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SCV Voices: Brian Baker

Posted: June 20, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 20, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Star Chamber: Characterized by secrecy and often being irresponsibly arbitrary and oppressive." — From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary

he original Star Chamber was an English court that operated from the 14th into the 17th centuries, until 1641. Its original goal was to assure that even the privileged met justice in a fair manner.

It operated in secret, didn’t require indictments, allowed no witnesses, and all "evidence" was presented in writing.

It devolved into a political weapon wielded by the monarchy against his or her enemies and was ultimately abolished by Parliament with the enactment of the Habeas Corpus Act.

Recently we’ve been subjected to an absolute avalanche of administration scandals, piling up so quickly that you couldn’t stay above them if you sprouted wings.

Among them is that involving the National Security Agency (NSA) — also known as No Such Agency (an insider joke) — which has been monitoring the emails and phone calls of Americans on a massive scale.

The full breadth of this Big Brother activity is still unfolding — almost hourly, it seems. Obama and his minions are in full damage control mode.

Though it’s certainly tempting to lay this whole debacle at his feet — and the current intrusive scale probably is his responsibility — he’s right in one thing he says in his defense: that the program is "overseen by federal judges."

The problem is this: under FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978), particularly as amended under Bush by the Patriot Act of 2001 and extended by Obama, these courts function in complete secrecy; their records are not accessible by the public in any way; their proceedings are all classified; their power is extremely wide-reaching and broadly defined; they almost never deny any application for a warrant.

As far as I’m concerned, this meets the definition of a "star chamber." Throw in the near-universal spying on the activities of law-abiding citizens and you have the "arbitrary and oppressive" abuse thrown in for good measure.

Our system of government is based on several fundamental principles, one of which is that our courts function in public, ensuring their fairness, which can be verified by the citizenry using its own eyes and ears.

There are certain narrowly defined exceptions that occasionally justify in-camera sessions, such as the protection of the identities of minors, but those exceptions are rare.

Though our grand juries use secret proceedings, they’re composed of citizen members, not government-employed judges.

The FISA courts operate in complete secrecy and are a corruption of our liberty; we’re supposed to "trust" the government itself to oversee its own operations in a manner that doesn’t threaten that liberty.

Please. That doesn’t even pass the snigger test. We’ve recently seen how well that’s been working out. IRS abuses, anyone? Fast & Furious? Benghazi? ... Bueller?

The founders must be rolling over in their graves.

Brian Baker is a Saugus resident.

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