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President Obama, Tear Down This Wall!

President Obama, Tear Down This Wall!

From 1957 until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Staatssicherheit–or Stasi–was the most feared and effective intelligence agency, operating as the “sword and shield” and striking fear into the hearts of East Germans. Their omnipresent network of both employees and citizen informants enabled the Stasi to maintain surveillance on one out of every seven people in the East German communist country. 

By the end of the Cold War there were about 2 million civilian collaborators with the Stasi, who employed over 100,000 people at a time when the entire population of East Germany was 16.5 million. The obsession with constant surveillance permeated all aspects of daily life and infected industrial plants, schools, hospitals, sports leagues, and universities.  

The Stasi maintained regularly updated files on the lives of over 6 million citizens. There was one tenant in every apartment building that served as a designated informant, and would report the comings and goings to the Volkspolizei, or People’s Police, who would then turn the information over to the Stasi. Many informants sabotaged their personal relationships in order to gain more information for the Stasi.

After the Berlin Wall was torn down, the Stasi headquarters was stormed on January 15th, 1990. Found within the files were over 37.5 million index cards with names of informers and those under Stasi surveillance.  In the Berlin office alone, to put the files in chronological order would take one person 128 years. 

Everyday Americans were shocked by the revelations of the volume of intelligence and how complicit civilians were in the collection of data on German civilians. America supported the reunification of a free Germany, to such a degree that our president traveled to Germany to stand in the middle of Berlin and demand the wall come down.

Now, as we come to the 25th anniversary of that speech, we must look within ourselves and come to terms with the sobering fact that the reach and technology of our current domestic surveillance program surpasses anything the Stasi could have dreamed.

The National Security Agency (NSA) has dramatically expanded the surveillance of everyday civilians into a highly-advanced data mining operation. Instead of using a vast network of informants, the NSA is using each of us as an informant against ourselves, by collecting data we’ve provided and entrusted to the state and private companies.

The numbers are staggering. The estimated annual budget of the NSA is $8 billion, for an agency that employs 35,000 to 55,000 employees. In 2012 alone, the number of Skype communications intercepted via PRISM increased by 248 percent, the number of Facebook data requests increased by 131 percent, and requests for Google data increased by 63 percent.

After enduring warrantless search and seizure of private property by the British Army, the Founding Fathers ensured that our right to privacy could never be taken away from us again by inscribing the Fourth Amendment in the Constitution. Just as the Stasi operated their surveillance program under the guise of protecting the party, now, in violation of our Fourth Amendment rights, the NSA operates under the banner of combatting terrorism.

To combat this violation, together Senator Ted Lieu (D) and I have introduced SB 828, “A Citizen’s Protection Act.” This bipartisan bill protects 38 million Californians by drawing a bright line around the state that the NSA cannot cross.  

The bill forbids any state agencies or their employees from turning over state records of innocent Californians to the NSA. Records such as your voting records, DMV records, Covered California medical records, tax records, and personal academic records will be protected from warrantless information gathering. 

Our nation cannot become a country where everyday citizens are presumed guilty and worthy of warrantless information gathering. We cannot allow our freedom and right to privacy to be systematically stripped away without our knowledge because “government knows best.”

California is taking a step forward by passing SB 828 out of the California State Senate and onto a vote in the California State Assembly. We urge all states to follow our lead and reclaim the Fourth Amendment, our right to privacy, through the Tenth Amendment, the right of states to legislate within their borders.  

Only then can neighboring states stand astride California’s border and say “President Obama, tear down this wall.”

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