouraged and expanded it. And to add insult to injury, those sworn to protect and defend our rights have chosen cognitive dissonance over the Constitution. And the betrayal is bipartisan.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is not disturbed by the NSA’s blatant violation of the 4th Amendment and dismissed the intrusion, telling Fox and Friends, “I don’t think you’re talking to terrorists, I know you’re not, I know I’m not, so we don’t have anything to worry about.”

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) assured Americans that the surveillance has “proved meritorious, because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the excessive data collecting practices are essential in case someone might become a terrorist in the future.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took a slightly different approach, advising reporters that “everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn't anything that's brand new- it's been going on for 7 years."

Ah, because the only thing more reassuring than a violation of civilian privacy, is a violation of privacy secretly executed for almost a decade behind closed doors, at the order of a closed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that never publishes its opinions for the American public to read.

Beyond the debate over whether or not we should be seizing private civilian data in the first place, one has to ask: where is the cold, hard proof that this federal data collection is actually making us safer?

Citizens cannot continue to accept these opaque, “just trust us,” assurances at face value. Even The New York Times conceded that the Obama administration, the once-promised administration of transparency and accountability, has lost all credibility on the issue of civil liberties.

The Times editorial board wrote, “Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.”

Americans of all creeds are beginning to finally agree that big government is dangerous by its very nature. Power corrupts, regardless of political party.

Then-Senator Barack Obama summed it up nicely in 2006 when he blasted the NSA for wiretapping and collecting phone records. From the outside of the Executive Branch looking in, he criticized, “No president is above the law… Americans fought a Revolution in part over the right to be free from unreasonable searches–to ensure that our Government could not come knocking in the middle of the night for no reason.”

Senator Obama had a good point, one he seems to have forgotten as president. The only sure preservation of our civil liberties is constitutionally-limited government.

Matt Kibbe is the president of FreedomWorks and author of the "Hostile Takeover: Resisting Centralized Government's Stranglehold on America" (William Morrow 2012) Follow him on Twitter at @MKibbe.