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Linder Letter: The Right to be Left Alone

Government

Privacy in America is nearly dead.

Activists demonstrate against the electonic surveillance tactics of the NSA on July 27, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. The NSA scandal has been especially contentious in Germany after media reports claimed the NSA had conducted wide scale gathering of electonic data, including e-mails, of German citizens. Activists are demonstrating against the NSA in cities across Germany today. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

“The makers of our Constitution…conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." ~ Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Dissenting, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).

It has been reported that the National Security Agency intercepts packages with electronics being shipped by UPS and FEDEX and infects them with computer bugs for future access. Both UPS and FEDEX chose not to deny the charge. This is the same agency that captures and catalogues five billion phone calls each day as well as all of our email communications.

Richard Higbie, a former criminal investigator for the State Department turned whistleblower, had his computer hacked and four years worth of messages were removed and permanently deleted. Some of the “lost” emails detailed his complaint against the government. Others were privileged communications with his attorney who also experienced a break-in in his office in which three computers were stolen.

Activists demonstrate against the electonic surveillance tactics of the NSA on July 27, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. The NSA scandal has been especially contentious in Germany after media reports claimed the NSA had conducted wide scale gathering of electonic data, including e-mails, of German citizens. Activists are demonstrating against the NSA in cities across Germany today. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

"Fox News" reporter James Rosen's reporting on North Korea led authorities to believe that he had a good source in the government. To track down the suspected leaker Attorney General Eric Holder lied in an affidavit before a judge to get approval to tap Rosen’s phones. His parent’s phones were also tapped.

Sharyl Attkisson is a "CBS" reporter who was covering the ATF gunrunning operation known as Fast and Furious. She also reported on Benghazi. Her work computer and her personal computers mysteriously turned on in the middle of the night. Nothing was taken from her personal information, but work product from her business computer was taken and the tracks were professionally covered.

Lader Levison owned Lavabit LLC, a small secure email service provider. The FBI demanded that he turn over access to his system. When Levison argued that his customers depended on his service for confidentiality the FBI asked him, “Do you really think your users trust you more than us?” Rather than break his commitment to his users he shut his company down.

[sharequote align="center"]As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression.[/sharequote]

Justice Brandeis anticipated much of this. In that same Olmstead decision, in which the government had used information obtained through an illegal wiretap, he wrote [emphasis added]:

“The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wiretapping, Ways may someday be developed by which the Government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has access to all your financial records. It recently declared that they will “probably” not review every credit card transaction. They will soon be running a close second to the IRS in gathering personal information about you.

Speaking of the IRS, they will now have access to your medical records – along with Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Veterans Administration, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, TRICARE (the military health care system), state and federal health programs and health insurers. Your doctor’s office will be asking you a new series of intrusive questions, which will include your sex life. Do you think those records will remain private?

The Department of Education is promoting the use of a new curriculum called Common Core. It will require tracking of test scores, basic socio-economic information, health records and information about disciplinary problems to follow each child from kindergarten through graduation. Recent changes in privacy laws will allow the sharing of this data between the Department of Education and other government agencies as well as third parties.

In 1976, in a letter to Young Lawyers Section of the Washington State Bar Association, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote [emphasis added]:

"As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such a twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air -- however slight -- lest we become the unwitting victims of the darkness."

 John Linder can be contacted at linderje@yahoo.com or @linderje

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