Whistleblowers are the Robin Hoods of today.
They steal classified information from the powerful and give it to the masses.
Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning are catalysts in the push for government transparency and individual privacy.
In June, Edward Snowden, a 25-year-old a computer specialist for the NSA and CIA, leaked documents to the British magazine The Guardian, showing the scope of NSA’s dragnet of surveillance and data collection. The extent of the data mining is still relatively unknown, although it’s appears to be vast, including everything from emails and browsing history to phone records — the type of information that can be used to piece together the activities of daily life.
Snowden’s revelations prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the NSA to release certain documents related to the collection of phone records gathered by the NSA under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The ACLU argued that the NSA’s actions constituted a privacy invasion as well as suppression of free speech.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court sided with the ACLU in early September saying the NSA is required to release all documentation requested by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act. NSA has been releasing a steady stream of documents since. The information contained in these documents reads like the script of the Shia LaBeouf thriller Eagle Eye with the government tracking the phone calls and other online data of thousands of American citizens.
Another lawsuit is just as alarming, particularly to professional journalists and news organizations. The Associated Press sued the Department of Justice in May after it was revealed that the FBI had invoked the same clause of the Patriot Act to authorize its wiretaps of more than 20 phone lines to track a source who had been in contact with the AP. Donald Sachtleben, 55, bomb technician was convicted and sentenced on September 24. The FBI’s choice to sidestep Fourth Amendment search and seizures laws raises concerns about a news organization’s right to protect its sources and the validity of American laws that protect whistleblowers, known as shield laws.
What is going on around here? America spying on its own citizens in the name of national security is no shocker, but didn’t we learn anything from the McCarthy Era? It appears not.
Some people might say, “Who cares if the NSA pours over my daily activities? I’m doing nothing wrong.”
But the concern over this type of surveillance isn’t about the type of information collected but rather the basic constitutional right to privacy, which the Fourth Amendment search and seizure laws are intended to protect.
The Freedom of Information Act has been a critical tool for reporters seeking information from government sources. The future Edward R. Murrows take their roles as members of the Fourth Estate very seriously. It’s refreshing that FOIA has not lost its weight as an invaluable tool in what is often an uphill battle for transparency in the government and corporate sectors.
There’s no question that some national security issues come under protection and must remain classified. The release of troop movements, for instance, should fall under the protection of national security and remain classified.
According to the FISA court, the type of documents the NSA denied the ACLU in its information requests posed no clear and present danger. The documents requested, it turns out, were more just controversial than posing any danger.
The Obama administration has promised “appropriate reforms” but have offered no clear suggestions to date. The administration also insists that government leaks have led to the current mistrust in the government.
Edward Snowden continues to release documents, the latest on September 3, showing the United States secretly intercepted presidential phone transmissions from Brazil and Mexico. The latest NSA documents show American data was shared with Israel. These latest developments just serve to broaden the mistrust of the United States on a global front where the US struggles to gain favorable opinion.
The ACLU has filed a similar case ACLU v. Clapper challenging the NSA to release document regarding their mass cell-tracking program. On June, 5 The Guardian released a story about how the NSA requests personal phone records and metadata on a daily basis from the Verizon Business Network Service. The case is set to be heard on Nov. 1.
October 4 is the deadline FISA set for the NSA to release all documents requested by the ACLU.
“The documents provide further evidence that secret and one-sided judicial review is not an adequate check on the NSA’s surveillance practices,” Alex Abdo, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project told ACLU officials, according to the ACLU’s website.
As concerns grow, the government has to eventually offer a clear and justifiable response for their sweeping and invasive methods of investigation under the NSA. Until then, it’s up to our modern-era Robin Hoods and Edward R. Murrows to champion the Freedom of Information Act and fight for the rights of those who don’t hold the reins of power.