By Ruth Conniff
How come we, as American citizens, weren't allowed to be informed about this vast NSA surveillance operation, even by the elected officials in our own states?
Making the public aware of the existence of the system would not have aided our enemies; I'm sure they already believed the NSA or the CIA was watching them.
And this is not an operation against a particular suspected terrorist or terrorist organization.
Instead, it's a huge vacuuming up of our electronic communications, with no predicate of criminal wrongdoing on our parts.
Our rights are the ones being violated here.
And the Executive Branch should not have the authority to hide this from us.
On Friday, President Obama said, "Congress was fully informed" about the NSA surveillance.
"When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program," Obama said. "With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs."
Obama may be making a distinction between the NSA's grabbing of telephone records and its grabbing of Internet communications.
In the first case, all 535 members were briefed, he says. In the second, it could have been just a handful of legislators.
But even when he briefs all 535 members of Congress, why does he have the unilateral right to swear all those members to secrecy when no specific threat is being combated?
And when only a few legislators are clued in, to what extent do we really have democratic rule in the United States?
Two Senators who have been deeply troubled by the NSA's surveillance, Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, were allowed to issue only the most vague warnings about what their concerns were.
They weren't allowed to tell their own constituents, or the American people in general, how the Executive Branch was violating sacred Fourth Amendment rights.
When our legislators in Congress are muzzled by the Executive Branch, they cannot adequately fulfill their duties as the people's representatives.
And when the people are kept in the dark, especially about operations that take away their freedoms, then we have neither democracy nor a functional representative government.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story Stop the Trial of Bradley Manning.
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.