"Privacy is dead," the technology experts proclaimed last summer, as I wrote in The Huffington Post.
At the same time, journalism law professors were clinging to the fuzzy right to privacy, or "the right to be left alone," as it was imagined more than a century ago during the emerging age of photography.
A couple of weeks ago, we learned that our government used spy activities that included extended monitoring of Associated Press journalists' phones. Now comes word that Verizon customers have been targeted for extended surveillance. If we have been told this much, the government spy program on U.S. citizens must run much deeper.
Former Vice President Al Gore responded on Twitter to the Guardian's report by writing:
"In a digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?"
The Guardian's exclusive report cited a "top secret court order" that forced Verizon to respond to the National Security Agency (NSA) and turn over "on an ongoing daily basis" an "electronic copy" of "all call detail records." This sweeping court order included not only international calls, but also those "wholly within the United States, including telephone calls" -- everything, except "telephony metadata for communications wholly originating and terminating in foreign countries."
Judge Roger Vinson, United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa), placed the order in effect from April 12 through July 19, 2013, according to the document published by the Guardian.
"The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk -- regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."
Beyond the fact that our government obviously was not able to keep a secret about an ongoing intelligence program, the sweeping nature of surveillance of U.S. citizens is extremely disturbing. It is likely that all major telephone carriers have been or are currently under similar orders.
In other words, we are being watched.
All three branches of our government apparently support blanket surveillance, presumably justified in the post-9/11 era of terrorism in order to keep us safe.
The problem is that unconstitutional search and seizure against law-abiding citizens, plainly ignoring the Fourth Amendment in our Bill of Rights, failed to keep bystanders at the Boston Marathon safe. Likewise, snooping and spying on us has not kept us safe from school and movie theater shooters. Remember the Fourth Amendment?
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Although President Barack Obama's rhetoric suggests a redefinition of the "war on terror" is needed, the secret actions of our government -- spying on journalists and citizens who have done nothing illegal, using unregulated drone warfare, and detaining those labeled as "terrorists" -- seem to retain the George W. Bush post 9/11 status quo and even take it to a new level of outrageous exercise of government force.
During the 2008 and 2012 presidential debates, I do not recall Barack Obama pledging to spy on our telephones and snoop on our journalists. If he had, he would not have been elected and reelected. Instead, in 2012 President Obama was trumpeting a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" with words like consumer control, transparency, security, access and accuracy. It now looks like we have been had.
It is very difficult to make the case for freedom across the world when the United States begins to look like a police state. Further, the disclosure of "obscenely outrageous" surveillance makes us look like hypocrites.
If privacy was "hanging on by a thread" last year, as I suggested, these new revelations have ripped it to the ground.