“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.”
Above you see the 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It is a simple statement meant to allow citizens of this once great country to feel safe in knowing that they cannot be unreasonably searched and accused.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This is the first amendment, which, you’ll notice, allows us to say pretty much anything we want to say. These two amendments alone provide the basis for what I am about to write. Before I get to that, let’s take a second to look at how these two amendment relate to each other.
The first amendment speaks of “abridging the freedom of speech”. In 1995, the supreme court ruled, in McIntyre vs. Ohio Elections Commission, that “Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.” In other words, seeking to uncover the person responsible for unpopular speech, would be a violation of the first amendment and would be an invalid search or seizure under the 4th amendment.
And now we come to today. Under a warrant authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Verizon was ordered to turn over metadata for all calls. The doesn’t just include calls to or from foreign numbers, but all calls made, which means, it most definitely includes American citizens including me, as I am a Verizon customer. As the president said though, it’s just “Metadata” isn’t it?
Unless you are involved in IT in some way, you probably don’t even know what metadata is. As a software developer, I intimately know what metadata is, as well as how to exploit it. In simple terms, metadata is data that describes data. In essence, you could describe your own name as metadata that describes you. In this case, however, we’re talking about originating and terminating phone numbers, and call durations for the most part. 3 simple points of metadata that is anonymous, right?
If you believe that, I’d love to live in your reality. Are you telling me that you’ve never appeared in a public record along with your phone number? Are you sure? Have you paid your taxes? Oooops. Now they have a name to tie to that metadata.
Ok, so now the government has your name, your number and knows everyone you’ve called over the last 3 months. Why is that a problem? Let’s look at this quote from Snowden:
“You don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call. And then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made. Every friend you’ve ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis, to derive suspicion from an innocent life, and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”
Forget doing anything wrong… Run for office against someone with the right connections and you’re toast because you called some screwy tech support number that connected you with someone in Pakistan who just happened to be a member of the Taliban. Abracadabra! You’re a terrorist! Congratulations! Or not.
I’m sure you see where I’m going here. It’s pretty clear that obtaining your phone records without probable cause, meaning there is evidence of you possibly being involved in something untoward. Now you might say “But, It’s all in the name of saving our country from the terrorists! I’m willing to forgo my 4th amendment rights to be safe!”
At this I shudder, and bow my head in disgust, for you must not be thinking. We are a target of terrorists due to the many freedoms our constitution affords us, including those you have considered abandoning in order to “beat” the terrorists. I hate to say it, but at this point the terrorists are winning. They’ve managed to infringe upon the very principles of our nation, and you, my friend, are partially at fault for accepting it. Snowden isn’t a criminal; He’s a hero who has done what no one else was willing to do to defeat the terror and preserve the principles our great country was once founded upon.