The argument about whether or not the National Security Agency’s massive collection of Internet data and phone records revealed more than a year ago by Edward Snowden is constitutional or not. Separate judges have rules both yes and no, and the fight appears to be ongoing as to whether or not the agency’s program will fall within the guidelines set forth by the constitution, or whether it’s in clear violation of those terms.
The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights is the main thing that’s at issue concerning the NSA’s activities, and it’s the hotly debated topic of the day. In short, the 4th amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, requiring any warrant given to law enforcement agents to be signed off on by a judge, and to be supported by probably cause.
This sounds simple and straightforward. But there’s a lot of back and forth that’s muddied the waters.
The Argument Against NSA Internet Spying
The argument against NSA Internet spying is that it’s a blatant overstepping of boundaries into the private lives of people. The government has collected reams of meta data without a warrant, without judicial oversight, and without probable cause. The argument against the program is, in essence, that it completely violates everything that the fourth amendment stands for, and thus it is not only illegal but unconstitutional.
The Argument For NSA Internet Spying
The argument in favor of the NSA program is that seizing information off of the Internet, which includes phone records, is not an unreasonable seizure. It isn’t the same as, say, kicking in someone’s front door. This idea stems from the idea that meta data doesn’t represent a privacy violation, and thus it doesn’t require a warrant in order for it to be completely legal.
Which Side Is Right?
There have already been two judicial decisions made on the issue, one falling on either side of the yes/no line. The issue might go all the way to the Supreme Court before it’s finally decided and the law of the land has been laid out completely. However, it’s possible to interpret the same law and the same set of facts entirely differently.
On the one hand a judge who feels that the government should be trusted, or who doesn’t really think that gathering information off the Internet is a violation of privacy, can easily say that the benefits to security outweigh the discomfort of the populace. A judge who distrusts the government, or who views phone records and Internet information as private commodities which should require a warrant in order to seize and search, would just as easily rule that this particular program violates the 4th amendment and thus is unconstitutional.
What Will Happen?
There’s no way to be certain of what will happen regarding the NSA program. However, it’s possible to draw some insights from similar ruling that have been made. For instance, the U.S. court system has ruled that officers need a warrant to search the contents of a cellular phone. There are also more and more challenges to this law being made on the basis of phone records, which have traditionally required some kind of warrant to access.
Will the case go all the way to the Supreme Court? Will the program be rendered unconstitutional in its entirety, or just altered so that some parts are trimmed away and others remain? Or will it be left as it stands, allowed to continue running as it has been for years now?
There’s nothing to do but to wait and see what the final ruling of the legal system is.