That great civil libertarian, Barack Obama, has apparently been tapping into the e-mails of anti-government agitators without giving prior notice to the individual, which would give the person a right to assert a defense against the government. In a great story run by the Wall Street Journal, they expose what has been going on (subscription required):
The U.S. government has obtained a controversial type of secret court order to force Google Inc. and small Internet provider Sonic.net Inc. to turn over information from the email accounts of WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Sonic said it fought the government’s order and lost, and was forced to turn over information. Challenging the order was “rather expensive, but we felt it was the right thing to do,” said Sonic’s chief executive, Dane Jasper. The government’s request included the email addresses of people Mr. Appelbaum corresponded with the past two years, but not the full emails.
Both Google and Sonic pressed for the right to inform Mr. Appelbaum of the secret court orders, according to people familiar with the investigation. Google declined to comment. Mr. Appelbaum, 28 years old, hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing.
The court clashes in the WikiLeaks case provide a rare public window into the growing debate over a federal law that lets the government secretly obtain information from people’s email and cellphones without a search warrant. Several court decisions have questioned whether the law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
If this isn’t the iron fist of Big Government trying to suppress the right of individuals to oppose the government and expose its activities, what else is? You may think WikiLeaks is a bad organization for exposing government ”secrets”. My guess is that some of their “secrets” may turn out to be embarrassing or even illegal. I have mixed feeling about Pvt. Bradley Manning (he may not have been capable of determining which information was truly related to national security), but I think WikiLeaks is doing us a service. The NY Times was not prosecuted for publishing the Pentagon Papers (showing that Johnson lied about the Vietnam War).
You may wish to consider the fact that this ruling extends the government’s power to suppress its people and its people’s speech if they don’t like what they are saying. And don’t tell me we can trust them to use this power wisely. When people expose corporate wrongdoing they are called “whistle blowers” with no little admiration. Some of those whistle blowers broke the law to “out” their company. But when it’s done to the government, they are criminals subject to the immense power of the state.
I say we have a right to know what our government is doing, and the many “secrets” they have are just a shield against their wrongdoing. (Yes, Bush lied about Iraq.) So what defenses do we have against the state? Freedom of expression, which means the freedom to express oneself and communicate with one’s fellow men without worrying about the Big Eye (Echelon) spying on us. Before you get too excited, I’m not talking about bomb throwers plotting against us.
This is how a society loses its freedoms, cut by cut, as they say.
But there is one bright side to this: hackers. This is a loose term for those who have malicious intent to wreck our computers. They are a menace to all of us for sure. But that’s why we are vigilant about opening those e-mails and why we have various levels of computer security.
But there is another side to hackers if you think about it, they are agents of chaos. If unleashed against the government they could wreak havoc against them. I’m not advocating this, but hackers are a potent force that could strike back if provoked. It is my sense that many hackers identify more with WikiLeaks than with the government. Also, they might be able to help us protect ourselves from government snooping by the tools they use to cover their own tracks—another software program to protect us against our own government.
So, now we have proof that Big Brother is Watching. What to do?