Hang­ing up on the NSA’s phone sur­veil­lance

Govern­ment must be called to ac­count when its power is abused

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Matt Kibbe

Acouple of months ago, Sen. Rand Paul and I, along with more than 386,000 other plain­tiffs and lead coun­sel Ken Cuc­cinelli filed a class-ac­tion suit against the pres­i­dent of the United States and the di­rec­tors of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA). We aren’t seek­ing dam­ages. We don’t want money.

We sim­ply want the NSA to stop vi­o­lat­ing the Fourth Amend­ment rights of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. We want to end the NSA’s war­rant­less mass col­lec­tion of civil­ian tele­phone data, and we ask that the ex­ist­ing data be purged from govern­ment databases.

The law­suit rep­re­sents an im­por­tant step in re­claim­ing our con­sti­tu­tional rights from a govern­ment gone wild. The Fourth Amend­ment was cre­ated to pro­hibit the govern­ment from en­gag­ing in un­rea­son­able search and seizure, or con­duct­ing such searches with­out war­rants. Since 2006, how­ever, the NSA has brazenly col­lected the per­sonal tele­phone data of hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple with­out any sus­pi­cion of crim­i­nal in­tent.

The NSA at­tempted to jus­tify its ac­tions on the ba­sis of “na­tional se­cu­rity,” but there is no ev­i­dence that the data be­ing col­lected has led to the ar­rest of a sin­gle ter­ror­ist, or the preven­tion of a sin­gle at­tack.

A gen­eral war­rant is­sued by a se­cre­tive FISA court is not enough to jus­tify the sur­veil­lance of ev­ery phone call in the coun­try. The Fourth Amend­ment was specif­i­cally de­signed to pre­vent such gen­er­al­ized war­rants, re­quir­ing that sus­pi­cion ap­ply to in­di­vid­u­als and not en­tire classes of peo­ple. Since the NSA has ap­par­ently seen fit to group us all as po­ten­tial threats to na­tional se­cu­rity, though, we are happy to band to­gether as a class to fight back.

The Depart­ment of Jus­tice is­sued a mo­tion to dis­miss our case, let­ting the NSA off the hook for its re­ported ac­tions. They are try­ing to deny the Amer­i­can peo­ple their day in court.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion can’t qui­etly “dis­miss” the largest vi­o­la­tion of Fourth Amend­ment rights in its his­tory. There must be a way for cit­i­zens to hold their govern­ment ac­count­able when it wan­ders out of its con­sti­tu­tional bounds. A sys­tem where even the clear­est com­plaints of the abuse of power are dis­missed out of hand amounts to out­right tyranny.

That’s why we are not let­ting go of this is­sue. The sort of govern­ment that re­fuses to al­low it­self to be ques­tioned by its cit­i­zens is nei­ther rep­re­sen­ta­tive nor free. We are go­ing to con­tinue to pur­sue jus­tice un­til we get a fair hear­ing. It’s the least we can do on be­half of the peo­ple who have had their civil lib­er­ties vi­o­lated by their own govern­ment.

This is not an is­sue of “left ver­sus right” or “Repub­li­can ver­sus Demo­crat.” Blan­ket, war­rant­less sur­veil­lance is an is­sue that af­fects ev­ery­one who has used a phone in the last eight years, re­gard­less of their pol­i­tics. At its core, this case is about the Wash­ing­ton in­sid­ers who use their po­lit­i­cal power to vi­o­late the rights of or­di­nary cit­i­zens, and the steps that “We the Peo­ple” can and must take to stop it.

The great­est dan­ger to lib­erty is com­pla­cency. The NSA scan­dal isn’t “old news.” We have to stand up — ev­ery time — to chal­lenge the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment when it over­steps its bounds. We can­not meet un­prece­dented lev­els of fed­eral abuse with a col­lec­tive shrug.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s mo­tion to dis­miss our law­suit is an at­tempt to shut down dis­sent, to pre­vent the peo­ple from hold­ing their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives ac­count­able. The bur­den is on us to make sure our voices are heard. Matt Kibbe is pres­i­dent of Free­domWorks and au­thor of “Don’t Hurt Peo­ple and Don’t Take Their Stuff” (Wil­liam Mor­row, 2014).

ILLUSTRATION BY ALEXAN­DER HUNTER/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

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