PRISM Leak: In 2001, the NSA Advised the Bush Administration to "Rethink" the 4th Amendment


As an American or citizen of any country where your rights are supposed to guarantee a degree of privacy, is it not excruciatingly disappointing when the government fails to follow through in protecting that liberty? Yes, we are talking about the NSA here — but with a new twist. In a 2001 formerly-classified memo released by George Washington University's National Security Archive, the NSA called on the Bush administration to "rethink" the Fourth Amendment in order to make it more suitable for the future of the information age. As I read the memo and especially their suggestion to tweak the Fourth Amendment, I truly wanted to believe that the NSA was only being facetious.

Understandably, times do change and amending certain laws or passing new legislation to reflect our ever evolving society is sometimes necessary. Nonetheless, the NSA is terribly mistaken on this one. 

Instead of reading through the entire memo, POLITICO gives us a little help by pointing out the following paragraph:

"The Fourth Amendment is as applicable to eSIGINT as it is to the SIGINT of yesterday and today," it wrote. "The Information Age will however cause us to rethink and reapply the procedures, policies and authorities born in an earlier electronic surveillance environment."

SIGINT, or signals intelligence, is what the NSA says it uses to "defend our country" by tapping into phone lines and sifting through other forms of online communication. The NSA can argue that SIGINT is not being used to spy on U.S. citizens without a cause. However, even if it were not unlawfully spying, how does it expect that the American public will be pleased with the fact that the NSA believes it has the right to suggest that the government alter the Fourth Amendment in a way that ultimately would stifle our rights to privacy?

The memo was issued over a decade ago and we have seen just how the NSA has decided to take matters upon its own hands and "rethink" the Fourth Amendment — by violating it. What the NSA should be doing now is rethinking how it decides to develop technology to fulfill its aims of protecting the people.

It appears that the key concept that the NSA is not understanding is that laws, especially those protecting fundamental rights, are not set in place to be altered to their liking. Rather, laws must first be considered and any action the NSA decides to take or technological advancement it wishes to make must comply with the law. If the NSA has not figured this out on its own or through the backlash it has received we must then not forget to give it the following message:

NSA, when an individual or group does something that does something that is inconsistent with the law, that does not mean they can make an appeal to change it. If you are bypassing the law, that usually means you are doing something that would be considered illegal. That is certainly not ok.