William Binney, a former mathematician and code breaker for the National Security Agency, stated in an in interview that the federal government is currently collecting and storing virtually everyone’s e-mails (yes, everyone’s, including, yours, mine, his, and those of members of Congress). The data are apparently being “parked” in raw form in various facilities for retrieval by the government when it chooses to do so (presumably, after a proper showing of probable cause). The amount of data that can be stored and retrieved is staggering, so much so that the government is spending $2 billion to build another facility to store it all.
I was aware that the NSA had the means to use sophisticated algorithms to sift through e-mails between the United States and foreign countries to search for key words in order to track down potential terrorist activity, discarding the e-mails not containing such key words. While this practice is, in itself, legally dicey, the stated goal of preventing a horrible attack on the U.S. justifies the risk it poses to individual privacy. That being said, collecting and storing every American citizen’s emails for future retrieval if and when the government feels that such retrieval is warranted, is a potential bludgeon to our First and Fourth Amendment Rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Presumably, the government would argue that as long as the collected information is not accessed without probable cause and a warrant is obtained, no harm, no foul. While that may be true in terms of accessing the stored information, the issue of the constitutionality of its collection and storage turns on whether one has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of an e-mail, a fact-sensitive question more simple to ask than to answer.
The only protections Americans have against an over intrusive government, or, at worst, a truly malevolent government, are the Constitution’s dictates of a separation of powers, the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and the courts. What is most frightening is that the current regime cares little about the separation of powers and regularly bypasses congress via executive orders. As for the Constitution – hey, it’s “living and breathing” – it can mean whatever the polls say it ought to mean.
This issue is something that should concern every American, political affiliation aside. Elections, after all, do have consequences, and executive power does change hands.