The Steady Erosion of Our Fourth Amendment Rights

Posted By Levi

September 15th, 2011 6:32pm

Category: Civil Liberties

In a previous post, I pointed to one of the consequences of the terrorist attack on 911; the enormous amount of money the country has spent since on homeland security, some of it on dubious projects. I would like to point out another consequence – the steady erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights.  The 4th Amendment protects Americans from illegal searches and seizures by government authorities. It says

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In the immediate aftermath of 911, we were willing to sacrifice some of our civil liberties to deal with terrorism. Congress passed the Patriot Act which severely curtailed some of our most  basic rights. While I understand the need for heightened security, it now seems to me that we have gone overbroad. Ten years after that tragic event, must we still take off our shoes to go through airport scanners?  The majority of Americans now think not. Here is the most recent Pew Research poll:


I agree with Kevin Drum that, for many of us, this is the most enduring legacy of 911.

“I’m unnerved by the way we’ve become so security obsessed, so suspicious, so wary. Ordinary office buildings require IDs before they’ll let you in. Taking pictures is a
suspicious activity. Airplanes return to the gate because someone in seat 34A got scared of a guy in a turban a couple of rows in front of them. Small children are swabbed down for bomb residue.”

Want to know what it feels like to be mistakenly taken off an airplane, locked up and stripped searched, read this.

Or take this New York Times story – Fortress D.C.

“Some things are obvious: the Capitol Hill police armed with assault rifles, standing on the Capitol steps; concrete barricades blocking the once-grand entrances to other federal buildings; the surface-to-air missile battery protecting the White House; the National Archives security guards, almost as old as the Declaration of Independence enshrined inside, slowly waving a magnetic wand over all who enter. But most of the post-9/11 security measures have simply been embedded in the landscape and culture of the nation’s capital.

From the reflecting pool at the foot of the Capitol to the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial, government cameras take pictures of citizens, who smile for Big Brother and snap their own pictures of the government cameras. In the $561 million underground Capitol visitors center, completed in 2008, people clutching gallery passes from a senator’s or representative’s office are funneled through magnetometers, to witness a secure Congress in its sealed chambers.

Then Politico has this frightening story by James Bamford, “Post-September 11, NSA ‘enemies’ include us.”

“Within weeks of the attacks, the giant ears of the National Security Agency, always pointed outward toward potential enemies, turned inward on the American public itself. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, established 23 years before to ensure that only suspected foreign agents and terrorists were targeted by the NSA, would be bypassed. Telecom companies, required by law to keep the computerized phone records of their customers confidential unless presented with a warrant, would secretly turn them over in bulk to the NSA without ever asking for a warrant.

Around the country, in tall, windowless telecom company buildings known as switches, NSA technicians quietly began installing beam-splitters to redirect duplicate copies of all phone calls and email messages to secret rooms behind electronic cipher locks.

There, NSA software and hardware designed for “deep packet inspection” filtered through the billions of email messages looking for key names, words, phrases and addresses. The equipment also monitored phone conversations and even what pages people view on the Web — the porn sites they visit, the books they buy on Amazon, the social networks they interact with and the text messages they send and receive.

 Because the information is collected in real time, attempting to delete history caches from a computer is useless.

At the NSA, thousands of analysts who once eavesdropped on troop movements of enemy soldiers in distant countries were now listening in on the bedroom conversations of innocent Americans in nearby states.”

Read the rest of it here

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