Edward Snowden has achieved international fame as the “whistle-blower” who exposed NSA spying on domestic telephone calls. He claims that he was motivated to expose this problem in order to protect American’s “right to privacy”.
According to Wikipedia:
“The right to privacy is our right to keep a domain around us, which includes all those things that are part of us, such as our body, home, property, thoughts, feelings, secrets and identity. The right to privacy gives us the ability to choose which parts in this domain can be accessed by others, and to control the extent, manner and timing of the use of those parts we choose to disclose.”
Well, protecting our “privacy” is very nice, but “privacy” still strikes me as a lame issue. Back in the 1970s (and even though the word “privacy” does not appear in our Constitution or other organic documents), the Supreme Court achieved some notoriety for “discovering” the “right to privacy” in our Constitution in relation to the “right to abortion”. That “discovery” tainted the “right to privacy” in a way that makes some of us still reluctant to claim it.
Besides, rights that are recently “discovered” rather than expressly declared are suspicious and seemingly unreliable. What can be “discovered” one day can be “forgotten” otherwise lost on another day.
Therefore, I don’t put much faith in any claim to protect my “right to privacy”.
But, although he hasn’t yet recognized his contribution, Mr. Snowden’s exposure of nation-wide spying goes much deeper than “protecting our privacy”. What he’s really done is try to protect the presumption of innocence.
Why is it that, historically, the cops couldn’t just kick in your doors and intrude into you home whenever they pleased? They needed a warrant to enter. In order to get the warrant, they needed to convince a judge that there was at least prima facie evidence and perhaps probable cause to believe that you were committing some crime or offense within your home.
Why did the cops need some evidence or probable cause to break into your home? Because you enjoyed the presumption of innocence. Unless there was evidence or at least reasonable suspicion to the contrary, you were to be left alone because you were presumed innocent.
Why is it that, historically, the cops couldn’t arbitrarily arrest you on the street and toss you into the slammer? Again, because you enjoyed the presumption of innocence. Unless there was evidence or reasonable suspicion to the contrary, you were to be left alone.
You were not protected from arbitrary intrusion by the government into you life by your “right to privacy”. You were protected by the more fundamental right to the presumption of innocence.
If the government has probable cause to spy on one, two or five hundred specific individuals, it can apply for one, two or five hundred individual warrants to spy on each individual. The warrants are issued by the courts based on the judge’s belief that there’s probable cause to believe that the defendant has engaged in some criminal act. In essence, the warrants are issued by the courts based on sufficient evidence that the defendant may be guilty of some crime and has therefore compromised his presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence has not been disproved, but it’s been challenged by reasonable suspicions. Warrants are therefore issued as a kind of pre-trial discovery to learn if the seemingly reasonable suspicions are valid or mistaken.
However, when the government engages in widespread spying on millions of Americans, securing individual warrants to spy on each of millions of American is impossible. Therefore, government spies without warrant and in secret.
That secrecy isn’t simply because government knows we won’t say anything on the telephone about “where we hid the detonators” if we think the government is listening in on the conversation. That secrecy is also there to protect the government’s unwarranted violation of the presumption of innocence. Government proceeds in secrecy precisely because government knows that it’s breaking fundamental laws or at least compromising the public’s trust and confidence in government.
My point is that the “right to privacy” is, in large measure, an expression of a more fundamental right: the right to the presumption of innocence. Insofar as government spies on all of us, and does so without warrant, government implicitly denies that we have or should be entitled to a “presumption of innocence”. Government spies on all of us because government suspects that all of us (or at least many of us) may be “up to something”.
What do you suppose the government is worried about? Making plans to shoot our beloved President? Planting pipe bombs in a post office? I doubt it. I don’t see why a government that encourages illegal immigration can can claim to give a damn about “national security” or the welfare of the American people.
When government claims to acting for “national security,” all it’s really worried about is “government security”. The government’s current spying is not primarily intended to locate terrorists who would detonate a bomb in Brooklyn. It’s intended to identify the social networks of dissidents who might one day work to oust the treasonous whores from our government. Which of you folks are speaking out against the government, and who are your friends and allies? That’s what government wants to discover. That’s why government spies without warrants: for political purposes.
Government spies on all of us because government knows that many of us, perhaps most of us, no longer trust the government and are therefore prone to be critical of government, politically active against government, and, in some instances, even violent towards government. Government knows that the anti-government attitudes are growing wider and stronger. Therefore, government seeks to discover those who are most strongly “anti-government”.
Why is an anti-government sentiment growing? Because government has grown too large, too intrusive, too oppressive. People are reacting reasonably and rationally to seemingly unlimited government growth with growing anti-government sentiments.
Thus, the simple solution to anti-government sentiment is to reduce government’s size, intrusiveness, and tendency to oppression. In short, if government doesn’t want so much anti-government sentiment, all they have to do is stop being such a pain in the ass.
But government won’t implement the simple solution to anti-government sentiment. Why? Because government intends to grow even bigger, even more intrusive, even more oppressive. Therefore, government spies in part on the people to learn who today’s dissidents are in order to predict who will be the leaders of tomorrow’s anti-government movements.
Government must spy on all of us because government knows that it’s only reasonable and rational for anti-government sentiments to grow in direct proportion to the growth of government. Government knows that big government is the cause for anti-government sentiments. Government knows that anti-government sentiments are not irrational or treasonous but are, instead, reasonable and inevitable. Such anti-government sentiments are just as reasonable here in the US as they once were in Nazi Germany or the the former Soviet Union.
Government doesn’t spy on us to protect the people from “domestic terrorists”. Government spies on us to protect itself against “domestic patriots“–those who value Liberty more highly than dependence, obedience and Federal Reserve Notes.
In order to conduct that spying on a widespread basis, government must not merely deny our “right to privacy,” government must more fundamentally deny the presumption of innocence.
Government knows each of you is probably guilty. Guilty of what? Longing for Liberty. Harboring secret animosities against big government.
Why do they know you’re probably guilty of these anti-government sentiments? Because only morons and fools still trust and respect the government. Any adult with the least bit of sense can see that the government is working against the best interests of this nation. We can all see or sense that government is not “here to help us” and is no longer deserving of our trust, respect and obedience. Government knows very well that its own actions are driving the majority of Americans to become dissidents and even anti-government activists.
Government already knows many of us are already “guilty” of anti-government sentiments. Government knows that as government oppression grows, the ranks of anti-government dissident and activists will grow. Government knows that it has no intention of reducing its growing oppression. Instead, government intends to become more oppressive. Therefore government wants to know who the dissidents are now and where they can be found in the future.
Government spies on you and on me precisely because government doesn’t trust you, me or the rest of the People. Insofar as government distrusts us, they implicitly admit that the relationship between government and the People is increasingly adversarial. If our relationship with government is increasingly adversarial, why should we trust government? Insofar as government distrusts all of us, why should we trust all of government?
In a James Bond world, who does government ever spy on? It’s enemies. Insofar as government spies on the American people, does government therefore view us as its enemies? If as government sees us as its enemies, is it unreasonable for us to see the government as our enemy?
In a political arena where distrust and dissidence is growing, in order to identify today’s dissidents and similar “enemies,” government must spy on all of us. In order to spy on us, government must not merely violate our “right to privacy”–it must violate the presumption of innocence. The fundamental idea behind nation-wide spying is the presumption that many or most of us are guilty of anti-government sentiments. Spying presumes that we are enemies of government. From government’s perspective,we’re no longer presumed innocent. Instead we are always presumed suspicious and often even presumed guilty.
Whether he knows it or not, Edward Snowden isn’t simply defending our “right to privacy“–he’s defending our more fundamental right to the presumption of innocence. There is no reason to spy on innocent people. If the presumption of innocence is lost, then the the only limit on how many of us can be arrested and arbitrarily incarcerated is the size of our national prisons and concentration camps.
We should all learn to recognize, respect and defend the presumption of innocence.