The United States Constitution defines treason as specific acts, namely “levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Thursday that the federal government has launched a criminal investigation and is taking “all necessary steps” to prosecute Edward Snowden for exposing secret U.S. surveillance programs.
Snowden’s crime — as you should be well aware — is exposing a secret surveillance program being conducted by the National Security Agency in which the government was (and likely still is) collecting millions of U.S. phone records along with digital communications stored by nine major Internet companies.
So basically Snowden is being investigated for calling out the American government for spying on law-abiding American citizens. He may be prosecuted for telling the American people that their government is sketchy.
I think it’s safe to say that that isn’t “levying War.” Nor is it “adhering to” our enemies. Nor is it giving them “Aid and Comfort.”
Unless of course, the American people are the enemies.
There’s been much discussion about whether Snowden was right or wrong in revealing what he learned while working as a sub-contractor handling computer networks for the NSA.
Is he a patriot? Or a traitor?
Those defending the PRISM program would say that in exposing the NSA’s methods, he has caused irreparable harm to their ability to conduct counter-terrorism surveillance. I’m sure they’d add something like, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you haven’t got anything to worry about.”
Those defending Snowden would say that the PRISM program far oversteps the bounds allowed by the Patriot Act and other provisions that have followed. I’m sure they would also argue that those provisions — including the Patriot Act — go too far to begin with.
Democratic Congressman John Conyers said, “It’s my fear that we are on the verge of becoming a surveillance state.”
On the verge of? We’re there. And Congress approved it.
That’s another argument being made against Snowden — that what the NSA has been doing has been approved by Congress and is thus OK.
I don’t buy that argument either. For one, many people in Congress are stating that PRISM goes above and beyond the scope of what they have authorized. And secondly, just because the government decides that it’s OK for the government to spy on its people doesn’t make it so.
The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure, which is to say that unless specific reasoning is given and a warrant for said search is granted, the government needs to stay out of our stuff.
PRISM granted a blanket warrant to the government to search basically any digital means of communication we have. Not for specific people. Not for those thought to be terrorists. Everyone.
One of the founding principles of American government is that the government gets its power from the people and acts on those people’s behalf. The U.S. government exists because we say they should.
Where then does the U.S. government get the authority to spy on us — treating us all as though we’re the enemy?
And if the federal government has usurped its authority, so those in power still have a legitimate claim to that power?
Scott Leffler is probably being watched right now. If you can’t find the secret webcam and still want to know what he’s up to, follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.