A ruling for freedom in NSA phone records controversy
Harrisburg attorney Marc Scaringi has long been uncomfortable with the troubling trend of eroding American freedoms in the name of national security. This has not always been a popular opinion to hold in a nation waging a so-called War on Terror.
But Scaringi, managing shareholder of Scaringi Law, has remained outspoken against civil liberty and privacy abuses, both professionally as well as in his recent political campaign for the U.S. Senate.
The erosion of the country's founding liberties and privacy protections hits at the very core of what it means to be an American - which is why Scaringi is alarmed at the widespread phone surveillance being conducted by the National Security Agency.
"Freedom is what our country is founded upon,'' Scaringi says. "First and foremost, we should be free from the government's intrusion into our lives."
Indeed, it is why a collection of British colonists became revolutionaries in the first place, forging a noble idea called America and drafting a Constitution and Bill of Rights.
"The turning point was the colonists' rights being trampled upon by illegal searches," Scaringi says. "This is why we became America. This is what America was founded upon. Now we have come full-circle."
A 'PRISM' reflecting massive surveillance of Americans
For Scaringi, full-circle means the scary proposition of the National Security Agency's PRISM Program, under which the agency obtains information about the calls made by millions of Americans through the data mining of records kept by telecommunication companies such as Verizon. The widespread practice was revealed to the world by government contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, who released documents exposing NSA's surveillance efforts.
What is more, Snowden's evidence flew in the face of the blanket assurances and unequivocal denials that the NSA was not collecting data on Americans made just weeks before by National Intelligence Director James Clapper.
At long last, the nation's secret domestic surveillance program appeared to be unraveling.
Scaringi, who has cautioned against America going too far in the name of thwarting terrorism, was both vindicated and appalled by the revelations. Now, at least, the truth was out and the implications were clear.
"If the government knows what number a person calls and when he called it, that is certainly an intrusion into that person's privacy," Scaringi says. "What if that person were calling a substance abuse or suicide hotline? I talk to clients on the phone. There is attorney-client privilege possibly being violated. It is intrusive and offensive."
Until recently, the government program had been deemed legal. But in the wake of public backlash and a landmark ruling out of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama earlier this month announced significant changes would be made to the program.
A legal blow for freedom, personal privacy and individual rights
As an interim measure, the attorney general will work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow access to the collected information "only after a judicial finding or in a true emergency,'' Obama announced.
Obama said he wants to develop a system in which a non-government entity holds the data. He said he will seek Congress' input on appropriate limits for the program. Additionally, the president said he ordered an end to eavesdropping on foreign leaders and governments who are friends or allies.
Obama's announcement came on the heels of a December ruling by Federal Judge Richard Leon that the NSA program that collects information on nearly all telephone within the United States is likely unconstitutional. In the ruling, he said the program appears to violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. He also said the Justice Department failed to show the practice helped foil terrorist attacks.
Shortly after Leon's ruling another federal judge in New York found the NSA's bulk data collection program was legal. The contrasting ruling issued by Judge William Pauley made it likely the case would go before the U.S. Supreme Court. Scaringi sees Judge Leon's ruling as a driving force behind Obama giving ground on the issue.
"This is a great victory for the Fourth Amendment and its protection from the government's unreasonable search and seizure of the private records and affairs of Americans," Scaringi cheers. "Without Judge Leon's ruling, it's an open question whether the Obama Administration would have felt compelled to make changes in the program.''
Scaringi points to the powerful language used by Leon in his ruling.
"It was the first legal blow against the NSA,'' Scaringi says. "The judge basically scorns the government position and the attempted justification of the use of this program, saying there's no proof it resulted in the capture of one terrorist."
Professionally, personally and politically, the landmark ruling and Obama's announcement is a vindication for Scaringi, who has been out front on these issues.
"I have spoken out a lot. I have made government intrusions into our rights a part of my political campaign," Scaringi says, referring to his 2012 bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
"During the primary campaign, I made an issue out of the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act," he adds. "I spoke out against the U.S. government detaining citizens and holding them with no charge or trial.''
A vigilant watchdog over Americans' rights to remain on the beat
Scaringi finds solace that the tide may be turning toward a more appropriate balance between liberty and security.
"It wasn't too long ago that you couldn't question the so-called interests of national security," Scaringi says. "Now we are not only questioning it; we are winning.''
Scaringi warns that the policies adopted by the Obama Administration do not go far enough to protect the rights of the individual. Scaringi has spoken out previously that the entire PRISM program and the FISA Court itself are unconstitutional and should be dismantled. But the judicial victory -- followed by Obama's proposed changes -- sends a message that at least Judge Leon's court can and will protect our fundamental rights.
"This emboldens citizens," he says of Judge Leon's ruling. "It gives us a great big tool to use our judicial system to challenge the government. These are private citizens making a difference. Citizens have taken action against the government and pushed it back. We have come a long way."
Consider it a journey back toward those basic, steadfast American ideals that a collection of colonist-revolutionaries forged into the greatest country ever to grace the face of the earth: America.
To learn more about how Marc Scaringi can help you, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org