The nation's top Internet technology firms have joined together to pressure Barack Obama and Congress to significantly roll back the government's massive, all-encompassing surveillance program.
The bulk of the surveillance is conducted by secretive underground government agencies that operate in tandem with the now-infamous National Security Agency (NSA) and its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) that many say carries the same authority as the U.S. Supreme Court.
Liberty watchdog groups have charged that the FISA court has written hundreds of pages of new laws that have never seen the light of day but that have authority over all Americans.
But the most troublesome activity of this underground government is its spying program. Documents obtained by various news agencies show that the spying of the NSA and other secretive agencies is not limited to foreign terrorists and their contacts in this country. Such spying has extended to practically every American who uses cell phones, computers, and other high tech gadgets in their everyday lives.
Most of these citizens, numbering over 100 million, have never been suspected of crimes or collaborating with terrorists. In short, the agencies of the underground government operate illegally. The Constitution prevents government from snooping on ordinary citizens unless they are suspects in illegal activity.
The tech companies have been reluctantly cooperating with the underground government by feeding them truckloads of information on their customers. But as this practice has expanded and as more and more pressure has been placed on the tech firms, a line was crossed at which point the tech companies said, "No more."
The Hill reports that Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, and Linkedin have banded together to demand the president and Congress to enact sweeping reforms that would totally revamp and spell out in no uncertain terms the limitations of the power of the underground agencies. The tech companies want these agencies to be restricted by clear limitations on their power, spelled out by law.
The backlash of the tech companies has been intensified by the disclosure of classified documents that have led to a crisis of trust among the American people toward their government. The straw that broke the camel's back was the disclosure over the weekend that government agencies can spy on citizens through their webcams, which are located on all computers sold today. The agencies can turn on the webcams remotely without the user being aware they are being watched. One report stated that this can be done even when the computer is turned off.
Further, many Americans were alarmed when it was reported over the weekend that the IRS and the SEC want the authority to snoop through the emails of any citizen, any time they wish, and without a properly executed warrant.
The alarm that increasing numbers of citizens express concerning these growing signs of government domination and tyranny are only exacerbated by the knowledge that a huge, growing government monolith is operating behind the scenes, apart from the Constitutional provisions of the three branches of government -- the legislative (Congress), the executive (president), and the judicial (the Supreme Court).
This underground government was never voted upon by the citizens. It was never approved by an open, majority vote of Congress. It was never deemed to be Constitutional by the Supreme Court.
A groundbreaking investigative report published by The Washington Post -- never a friend of conservatives or libertarians -- revealed that the expanse of this underground government is shocking. What began as a means of protecting the country from terrorists intent on killing massive numbers of Americans after 9/11 has culminated in a monster with a voracious appetite to amass more and more power, and to extend its reach far beyond that of foreign terrorists, domestic terrorists, and those with known or suspected criminal ties. The Washington Post report documents a dangerous, secretive, clandestine operation with almost no accountability, particularly not to the citizens who, in a free society, have a Constitutional right and mandate to determine if they want to allow such agencies to exist.
According to the Post, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the top secret government surveillance state lies precisely in the area of accountability. The primary reason for the lack of oversight and accountability is the built-in operational assumption that some things are too sensitive even for elected officials, and even military commanders, to see:
Such secrecy can undermine the normal chain of command when senior officials use it to cut out rivals or when subordinates are ordered to keep secrets from their commanders.
One military officer involved in one such program said he was ordered to sign a document prohibiting him from disclosing it to his four-star commander, with whom he worked closely every day, because the commander was not authorized to know about it. Another senior defense official recalls the day he tried to find out about a program in his budget, only to be rebuffed by a peer. "What do you mean you can't tell me? I pay for the program," he recalled saying in a heated exchange.
Such a disclosure carries broad ominous ramifications. It means that there is much that our government is doing that is unknown to all of our elected officials. Senators and Congressmen, and even the president, are kept in the dark by design.
Thus, lying to officials higher up in the chain of command is routine. Lying to Congress is a given. The nation's top national security chief James Clapper lied to Congress, and even admitted that he did so. So far no one with the authority to do so have held him accountable for his crime. Lying to Congress is a felony that normally carries a jail term.
But in the world of "top secret America," as the Washington Post has dubbed it, the normal rules do not apply. The personnel operate by their own rules. The Constitution is a non-entity. Laws are ignored as a matter of course. But those who have the authority to rein it in do not know enough about what is going on to demand accountability.
In addition, no one in Congress or the administration has any idea as to how much these programs are costing the taxpayers. But one thing is for sure -- the taxpayers are picking up the tab, a tab that is growing by the month.
Just after 9/11, the number of personnel in these secretive programs stood at roughly 7,500. When the Post report was issued the number of personnel in the National Security Agency alone stood at 16,500.
The Obama administration has kicked up into high gear the growth of these agencies, and that of government in general, across the board. As of today, nearly 25 percent of the new jobs created are government jobs based in and around Washington, and bleeding over into Virginia and Maryland.
The facilities that house these covert programs are spread all over the landscape. Some are hyper-modern buildings with no names, hidden off of roadways. Others are nondescript older structures that appear abandoned, but inside is a vast, modern array of computer systems manned by dozens if not hundreds of personnel.
Some of the tech companies that wish to clip the wings of this massive clandestine activity are the very ones who advocated for bigger government and the Obama progressive agenda early on. Now that the masks have been removed, and they see the true nature of the monster, they are quickly turning against the government monolith.
If there is any hope that this state of affairs can be thwarted or stopped, it may lie with the tech companies which now see the light and realize that when one advocates in favor of the monstrous government leviathan, the day will soon come when that leviathan, which has a known insatiable appetite for power, goes after its advocates as well.
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