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Curbing Big Brother's Unchecked Surveillance State

The Obama administration will go down in history with one of the worst records for domestic civil liberties.

(AP Photo/Rainer Jensen)

Glenn Beck spent last week looking at the surveillance state and the growing effort by government forces to empower Big Brother. As he points out, threats to individual privacy are at an all time high as even more of American life goes digital.

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have been at the forefront of this effort, engaging in an open assault on Americans’ privacy. From threatening to indict reporters who refuse to release their sources to Holder’s Department of Justice seizing two months worth of phone records from Associated Press reporters, the Obama administration will go down in history with one of the worst records for domestic civil liberties.

Attorney General Eric Holder gestures as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 15, 2013, before the House Judiciary Committee as it focuses on oversight of the Justice Department. Holder told the committee that a serious national security leak required the secret gathering of telephone records at The Associated Press as he stood by an investigation in which he insisted he had no involvement. Credit: AP Attorney General Eric Holder gestures as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 15, 2013, before the House Judiciary Committee as it focuses on oversight of the Justice Department. Holder told the committee that a serious national security leak required the secret gathering of telephone records at The Associated Press as he stood by an investigation in which he insisted he had no involvement. Credit: AP

As bad as the surveillance state has already become, it could get worse if Congress fails to act on new legislation introduced last week by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev,) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). The bill, the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act, or LEADS Act for short, is designed to balance the needs of law enforcement to obtain the contents of electronic communications with privacy protections for citizens in the digital age.

The rules of engagement for acquiring evidence in the physical world have long been established to require court orders and warrants. For digital evidence, the rules have been a bit grayer. In this haze, the Department of Justice has taken the position that it has a right to nearly any digital record on demand.

Microsoft is currently challenging the DOJ’s assertion of unchecked authority in court. The case stems from an attempt to require Microsoft to turnover emails for an Irish citizen that are stored on servers owned by a Microsoft subsidiary and physically located in Ireland. Microsoft contends that the government has no jurisdiction outside the United States. The company said they would be happy to give the information if the DOJ went about it the correct way — the way it would be done if the material in question were paperwork instead of digital communications— by asking the Irish government to intervene and make the request from Dublin.

NSA survillance (AP Photo/Rainer Jensen)

The DOJ continued to insist on receiving the emails so, in an effort to protect customers’ privacy, Microsoft filed a lawsuit against the government. Thus far privacy is losing out.

Last year, a New York District Court sided with the government claiming that everything is business data and as an American company that wholly owns the Irish subsidiary in question, a simple domestic warrant is enough. Last July the Second Circuit Appeals Court agreed, and in September Microsoft asked to be held in contempt of the court so it could progress to the Supreme Court.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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