As Americans celebrate Independence Day this month, it’s fitting to ask how much freedom U.S. citizens really have in 2013, and how much we have handed over to the federal government. I won’t say the feds have taken our freedom away from us, because they’ve done so with our permission. Ever since the FDR administration, citizens have stopped insisting that the government adhere to the principles set forth in the Constitution, and now we’re reaping the consequences.
I wonder what the Founding Fathers would say if they heard that in 2013 the federal government has inserted itself into every aspect of our daily lives, from education and housing to healthcare, banking and business dealings. Here are just a few examples of how the federal government is trampling on our rights in 2013:
It was recently revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been snooping on our phone conversations and internet usage for years, ever since the Patriot Act was passed in 2001. Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who leaked the information, told the Washington Post, “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.”1 The government keeps so much information about our communications that it’s building a $1.2 billion data warehouse in Utah to store it all and the equipment and software inside will cost another $2 billion.2,3 Yes, your tax dollars are supporting their efforts to monitor your every keystroke and phone call.
Although the administration claims they’re only checking to see if people are calling suspected terrorists and not listening to the content of our communications, this is an outrageous invasion of our right to privacy. If they have a valid reason to monitor a person’s calls, emails or internet usage, let them get a warrant. U.S. citizens are protected from unlawful search and seizure under the 4th Amendment. Their argument that this “data mining” has prevented terrorist acts just doesn’t hold up. And even if it had led to uncovering a plot, consider what Benjamin Franklin had to say on this subject: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”4
Maybe you think the government wouldn’t care about the political views they discover during their snooping activities. Look what happened to conservative groups applying to the Cincinnati office of the IRS for tax-exempt status. An ongoing Congressional investigation reveals that IRS employees were instructed to single out groups with “Tea Party” in their name for an extra level of scrutiny prior to the 2010 and 2012 elections.5 They also decided to investigate applications from any group whose name contained the word “Patriot.” The feds could do the same thing with their data mining activities – anybody who uses Google knows how easy it is to search data for words or phrases.
What about our 1st Amendment rights of free speech and free press? Ask James Rosen of Fox News, who had his security badge records, phone logs and personal emails seized by government investigators.6 They called him a “co-conspirator” because a former State Department official gave him information from a classified report. He was never formally charged or prosecuted, but I wonder how many other journalists will be more cautious now for fear of being accused of violating the Federal Espionage Act.
It’s clear that the Obama administration has little respect for the Constitution, but the Executive branch is not entirely to blame. Congress has been rubber-stamping their power grabs for years, and the Supreme Court has been backing them up. The sad truth is that the federal government has grown too powerful, and the system of checks and balances no longer works. It’s time to take back our independence by demanding that the government go back to its Constitutional roots.