MEDIA ROOTS- Two important news stories this past week illuminate a trend toward the crumbling privacy rights of the public, while corporations are expanding their rights to trump those of living, breathing American citizens.
Back in September, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration’s Internet Wiretapping Proposal was Met with Silence. Last week, the story continues with the report that FBI Director Robert Mueller met on Tuesday with top executives of several Silicon Valley firms including Google and Facebook, in an intensified push to expand government wiretapping of online communications.
This move would be carried out by an expansion of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which, at present, requires phone and broadband network providers to immediately comply with wiretapping orders.
In this story we learn that companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Research in Motion, as well as providers of encrypted email and messaging services like Skype, would be required to design systems to intercept and decode encrypted messages. Any services that are based overseas and accessed by users in the United States would also be mandated to re-route communications through a server on US soil for accessible wiretapping.
The second story comes from the independent press– As the government’s surveillance program further closes in on our privacy and threatens the constitutional rights of Americans, AT&T is making precedent setting challenge to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a Supreme Court battle that could remove what transparency is left regarding corporate activity. AT&T is doing this by invoking FOIA exemptions that are created to help protect an individual’s private data by claiming to be a “corporate citizen” entitled to “personal privacy.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of public interest groups urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in an amicus brief to reject “privacy” protections for corporations under FOIA, arguing that the intent of FOIA’s privacy provisions have always been unmistakably interpreted by law to protect individuals, not corporations.
In an article for the EFF Rebecca Jeschke explains,
If AT&T is allowed to expand the law’s privacy protections to “corporate citizens” then broad new swaths of previously public records will be hidden from view. It’s not hard to imagine how documents on the BP oil spill, or coal mine explosions, or the misdeeds of Bernie Madoff’s investment firm might be significantly harder to find if AT&T’s misguided arguments prevail.
But this is only the most obvious problem with the idea of “personal privacy” for “corporate citizens.” Currently, government agencies routinely post reports and data about corporate activities on their websites without a specific FOIA request. But under the appeals court decision, this kind of free flow of information will be chilled by the fear of a lawsuit. Additionally, this interpretation of the FOIA would require government agencies to consult with corporations before the release of any information that arguably implicated their “privacy” interests. This would create more delays in an already lengthy FOIA process, and allow even more opportunities for corporations to block important records from the public eye. Tellingly, corporate entities would end up enjoying more privacy protections than the law currently affords individuals, who are not given any notice about potential record releases under FOIA.
Unfortunately, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission already set the legal precedent that AT&T will rely on to claim this victory. How will the Supreme Court be able to deny AT&T, and other corporations, the protections that human individuals receive under FOIA, when the Supreme Court has already baptized corporations as constitutionally protected individuals, like you or I?
Shadowed by the mainstream media’s studious disregard, corporations continue to claim victory over a fight to expand their power and domain, while the citizens of this country struggle to maintain their rights and increasingly eroded political clout.
Many democrats and progressives that helped to elect Obama through a record number of individual financial contributions believed that his administration would stop the corporate power push, while restoring our civil liberties. On the campaign trail, Obama promised to restrict the warrantless wiretaps of the Bush administration’s Orwellian Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, also known as the USA PATRIOT ACT. Yet, when it comes to protecting our civil rights, this President is no different than his predecessor– in February, Obama signed the PATRIOT ACT extension without reform.
Then, as if Obama had never been educated in Constitutional Law or held qualm with the illegal wiretapping under Bush, he stood in defense of warrantless wiretapping while invoking the State Secrets Privilege. Thankfully, in March, a federal judge deemed the National Surveillance Agency’s program of warrantless wiretapping illegal, despite the Obama administrations attempts to dismiss the suit by claiming a trial would lead to the disclosure of “state secrets”.
Interestingly, attorney Steven Goldberg explains in an interview with DemocracyNow! that there have been warrantless wiretapping cases that have not been allowed to proceed in court, because people could not prove that they had been wiretapped. Goldberg represented an Islamic charity that filed suit against the government after receiving a classified document that proved them victims of warrantless eavesdropping. This is the case that brought forward the decision against the NSA, and it is the only case that has been able to prove wiretapping.
It is difficult to know how the government is using its extensive surveillance powers or what other privileges may be drafted and justified through propagandized fear and base emotion. As our government and courts paved the path for the expanding power and influence of corporations, elected leaders and unelected businessmen are working close together shaping policies and ideas as they share positions in think tanks, on boards of directors and in political cabinets. An authoritarian government begins to emerge when unelected leaders join government leaders to institute laws and policies that serve their interest above those of the people, whose rights and political influence are increasingly diminished to nothing more than the symbolic act of voting.
Article by alicia, editor for Media Roots
Image by charles fettinger/flickr