Much to my dismay, I saw little notice, let alone celebrations, around the country on the recent 221st anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Those initial ten amendments to the Constitution guarantee our most essential individual liberties.
But on the occasion the Wall Street Journal ran “U.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens,” a front-page story by Julia Angwin. She reported that Attorney General Eric Holder—without a peep of protest from President Obama—signed rules that “now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice.”
So much for due process and the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of privacy. Moreover, Angwin noted, “The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.” And if that wasn’t enough to shock Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in their graves, “The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own.” For future crimes by us.
But why now snatch the very heart of the Bill of Rights and throw it into the incinerator? You must have guessed why, and the Wall Street Journal was on it: “Under the new rules issued in March ,” Angwin reported, “the National Counterterrorism Center, known as NCTC, can obtain almost any database the government collects that it says is ‘reasonably believed’ to contain ‘terrorism information.’ The list could potentially include almost any government database, from financial forms submitted by people seeking federally backed mortgages to the health records of people who sought treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals.”