Federal surveillance operates outside the law and democracy

Sean Kennedy

When it comes to assessing the health and success of a democracy or any type of management system, it often helps to look for patterns in events or policy decisions that affect the constituents of the governing body. In the case of our federal leadership, unfortunately, the pattern being reinforced as of late seems to be that of greater intrusion into citizens’ privacy, and weaker standards of accountability for federal agencies.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the Senate passed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a piece of legislation that will incentivize private companies to share consumers’ information with the government, in exchange for liability protection and exemption from most records requests. While this bill is a dangerous threat to liberty on its own, it is even more disconcerting to freedom lovers when viewed in conjunction with other recent federal actions. 

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Last Tuesday, an appeals court granted the federal government’s request to allow the National Security Agency to continue to collect Americans’ phone data, despite a judge ruling that the data collection be discontinued because it “likely violates the Constitution.” This decision is troubling not just because data collection will now continue until the measures of the USA Freedom Act are set in motion, but because of how the matter was settled judicially. 

The lawsuit that led to the District Court in Washington D.C. ruling to cease data collection by the NSA was brought by a civilian activist, meaning it was a civil case, which would legally allow the federal government to seek an appeal of the decision. However, I believe because the lawsuit involved a federal question, specifically a violation of Americans’ 4th amendment rights, that the case should have been treated more like a criminal case. It seems like pretty common sense: if the actions of a federal agency are ruled to have very likely violated the Constitutional rights of the entire country, then the government should not be able to seek a stay order so as to keep doing so. The NSA violates our 4th amendment rights to protection from unjust search and seizure, and they should not be allowed to finagle what they want from the other branches of law. 

This situation only goes to reinforce the growing trend of federal agencies being given greater opportunity to harvest the private consumer and communication information of millions of American citizens, while being held less accountable for the purposes for doing so.

Coupled with the passage of CISA in Senate, these federal actions add to the increasingly detailed illustration of a governing body more interested in protecting their access into citizens’ private information than protecting the freedoms of their constituents.

For anyone monitoring the health of the modern American “democracy,” the blind eye being turned to Constitutional law by legislators should raise your alarms. Granted, amendments to the Constitution can, by definition, be changed, but altering the Fourth Amendment does not appear to be a part of lawmakers’ conversation. By instead operating with disregard for basic tenants of American law under the guise of legal sanctity, federal agencies seem to indicate that American democracy may indeed be beyond saving. 

Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @seanskenn.