February 17. 2014 3:59PM

Jim Rubens: The surveillance state is not OK, and Shaheen should say so


“Live free or die.” Visitors to our state often chuckle at what they see as the anachronistic bellicosity of New Hampshire’s state motto stamped on our license plates. Revolutionary War Gen. John Stark coined this phrase when citizens truly understood its meaning. Too many have forgotten how precious and hard won is our freedom from tyranny.

Just what does it mean to “Live free?” Here is what it does not mean: government monitoring our private communications and relationships, tracking our location, maintaining detailed dossiers on our personal lives and preferences.

Over the past eight months, journalists have been digging through the millions of pages of NSA documents released by Edward Snowden. We now know that our own government is operating a data dragnet that makes the East German Stasi look like pokers. NSA collects, stores and sifts through our phone calls, texts, emails, social media postings, cellphone locations, computer keystrokes, Internet searches, online gaming behavior and credit card purchases. To secretly track our keystrokes, last year NSA paid hackers $25 million to hunt down security flaws in widely used software products such as Microsoft Office and Google’s Chrome browser.

Our protection? The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court consisting of 11 judges appointed for seven-year terms exclusively by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts without Senate hearings or confirmation votes. FISA court briefings, hearings and rulings are made in secret, predicated on a body of secret case law, and largely unavailable for review by the public. Only government witnesses are allowed to appear before this court. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, over its entire 33-year existence through 2012, the FISA court has granted 33,942 warrants and issued only 11 denials.

William Binney is credited as being the original architect of NSA’s worldwide electronic spy network. Now a whistleblower, Binney says that America is just inches from becoming “a turnkey totalitarian state.” I wish these egregious constitutional violations were no more than the plotline of another dark, futuristic Hollywood thriller.

What does New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen say about this NSA spying?

“I think that (more public awareness) will be helpful in providing some reassurance to some people about how the program is operated,” Shaheen told the Valley News.

Shaheen could not be more wrong. There can be no “reassurance” when government breaches the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by seizing and searching the personal information of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans. New Hampshire citizens who understand the deep meaning of “Live free or die” are not alone in our desire to rein in the NSA’s unconstitutional actions. Our neighbor state Vermont became the 12th state to introduce legislation eliminating state support for the NSA. The federal government must be made once again accountable only to the people, its powers strictly confined to those granted by the Constitution.

Jim Rubens is a businessman, former state senator, and current Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.