Apr 21, 2012

Surveillance State

Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho; 1957 to 1981)
 - When the Fourth Amendment Still Mattered

"The National Security Agency's] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back."

By Glenn Greenwald

That dramatic warning comes not from an individual who is typically held up as a symbol of anti-government paranoia. Rather, it was issued by one of the most admired and influential politicians among American liberals in the last several decades: Frank Church of Idaho, the four-term U.S. Senator who served from 1957 to 1981.

Justice Lewis Powell, writing for a unanimous Court in 1972, denounced the Nixon administration’s electronic surveillance, warrantless-wiretapping program not just on Fourth Amendment grounds, but as a betrayal of the sovereign rights of citizens in a democracy to criticize their own government. "History abundantly documents the tendency of Government - however benevolent and benign its motives - to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent. ... The price of lawful public dissent must not be a dread of subjection to an unchecked surveillance power. Nor must the fear of unauthorized official eavesdropping deter vigorous citizen dissent and discussion of Government action in private conversation. For private dissent, no less than open public discourse, is essential to our free society." - Justice Lewis Powell (UNITED STATES v. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, 407 U.S. 297 (1972)). One wonders if today's Supreme Court would vote to protect Fourth Amendment freedoms as did its predecessor of forty years ago. We live in different times than we did during Nixon; and Bush and Obama are worse in some important civil liberties respects. - mal contends

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