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6 Ways Tech Companies' 'Reform Government Surveillance' Fails

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 9 comments

The headquarters of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md. Credit: National Security AgencyThe headquarters of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md. Credit: National Security Agency

UPDATED with outside comment.

The newly unveiled public-relations campaign by top technology companies urging governments to reform Internet surveillance sounds noble, but other than to reassure foreign customers that American companies aren't the bad guys, it won't achieve much.

"It is time for the world's governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information," states ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com, a website sponsored and signed by AOL, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo.

The same seven companies, plus Apple, placed a full-page advertisement in major American newspapers today (Dec. 9), consisting of an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress asking the political leaders "to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law."

Neither the website nor the ad mention the National Security Agency (NSA) by name, but the open letter says "the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution."

MORE: Should You Trust U.S. Companies With Your Data?

"While the undersigned companies understand that governments need to take action to protect their citizens' safety and security," the website says. "We strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed."

The website lists five principles, some directed at foreign governments, that the seven companies would like to see enshrined in surveillance reform:

— "Sensible" limits on governmental authority to collect user information.

— More independent legal oversight of information gathering by intelligence agencies.

— "Transparency about government demands" for information from private companies.

— Fewer government restrictions on "the free flow of information" (i.e. no Internet censorship) and no requirements for "service providers to locate infrastructure within a country's borders" (as Brazil may soon require).

— Standardization of national laws concerning government requests for user information.

It's hard to argue against any of those principles, which are so vague and universally acknowledged that it'd be easy for the NSA and its backers to argue that the agency already espouses them.

"The NSA believes it already complies with points 1-2-3," said Robert Graham, co-founder and CEO of Errata Security in Atlanta. "Point 4 is a direct response to Brazil's proposed laws to relocate data. Point 5 is asking for increased government control."

Furthermore, there are several reasons this ad, website and set of principles will add little to the effort to substantially reform the NSA, and do nothing to spread that effort overseas.

"It's crap marketing, [written] by marketing departments rather than revolutionaries," Graham said. "We don't need reform making it easier for corporations to comply with government surveillance, but a dismantling of the surveillance state."

1)The NSA will continue to find ways around encryption and other forms of communications secrecy.

Finding out things that other people don't want anyone to know is the agency's primary job, and it spends billions of dollars each year cracking encryption. No amount of protest from Silicon Valley will change that.

2) Despite the constant chatter of concern in the highbrow media, there doesn't seem to be a lot of outrage among ordinary Americans about NSA spying.

Nor is there much support among U.S. politicians for limiting the NSA's abilities, which have been carefully designed to be entirely legal. A handful of congressmen on the left and right have called for reform, but the majority will be content to let the status quo continue.

Obama has called for "self-restraint" on the part of the NSA, and he will push for minor changes, such as an adversarial process at the secret court that oversees NSA operations inside the United States. But the essential structure of NSA surveillance will remain the same.

The next president, whether a Democrat or a Republican, will be no different. Libertarians don't win many elections, and few politicians get votes by promising to expand civil rights when none have been demonstrably broken. 

3) The NSA will continue to get cooperation from telecommunication companies both here in the U.S. and overseas.

Until Google or Facebook lay their own global fiber-optic networks, they're at the mercy of the telcos, such as Verizon and AT&T, upon whose lines their content travels.

MORE: Can You Hide Anything From the NSA?

4) The tech companies involved are being hypocritical.

Many of the companies make money by knowing as much as possible about their users, and then selling that information to advertisers.

Facebook and Google know a lot more about, and have much more interest in, the average American than the NSA does. Meanwhile, Microsoft has let the NSA monitor Skype calls.

"I think every single Google employee I follow [on Twitter] just posted the same link about gov surveillance," tweeted Australian security researcher Matthew Dowd today. "Only Google is allowed to surveil!"

5) Vladimir Putin will laugh at this.

The Russians, Chinese, Iranians and North Korean governments don't care about transparency, limits on information gathering or legal oversight. Even friendly countries with substantial intelligence operations, such as France and Israel, will ignore this feel-good manifesto. Why should the NSA or its British partner, GCHQ, be crippled by adhering to it?

6) American tech companies are more worried about losing customers overseas than they are about NSA and GCHQ spying.

In the prepackaged quotations appended to the website, Microsoft's general counsel summed up the true reason for this effort: "People won't use technology they don't trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."

Follow Paul Wagenseil at @snd_wagenseil. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • 1 Hide
    Chris Dupres , December 9, 2013 10:00 AM
    Umm:

    "Nor is there much support among U.S. politicians for limiting the NSA's abilities, which have been carefully designed to be entirely legal. A handful of congressmen on the left and right have called for reform, but the majority will be content to let the status quo continue."

    This isn't true at all. The Amash Amendment failed by like 12 votes in the house, and saying they have been 'carefully designed to be perfectly legal' is just parroting DNI talking points. They have routinely prevented court challenges on technicalities in order to keep the determination of 'perfectly legal' from being tested. That's a BIG difference.
  • 2 Hide
    f-14 , December 9, 2013 12:10 PM
    what idiot at these companies wrote this "make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law." ?

    it's called the bill of rights, it was the first reform law written here's why:
    The Preamble to The Bill of Rights

    Congress of the United States
    begun and held at the City of New-York, on
    Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.

    THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

    clearly spelled out:
    Amendment IV

    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.

    Amendment V.....nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    Amendment VIII
    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

    Amendment X
    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

    Unconstitutional Official Acts

    16 Am Jur 2d, Sec 177 late 2d, Sec 256:

    The general misconception is that any statute passed by legislators bearing the appearance of law constitutes the law of the land. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any statute, to be valid, must be In agreement. It is impossible for both the Constitution and a law violating it to be valid; one must prevail. This is succinctly stated as follows:

    The General rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of it's enactment and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. An unconstitutional law, in legal contemplation, is as inoperative as if it had never been passed. Such a statute leaves the question that it purports to settle just as it would be had the statute not been enacted.

    Since an unconstitutional law is void, the general principles follow that it imposes no duties, confers no rights, creates no office, bestows no power or authority on anyone, affords no protection, and justifies no acts performed under it.....

    A void act cannot be legally consistent with a valid one. An unconstitutional law cannot operate to supersede any existing valid law. Indeed, insofar as a statute runs counter to the fundamental law of the lend, it is superseded thereby.

    No one Is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it.

    Jon Roland:

    Strictly speaking, an unconstitutional statute is not a "law", and should not be called a "law", even if it is sustained by a court, for a finding that a statute or other official act is constitutional does not make it so, or confer any authority to anyone to enforce it.

    All citizens and legal residents of the United States, by their presence on the territory of the United States, are subject to the militia duty, the duty of the social compact that creates the society, which requires that each, alone and in concert with others, not only obey the Constitution and constitutional official acts, but help enforce them, if necessary, at the risk of one's life.

    Any unconstitutional act of an official will at least be a violation of the oath of that official to execute the duties of his office, and therefore grounds for his removal from office. No official immunity or privileges of rank or position survive the commission of unlawful acts. If it violates the rights of individuals, it is also likely to be a crime, and the militia duty obligates anyone aware of such a violation to investigate it, gather evidence for a prosecution, make an arrest, and if necessary, seek an indictment from a grand jury, and if one is obtained, prosecute the offender in a court of law.
  • 0 Hide
    f-14 , December 9, 2013 12:16 PM
    in addition any person committing the following: If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States,.....or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States,...."
    is guilty of treason and getss to spend up to 25 years in prision just on that charge alone, because this affects soldiers and their morale and also during a time of war and by a organized group (democrats and republicans among the main offenders) additional treason laws were broken and additional fines and charges carrying similar sentences can be cumulatively added.
    law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2384
    USC › Title 18 › Part I › Chapter 115 › § 2384 ›

    18 USC § 2384 - Seditious conspiracy
    US Code
    If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

    The law cannot save those who deny it but neither can the law serve any who do not use it. The history of injustice and inequality is a history of disuse of the law. Law has not failed--and is not failing. We as a nation have failed ourselves by not trusting the law and by not using the law to gain sooner the ends of justice which law alone serves.
    ~ Lyndon B. Johnson ~
  • -2 Hide
    coolitic , December 9, 2013 1:05 PM
    Whoever wrote this is wrong. This does not fail and it is a step in the right direction.
  • 3 Hide
    f-14 , December 9, 2013 3:07 PM
    ["coolitic
    Whoever wrote this is wrong. This does not fail and it is a step in the right direction."]

    that would be jefferson, adams and a bunch of other people that wrote those rules in the first place and illegally added other unconstitutional laws that conflict.
    the 16th american jurisprudence is history of multiple court rulings.

    the only thing wrong is the courts bending of supreme laws of the land that are noted as in alienable god given rights written in continuance of the declaration of independence.

    now if you still say they are wrong...... then that's fine and dandy for you, i don't care about your lack of rights or lack of use of such american rights.

    "If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."
    - Samuel Adams

    Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
    -Patrick Henry

    They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
    - Benjamin Franklin

    Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty.
    - Thomas Jefferson

    "In questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
    - Thomas Jefferson

    These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.
    - Thomas Paine

    With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.
    - James Madison

    "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States."
    -Noah Webster
    *****************************
    "A nation of well informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins."
    - Benjamin Franklin
    *****************************
    "The Tenth Amendment is the foundation of the Constitution."
    - Thomas Jefferson
    *****************************
    "It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution."
    - James Madison, Father of the Constitution.
    *****************************
    "The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it."
    --James Madison
    *****************************
    "Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure."
    --Thomas Jefferson
    *****************************
    If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare... they may appoint teachers in every state... The powers of Congress would subvert the very foundation, the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America.
    - James Madison
    *****************************
    "The science of government is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take place of, indeed to exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."
    -John Adams
  • -1 Hide
    Mike Friesen , December 9, 2013 4:20 PM
    I like how Americans talk about their Constitution with a capital C. (sarcasm)
    So here are my rants against the American ideology.
    It's a freaking piece of paper! Yes it was awesome that they drafted up a bunch of rules to hold people's rights, and tradition has followed, etc, but (here's the important part) the constitution does not make things right, Americans make it to be the '10 commandments' of the American people. Many Americans (not all, yes I see you there) think that the constitution is infallible. Let me tell you it is not. Why do they change it every once in a while? If it was written that it is okay to steal, would that be right then? No; the constitution is fallible. Instead of focusing on what it says in the constitution, people should focus on, you know, what is right and wrong? Spying on people is wrong. The constitution also prevents obtrusions to privacy. Good for it. Is it wrong because it is wrong, or is it wrong because the constitution says it's wrong? I hope you think the former.
  • 1 Hide
    that man , December 9, 2013 4:24 PM
    Paul Wagenseil is an ass. Hoefully, he is on the wrong side of history. Time will tell.
  • 1 Hide
    f-14 , December 9, 2013 7:55 PM
    Mike Friesen, i don't know where you are from, but i can't expect you to understand something you have never had. no where else on the planet do you have the freedoms liberties and protections from intrusions upon by the government no matter the pretenses.

    "Why do they change it every once in a while?"
    "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
    Abraham Lincoln
    "The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. The banking powers are more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. They denounce as public enemies all who question their methods or throw light upon their crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at my rear is my greatest foe."
    Abraham Lincoln

    "We the People are the rightful masters of both Congress and the Courts--not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution."
    Abraham Lincoln

    "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government -- lest it come to dominate our lives and interests."
    Patrick Henry

    yes the constitution was fallible, everything man kind does is fallible, we are but mere imperfection striving for better or for worse. spying is not wrong in many parts of the world, not every one was raised with the sense of right and wrong you have. the world does not follow the roman codes of law still, but those roman codes as imperfect as they were still influence the world today chief among them money, government of many instead of by one individual from the greeks.

    Moses gave the children of Israel the most sublime principles of government and human behavior, which would have led them to the most prosperous society ever. But he seemed to know that after his departure it would be difficult to hold. No doubt he knew from personal experiences that the Israelites would soon depart from his inspired counsel. He said: "For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the Lord; and how much more after my death?" (Deuteronomy 31:27) He even predicted that they would eventually fall from being the most prosperous and blessed nation on earth into a state of slavery, devoured by other nations, and losing the great blessings of freedom.

    The Warnings of Benjamin Franklin
    Franklin served as one of the foremost architects in structuring the Constitution, and while most of the Founders were congratulating one another on their remarkable charter of liberty, Benjamin Franklin injected this note of prophetic insight.

    "I agree to this Constitution ... and I believe, further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other."

    All of this went along with Franklin's basic philosophy of sound government; namely, that no people can remain free if they become wicked and immoral.

    When a society decays to the point where people begin to fear for their lives and their property, the demands for a police state have always been inevitable.

    The Warnings of George Washington
    One of the most significant doctrines set forth in the Farewell Address was Washington's extremely insightful warning concerning the peril of allowing candidates to be nominated and national policies to be promoted by competing political parties. In fact, he prophesied exactly what would happen if the American leaders ever fell into the seductive trap of trying to run the nation with opposing parties. He said:

    "They serve to organize factions ... to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority....

    "Let me ... warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party...."

    Almost prophetically he anticipated the encroachment of one branch of government over the others. He said:

    "It is important ... that ... those entrusted with its administration ... confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department any encroachment upon another.... The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create ... a real despotism."

    Nothing aroused the wrath of Washington more than arrogant bureaucrats actually changing the fundamental structure of government by sheer despotic assertion of administrative power. He said:

    "If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpations; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed."

    The Warning of John Adams
    Among the warning voices of the Founders none was more forceful in proclaiming the need for a virtuous people to make the Constitution function than John Adams. He said:

    "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

    The Warnings of Thomas Jefferson
    During his two terms as President, Jefferson detected some evil and subversive trends which were luring the American people away from the original Constitution. Notice how direct he was in pointing the finger of accusation at the judiciary for corrupting the original constitutional plan:

    "Our government is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit, by consolidation first, and then corruption.... The engine of consolidation will be the federal judiciary; the two other branches the corrupting and corrupted instruments."

    In other words, the Supreme Court uses its judicial mandates to draw more and more power to Washington; then the Congress and the Executive use this new power to shatter the Constitution and corrupt the dual federalism which was designed to balance the political powers between the government and the states.

    Once Jefferson's distant cousin, John Marshall, became chief justice of the Supreme Court, Marshall set himself and his associates up as the "final arbiter" on all constitutional issues. Nowhere in the Constitution was the federal judiciary given the power to enforce its will on the states or the other two federal departments. Jefferson had the Supreme Court in his gun sights when he wrote:

    "The great object of my fear is the federal judiciary. That body, like gravity, ever acting with noiseless foot and unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step and holding what it gains, is engulfing insidiously the [state] governments into the jaws of that [federal government] which feeds them."

    The Warnings of James Madison
    Madison was known to be the philosophical soul-mate of Thomas Jefferson, but sometimes his contemporaries considered him somewhat paranoid and suffering from fears for the nation that would never happen. But the passing of time was to prove him more insightful than many of his contemporaries had thought. He said:

    "If Congress can employ money indefinitely, for the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, the establishing in like manner schools throughout the union; they may assume the provision of the poor.... Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America."

    The Warnings of Abraham Lincoln
    At the age of twenty-eight, Abraham Lincoln gave one of the great speeches of his life. He had been asked to speak at the Young Men's Lyceum at Springfield, the capital city of Illinois. He chose as his subject, "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions." The date was January 27, 1837. Lincoln deplored the spirit of lawlessness that was increasing among the people. He said:

    "There is even now something of ill omen amongst us. I mean that increasing disregard for law which pervades the country -- the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion in lieu of the sober judgment of courts, and the worse than savage mobs for the executive ministers of justice. The disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours ... it would be a violation of truth to deny."

    He was not afraid of invasion from without, but he saw the ominous possibility of self-destruction from within. He said:

    "At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reaches us, it must spring up among us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time or die by suicide."

    Special Introduction By Hon. John T. Morgan

    In the eleven years that separated the Declaration of the Independence of the United States from the completion of that act in the ordination of our written Constitution, the great minds of America were bent upon the study of the principles of government that were essential to the preservation of the liberties which had been won at great cost and with heroic labors and sacrifices. Their studies were conducted in view of the imperfections that experience had developed in the government of the Confederation, and they were, therefore, practical and thorough.
    When the Constitution was thus perfected and established, a new form of government was created, but it was neither speculative nor experimental as to the principles on which it was based. If they were true principles, as they were, the government founded upon them was destined to a life and an influence that would continue while the liberties it was intended to preserve should be valued by the human family. Those liberties had been wrung from reluctant monarchs in many contests, in many countries, and were grouped into creeds and established in ordinances sealed with blood, in many great struggles of the people. They were not new to the people. They were consecrated theories, but no government had been previously established for the great purpose of their preservation and enforcement. That which was experimental in our plan of government was the question whether democratic rule could be so organized and conducted that it would not degenerate into license and result in the tyranny of absolutism, without saving to the people the power so often found necessary of repressing or destroying their enemy, when he was found in the person of a single despot.
    When, in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville came to study Democracy in America, the trial of nearly a half-century of the working of our system had been made, and it had been proved, by many crucial tests, to be a government of "liberty regulated by law," with such results in the development of strength, in population, wealth, and military and commercial power, as no age had ever witnessed.
    [See Alexis De Tocqueville]
    De Tocqueville had a special inquiry to prosecute, in his visit to America, in which his generous and faithful soul and the powers of his great intellect were engaged in the patriotic effort to secure to the people of France the blessings that Democracy in America had ordained and established throughout nearly the entire Western Hemisphere. He had read the story of the French Revolution, much of which had been recently written in the blood of men and women of great distinction who were his progenitors; and had witnessed the agitations and terrors of the Restoration and of the Second Republic, fruitful in crime and sacrifice, and barren of any good to mankind.
    He had just witnessed the spread of republican government through all the vast continental possessions of Spain in America, and the loss of her great colonies. He had seen that these revolutions were accomplished almost without the shedding of blood, and he was filled with anxiety to learn the causes that had placed republican government, in France, in such contrast with Democracy in America.

    gutenberg.org/ (Enter Democracy in America in the title field and you’ll find both volumes. Even if you just read the beginning of volume one, you’ll begin to better understand what the Great American Experiment is all about.

    The Warnings of Alex De Tocqueville
    In 1830 a young judge from France arrived in America. His name was Alexis de Tocqueville. He came to study the American system. He and his friend soaked up more information about the great American experiment in ten months than most scholars absorb in a lifetime.

    Returning to France, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a two-volume work entitled, Democracy in America . De Tocqueville saw the people of the United States passing through several distinct stages.

    First of all, he saw the strength of character and moral integrity that would make them prosperous. But as they became self-sufficient he saw that they would be less concerned about each other and much less concerned about the principles that made them a great people. This would leave them vulnerable to the manipulation of clever politicians who would begin to promise them perpetual security if they accepted certain schemes contrived by some of their leaders. He then described what modern students have been led to identify as "democratic socialism.":

    "That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood; it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.

    "For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances -- what remains, to spare them all the care of thinking and the trouble of living."

    "After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.

    "The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided -- men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till [the] nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

    Unless you become more watchful in your states and check the spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that... the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations.
    -Andrew Jackson

    "On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry
    ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect
    the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning
    may be squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform to the
    probable one in which it was passed."
    Thomas Jefferson

    "The legitimate powers
    of government extend to such acts
    only as are injurious to others.
    But it does me no injury
    for my neighbor to say
    there are twenty gods, or no God.
    It neither picks my pocket
    nor breaks my leg."
    Thomas Jefferson

    reasons for changing the constitution were because the founders knew it was not perfect and at that time could not come to a consensus based upon the values every one was equal, thomas jefferson was against slavery, but had he come right out and said that all slave owners or representatives of slave states would have refused to sign any agreement or pact with him, so as a writer and framer he and others settled for leaving or contract with the government amendable for change, for the world does not always stay the same and there was room for greater improvements that they all could not agree upon at the time, and did not have centuries to hammer out. here is an example surmised by abraham lincoln:

    "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence," he said in 1861. Those sentiments sprang from the Declaration's most important, animating idea, that all men are created equal. Not equal in what they were or what they had made of themselves, perhaps, but equal in the common possession of the same quotient of natural rights with which everyone else was equipped. "The authors of that notable instrument," he had once cautioned, "did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects." But they did define "with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal—equal in certain inalienable rights.... This they said and this they meant." In Lincoln's understanding, all men are created equal meant that the most ordinary of people had been created with the same set of rights to life, to liberty, and to self-advancement as the most extraordinary, that no one was born either with a crown upon his head or a saddle upon his back. "Most governments," he wrote in a brief sketch in 1854, "have been based, practically, on the denial of equal rights of men." The American Founders had taken a different route; they made what Lincoln called "an experiment," to see whether in fact democratic self-government was really a possibility.
    More than the founders had any reason to expect, Lincoln believed that this "undecided experiment" had now emerged as a "successful one." Of course, that depended on how one defined success. The reply of the cynics, the aristocrats, and the disappointed was that the American success was only temporary. Let some challenge of continental proportions overtake them, and all of these equal men would begin quarrelling obscenely with one another. With no superior class to restrain them, these noisy, self-advancing boors would tear the country apart, while the rest of this shopkeeper nation would scarcely bother to turn their attention away from the pursuit of business. "When you have governed men for several years," Otto von Bismarck warned France's Jules Favre, "you will become a Monarchist. Believe me, one cannot lead or bring to prosperity a great nation without the principle of authority—that is, the Monarchy."
    Precisely such an issue was buried deep in the beginnings of the American republic itself. The founders tolerated the existence of chattel slavery in the new "experiment," despite its obvious contradiction of the principle that everyone was, by nature, free and equal. But the founders also expected that this was a problem which could be left to cure itself. Lincoln concluded that "[t]he framers of the Constitution intended and expected the ultimate extinction of that institution." So the Constitution in 1787 permitted the Northwest Ordinance (banning slavery from the Northwest Territories) to stay in effect, sanctioned the banning of the slave trade, and even turned linguistic somersaults to avoid actually using the word slave. "The theory of our government is Universal Freedom," Lincoln insisted, which is why "the word Slavery is not found," and euphemisms are instead substituted in which "the slave is spoken of as a person held to service or labor.... Thus, the thing is hid away, in the constitution" and deliberately "omitted that future generations might not know such a thing ever existed."

    an america founder said:

    "The two enemies of the people are criminals and government,
    so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution
    so the second will not become the legalized version of the first."
    Thomas Jefferson


    "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
    John Adams (The Works of John Adams, ed. C. F. Adams, Boston: Little, Brown Co., 1851, 4:31)

    not a founding father but still an american president:
    "Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature.... If the next centennial does not find us a great nation ... it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces."
    James Garfield, the twentieth president of the United States, 1877

    "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here."
    Patrick Henry

    "Bad men cannot make good citizens. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience are incompatible with freedom."
    Patrick Henry

    "History, in general, only informs us what bad government is."
    Thomas Jefferson (1807)

    "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
    Abraham Lincoln
  • 0 Hide
    Kamab , December 9, 2013 8:48 PM
    This article is awful in so many ways, but lets highlight one:

    "Finding out things that other people don't want anyone to know is the agency's primary job, and it spends billions of dollars each year cracking encryption. No amount of protest from Silicon Valley will change that."

    Did you arrive at that highly technical conclusion watching TV shows? State of the art encryption and obfuscation techniques are not breakable through anything other than social hacking ("Hey this is IT, give me your login info for updates").

    As for Americans not caring about unwarranted mass surveillance, you might as well go ahead and pat yourself on the back. The press is failing this country.
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