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Your rights removed

One judge called the National Security Letter the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering.



Your rights are removed, and you didn't even know it.

Patriot Act

A protest of the Patriot Act, enacted in October of 2001. | Photo: | Laws, Protest, Terrorism,

Your rights are removed, and you didn't even know it.

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[Comments] It's pathetic. When the government takes your rights under the Constitution away and you didn't even know you had those rights to begin with--it makes the government's job of undermining the Constitution easier. Let's start with the "National Security Letter."

If you're like most Americans, you say, "What's that?"

The National Security Letter is a form of subpoena issued by the FBI, the Dept. of Defense, CIA, or other governmental organization, in which the government can demand personal records on you without a judicial review or good reason for doing so, called "probable cause." In other words, the government can demand private information on you and a judge doesn't have to review the action and possibly say, "This is wrong, this is unjust," and throw the demand for your records out, or set a hearing to look at the case. Removing judicial oversight, the ability to find a government agency in the wrong, is a huge lessening of our freedoms.

The National Security Letter has two anti-American, anti-Constitutional provisions. First, as I mentioned, it eliminates review by a judge. This removes the civilian oversight intended by the founding fathers to have the United States be a representative form of civilian-run government rather than a state run by the military or police, or both.

The National Security Letter also has a "gag order." This means if you receive the letter demanding the records of someone, you can't let anyone know about it. This keeps the operation secret.

Most of the information requested includes financial data, money transactions, emails and phone numbers. The government wants to know who you've been talking to and how you've been spending your money.

The first provisions of the National Security Letter were put into action in 1978 as a way to get around protections offered in the Right to Privacy Act, but were expanded greatly with the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001. The new expansions allowed the government to investigate U.S. citizens, residents, and visitors who were not involved in any criminal investigation. It also allows many more government agencies to issue the National Security Letter, including the Dept. of Homeland Security, the CIA, and the Pentagon.

Not only can the FBI demand records without a judge reviewing the request, but it can target an organization or individual--and also demand records from, say, a telecommunications company or internet provider, to find out whom the target of the investigation has been in communication with. Thus, presumably, if the government suspects the woman who comes in and dusts your house once a week of being a terrorist, and if she sent you an email, you could become a suspect too, even though you knew nothing of her background.

This spreading web of possible suspects real and imagined was given the innocuous title, "Community of Interest." It's a new electronic form of the old guilt-by-denunciation reminiscent of the kind seen during the French Revolution and Nazi Germany, where if you knew someone who was in trouble for some reason, you could be in trouble too.

Why is our government doing this? To make us supposedly safer from terrorism.

In an internal FBI audit of 10 percent of its national investigations, the agency was found to have violated rules over 1,000 times between the years 2002 and 2007. Some of these involved requests from agents for domestic spying information existing U.S. laws did not permit them to have.

Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York, in reviewing a lawsuit brought against the government's use of the National Security Letter, said it violated the First and Fourth Amendments and called the letters the legislative equivalent of "breaking and entering," and a free pass to a "hijacking of Constitutional values." Another judge, Richard Cardamone of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said such examples of government snooping "could serve as a cover for official misconduct."

An estimated 192,000 National Security Letter requests were issued by the FBI from 2003 to 2006, and private information gathered on an average approximate 7,000 U.S. citizens per year from 2005 onward, according to the Dept. of Justice in a non-classified report to Congress. Officials conceded these figures only constituted a partial list and the actual number is probably higher.

That isn't all. Other rights have been taken.

On the last day of 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which gives the military and law enforcement officials the right to arrest suspects and hold them in jail indefinitely without an attorney or trial.

In other words, based only on suspicion, the government can throw you in jail and throw away the key, and you stay there and rot, and the only thing protecting you from this happening is the president's assurance not to misuse his newly acquired immense power. This removes a bulwark of the rule of law that has existed since the writing of the Magna Carta in 1215, originally an attempt to limit the powers of the English King, called "Due Process." It's a requirement that an accuser prove their case against you in a court of law. It's gone!

Recently enacted revisions to the Patriot Act have allowed for some restored judicial review and greater alleged oversight to the issuance of National Security Letters. The gag order was ruled unconstitutional and an infringement of free speech. However, there remains today no requirement to seek judicial review or approval before the issuance of a National Security Letter.

Rights taken away seldom fully return if at all.

America is becoming a police state. If you didn't know you once had these rights--you can consider yourself an unwitting accomplice.


John Sammon

John Sammon, : John Sammon is a writer whose experience includes newspaper reporting, magazine writing, personality profiles, interviews, celebrity interviews (Clint Eastwood), historical pieces, investigative and crime. He was selected “Most Valuable Reporter” for California’s oldest continually operating newspaper, and covered the weekend crime beat for a daily newspaper in Nevada. If you beat your wife on Friday, he wrote about it and got you in deep trouble on Saturday. He covered business,... (more...)