(Freedom.news), Okay, so the founding fathers may never have envisioned the Internet in their wildest imaginations, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t include protections in the Constitution that were meant to prohibit federal law enforcement officials from delving into someone’s browsing history anytime they want without first getting a court’s blessing.
So why is the Obama administration pushing to give the FBI and other federal law enforcement permission to access terrorism and spy suspects’ Internet browsing histories without first obtaining a search warrant?
According to the Washington Post, the White House wants to change surveillance law – something it tried unsuccessfully to do six years ago, but backed down after complaints by electronic privacy groups and tech companies that it would be a major insult to the Fourth Amendment.
But suddenly, the White House and FBI Director James Comey no longer see the change – which Comey has disingenuously described as “fixing a typo” in the legislation – as a privacy invasion. What has changed?
Not much, according to some of the same groups who opposed the effort in 2010. But that doesn’t matter; the FBI, the White House and some federal lawmakers are all advancing legislation that would give the bureau authority to examine browser under the guise of an “administrative subpoena” called a National Security Letter, or NSL.
But the founders did not provide any wiggle room around Americans’ privacy protections just because some politician, president or policymaker invented a mechanism – the NSL is a classic example – for doing so, no matter the crime (even scary-sounding crimes like “terrorism” and “spying,” which, constitutionally speaking, are no different than embezzlement, securities fraud or murder).
How do we know this? Because a simple reading and historical interpretation of the Fourth Amendment tells us so:
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.
As further noted by the Legal Information Institution at Cornell University:
The Fourth Amendment originally enforced the notion that “each man’s home is his castle”, secure from unreasonable searches and seizures of property by the government. It protects against arbitrary arrests, and is the basis of the law regarding search warrants, stop-and-frisk, safety inspections, wiretaps and other forms of surveillance, as well as being central to many other criminal law topics and to privacy law.
Being “secure in…persons, houses, papers and effects” most certainly includes computers and handheld devices – anything someone would use to access web sites – and this is true no matter what some federal judge or president or a couple of lawmakers say. The fact is, if federal law enforcement officials have to get a warrant from a duly authorized federal court to search Internet browsing histories of other suspects (say, for child sex crimes or embezzlement), then they have to get one for any federal crime – right?
This use of “national security” to get around the Constitution is getting tiresome, quite frankly, and it is inexcusable for federal officials – elected and appointed – to use it as a crutch to violate basic and “inalienable” rights of American citizens. Want to avoid going to a judge for a warrant? Poof! You’re a terrorist suspect or you may be spying on the U.S., and viola, instant justification.
The fix the FBI seeks would “dramatically expand the ability of the FBI to get sensitive information about users’ online activities without oversight,” said a coalition of privacy and civil society groups and industry organizations in a letter sent to the Hill Monday.
That is absolutely correct. We know this because the government has abused surveillance law before, and recently.
This is a change that does not need to happen. If the FBI wants to investigate someone for any crime, it should do so without rendering the Fourth Amendment irrelevant.