By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 10:17am
This post was first published on MSNBC.com.
In the wake of recent news that the NSA is spying on Americans, I have been particularly struck by the argument that “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.”
At first blush, this argument might seem sound – after all, if the government is merely conducting anti-terrorism surveillance, non-terrorists shouldn’t be affected, right? But if you look more closely, you’ll see this idea is full of holes.
The “nothing to hide” argument mistakenly suggests that privacy is something only criminals desire. In fact, we choose to do many things in private – sing in the shower, make love, confide in family and friends – even though they are not wrong or illegal. Who would not be embarrassed if all of their most intimate details were exposed? Fences and curtains are ways to ensure a measure of privacy, not indicators of criminal behavior. Privacy is a fundamental part of a dignified life.
The “nothing to hide” argument also has things backwards when it suggests that we are all worthy of suspicion until proven otherwise. Our system of justice treats us all as innocent until proven guilty. That applies in everyday life – when the government wants to spy on our daily activities and private conversations – as much as it applies in court. The state bears the burden of showing there is a good reason for suspicion, not the other way around. The refrain “nothing to hide” should not be a license for sweeping government surveillance. …
By Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:00am
This piece originally ran at the ACSblog.
My American Civil Liberties Union colleagues and I have been extremely busy since the Guardian and the Washington Post published leaked classified documents exposing the scope of the government’s secret interpretations of the Patriot Act and the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allow the FBI and NSA to spy on hundreds of millions of innocent Americans. We haven’t written much about the alleged leaker of this information, Edward Snowden, however, mainly because we took his advice to focus on what the NSA and FBI were doing, rather than on what he did or didn’t do. (See exceptions here and here).
But I did want to clear up a question that seems to keep coming up: whether Snowden is a whistleblower. It is actually not a hard question to answer. The Whistleblower Protection Act protects “any disclosure” that a covered employee reasonably believes evidences “any violation of any law, rule, or regulation,” or “gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, and abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.”
In the two months since Snowden’s alleged disclosures, no fewer than five lawsuits have been filed challenging the legality of the surveillance programs he exposed. The author of the Patriot Act, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), called the scope of data collection revealed in one of the leaked Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders “incredibly troubling,” and “an overbroad interpretation of the Act” that “raise[s] questions about whether our constitutional rights are secure.”
It doesn’t end there. Over a dozen bills have been introduced in Congress to narrow these now public surveillance authorities and increase transparency regarding continuing programs. No one can know what was in Edward Snowden’s mind, but clearly he could have had a reasonable belief the documents he leaked to the news media revealed government illegality and abuse of authority. …
More Reading from the Opinion Pages of the New York Times
Published: August 8, 2013
Apparently no espionage tool that Congress gives the National Security Agency is big enough or intrusive enough to satisfy the agency’s inexhaustible appetite for delving into the communications of Americans. Time and again, the N.S.A. has pushed past the limits that lawmakers thought they had imposed to prevent it from invading basic privacy, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
It was bad enough in 2008 when Congress allowed the agency to spy without a warrant on e-mails and text messages between Americans and foreign targets of an investigation. That already strained the Fourth Amendment’s protections against illegal searches, but lawmakers …