Ky. Voices: Secret courts, deception, data mining aren't justified

Idress Kahloon of Lexington is a sophomore at Harvard University and an intern with the Herald-Leader editorial board.
Idress Kahloon of Lexington is a sophomore at Harvard University and an intern with the Herald-Leader editorial board. Lexington Herald-Leader

"This is wrong," Lucius Fox murmured in The Dark Knight when first presented with the secretive spying data dump covertly accessing the cell phones of millions of innocent citizens.

He pledged to destroy the intrusive machinery, much like an upstart Sen. Barack Obama running for president once promised, "no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens, no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime."

But Obama did not dismantle the security apparatus — he institutionalized it. He legalized the once illegal and is now attempting to constitutionalize the once unconstitutional.

The campaign tune of hope and change was a siren song all along.

Once comfortably fictional, Orwellian surveillance programs legitimized under Kafkaesque secret courts are now a disturbing reality.

Thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, we've learned that the National Security Agency has been collecting telephone and Internet data on millions of innocent American citizens — all in the irreproachable name of national security.

Top-secret documents, like a secret court order demanding that Verizon give the government call records for all its customers, and details of the NSA programs PRISM and BLARNEY that cull electronic surveillance from Internet giants Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook, were leaked to The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers by Snowden, a former technical contractor for the NSA.

This massive self-espionage program is perhaps the most egregious transgression (that we know of) in a steady trend of civil liberties erosion, from the warrantless wiretapping and torture of the Bush administration, to the inmates illegally detained at Guantanamo Bay by the Obama administration and a drone policy allowing the executive branch to bypass the courts and kill American citizens.

The troubling trend line, with its dystopic trajectory, exposes the duplicity and hypocrisy at the core of national security policies.

The president disingenuously claimed that the alarming actions were conducted with the authorization of all three branches of government, but congressional oversight was stifled.

When the Obama administration, under an extreme interpretation of a business records provision of the Patriot Act, claimed the authority to collect troves of private data on virtually everyone, scrupulous Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado were barred from disclosing the power grab to their constituents.

Although they attempted to signal the dangers of the seemingly innocuous measure to the American public, the loophole never gained much attention. It didn't help that James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee in March when he claimed that the NSA did not "wittingly" collect data on millions of Americans.

The program's judicial oversight was provided by a rubber-stamping Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That court has received 20,000 applications from 1978 through 2012 — and has rejected only 11 requests. The farcical court gives the imprimatur of legitimacy to blatantly unconstitutional policies.

The Fourth Amendment bars searches of any American citizen without probable cause, requiring warrants that specify the places, persons, and sought-after evidence.

Yet FISC Judge Roger Vinson ordered Verizon to deliver detailed information on all of its calls to the NSA "on an ongoing daily basis," presumptively pre-indicting millions of Americans.

This is the same judge who struck down the Affordable Care Act as being a constitutional overreach.

Especially infuriating was Obama and California Sen. Diane Feinstein's newfound interest in "welcoming" a discussion on civil liberties, much like a toddler caught redhanded crying, "Let's talk about this."

Better to follow Udall's suggestions to fundamentally rethink and eventually repeal the Patriot Act. Congress and the White House ought to issue legislation and executive orders aimed at limiting the metastasizing national security apparatus.

After years of deception, the federal government's callous clamors to "Just trust us" cannot do.

Idrees Kahloon: (859) 231-3235. email: ikahloon@herald-leader.com.