One of Martin Luther's indictments against the medieval Catholic Church was the selling of indulgences. If the law was not applicable to all and could be suspended to advance personal, political, or pecuniary objectives, a corrupt clergy would know no bounds.
Are we now due for a reformation of our corrupt temporal institutions?
The Constitution of the United States was constructed on four principles. First, the government would be based on the rule of law, not the whims of men. Second, the central government would be limited to strictly enumerated powers. Third, the exercise of those powers would be carefully divided across three co-equal branches. And finally, as a bulwark against tyranny, a Bill of Rights was added that specifically prohibits government from encroaching on a defined set of inalienable rights.
The Obama administration, building on the bipartisan foundation established by its predecessors and under the actions of Attorney General Eric Holder, has managed to violate all four of these principles with its PRISM surveillance program.
By expanding a surveillance infrastructure designed by the prior administration to monitor all forms of digital communications both within the United States and across its borders, it has breached protections enshrined in the First and Fourth amendments.
By vastly exceeding the legislative intent of the USA PATRIOT Act and doing so behind a veil of secrecy, it has violated the separation of powers.
By twisting its legitimate responsibilities to defend the country against foreign threats into a mandate to conduct domestic police operations, it has overstepped its enumerated powers.
And by offering technology company executives grants of immunity from both criminal prosecution and civil suits in return for their complicity in spying on American citizens -- a modern day Indulgence -- the rule of law has been replaced by the rule of men.
Given Congress' chronic dysfunction, the judiciary's passivity, and the media's short attention span, these violations of our founding principles appear unlikely to meet with any consequences. The surveillance "scandal" will most likely blow over when yet another Obama administration abuse of power takes over the news cycle. The media will eventually move on, entrenched bureaucrats will return to business as usual, and Washington will continue expanding its powers at the expense of a few more freedoms traded away for more free stuff.
This leaves us ordinary citizens one avenue for redress -- voting with our consciences, our feet, and our dollars. We can pressure technology company CEOs, board members, and senior executives into taking the following pledge, and then name, shame, and boycott their firms if they don't:
"I (insert CEO's name here), do so solemnly swear to take all necessary legal action to prevent federal agents from compelling my employees to use the resources of my company to violate the Constitutional rights of Americans. Further, I will resign my position before I allow such transgressions to take place under my leadership."
When government agents threaten a CEO with legal harassment and regulatory retribution, while other branches of the government hold out lucrative contracts conditioned on cooperation, duty to shareholders can easily trump abstract principles. Yet shareholders and customers have the power to change the math by making corporate collaboration in building up the national security state more expensive. If ever there was a place where class action lawsuits and extensive discovery can do some good, this is it.
As for employees unwittingly dragged into spying on their customers: Does your CEO grandiosely promise to "Do No Evil?" Hold him to it. Gather your colleagues and take it upon yourselves to spread a little sunlight into the dark corners where Big Brother lurks. The surveillance state may strive to know all and see all, but it cannot survive intense scrutiny of its own behavior, even when backed by an army of lawyers who are expert at stretching the law to its breaking point.
If you work for one of the tech companies whose executives have been suborned and you are aware of nefarious activities, speak out! Don't be afraid to seek whistleblower status under the statutes designed for that purpose. If enough customers and employees raise the stakes maybe more CEOs will think twice before they trade away their countrymen's privacy.
In cases of actual lawbreaking, remember that you cannot be compelled to become an accessory to illegal activities even if your CEO has been granted immunity. You have personally signed no gag orders, and your corporate confidentiality agreement cannot be used to force you into aiding and abetting illegal acts, the covering up of such acts, or violating your own conscience.
If you are worried about your job, seek safety in numbers. If a few hundred Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook employees stepped forward to publicize specific acts of unconstitutional government surveillance, what is Eric Holder going to do, make jailhouse martyrs out of you? Imagine the headlines that would generate.