Friday, September 19, 2014

The Fourth Amendment: the Age of Snowden

The following is from Congressman Rush Holt's newsletter

I am not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar; I only play one on C-SPAN. But this week, as we observe Constitution Day, I was pleased to give a talk sharing my thoughts about the Fourth Amendment in the Age of Snowden. The Fourth Amendment was added in 1791 and established the right of the people to be secure in their persons and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

Too often discussions of the Fourth Amendment refer to protection of privacy. Such a discussion misses the
larger significance of protection against unreasonable search and seizure. No person in America should be placed under suspicion, even provisionally, without probable cause. To do so destroys the founding presumption of equality. It is more subtle than profiling people of swarthy complexions at airports, but it is no less pernicious. The technological capability to break down, figuratively, a million computer memory doors does not, or at least should not, make that any more permissible than breaking into a hundred homes without warrants looking for scandalous attacks on the King.

The bulk collection of personal data about Americans surely degrades their privacy, but worse, it says to them, “Your government wants to make sure that you are not in that class of people suspected of doing harm. We’ll get back to you after we are sure.” In today’s society of sharing details of one’s life on social media, arguments of privacy lose saliency. Let us hope the principle of equality does not lose its saliency.

As we commemorate the signing of the document that underpins our representative democracy, I am happy to send you a free, pocket-sized copy of the Constitution. I always carry one. To receive a copy, please request one by clicking here.

ISIS in Iraq and Syria

This week, Congress approved an amendment that authorizes aid to “moderate” Syrian rebels. The idea of arming the Syrian opposition has been discussed and debated over the last several years. Until now, Congress has rejected military involvement with Syrian opposition groups because Americans and our leaders did not really understand the size, composition, abilities, and intentions of the various opposition groups, and we were concerned that the unforeseen consequences of our involvement could easily ruin any advantages there might be. The surprising success of the vicious Islamic State (ISIS) forces only demonstrates that we really did not understand the situation in Syria.

The President's proposed strategy seems very similar to what we have pursued in previous conflicts: arm and train local forces in the region and plan to turn over responsibility for the fight to those governments. That strategy failed spectacularly in Iraq, and in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, and in Vietnam. During his trip to the region earlier this month, Secretary of State Kerry came up short when he sought concrete military commitments from other countries--even countries directly threatened by ISIS ideology. I voted against training the yet-to-be determined Syrian opposition fighters and against putting more American lives at risk on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

The NIH Challenge

By now, the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease) Ice Bucket Challenge has garnered the attention of celebrities and citizens everywhere, increasing awareness of this debilitating disease, and raising over $100 million to fund research for a cure.

However, I believe that there is an issue going relatively unnoticed in the uptick of donations: federal funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the federal agency devoted to funding biomedical research, has been slipping. Over the past five years, the NIH has directed over $225 million to ALS research. Yet this figure would be significantly higher had Congress not voted to implement budget cuts across the board. Today, the NIH budget is at the same level as in 2003, and its Director, Francis Collins, has stated that NIH has lost 25 percent of its purchasing power over the last decade. While the Ice Bucket Challenge is raising awareness and money to cure a terrible disease, we should also be demanding that Congress reverse course, supporting increased funding for NIH and investing in basic research at the National Science Foundation. The best way for us to tackle difficult-to-treat diseases such as ALS is to fund biomedical research fully.


Rush Holt
Member of Congress

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