The Corporate Surveillance State and Citizens United


The new information on out-of-control NSA surveillance illustrates again how the corporate surveillance state grows out of the money corruption of our politics. The program seems to have been sold to the government by Booz Allen, a corporation dependent on billions of dollars of taxpayer’s money (a multi-billion dollar Fortune 500 with “98% of its revenue from the government”? Could that be right?). According to this New York Times article, after making billions from American taxpayers, Booz Allen is taking the secret program to the global marketplace:

“They are teaching everything,” one Arab official familiar with the effort said. “Data mining, Web surveillance, all sorts of digital intelligence collection.”

Serious question: What does it mean that the person– Edward Snowden– who told the American people the truth about what our government is doing fled to exile and faces prison, while the corporation that built the program on billions of taxpayer dollars is out shopping it to governments around the world?

Here’s “Influence Explorer” with some political spending/lobbying/government contract data on Booz Allen worth checking out.

Original post- pre NSA leak- below.


Once again we are learning of a massive spy operation on the American people by our government and Verizon and other telecom corporations.  For years, the global telcom corporations, including AT&T, Verizon and others, have secretly colluded with the government’s national security apparatus to spy on Americans and others around the world.

This corporate-government surveillance is illegal. Yet in 2008 when groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the human beings whose rights were violated brought a lawsuit for the illegal conduct, Congress quickly passed an immunity law, retroactively preventing any recourse against the corporations that violated the law.

What does all this have to do with the movement for a 28th Amendment to reverse Citizens United and end the creation by an activist judiciary of corporate Constitutional rights?

In short: anyone who thinks that we must pretend that the Constitution creates rights for corporations, notwithstanding the words, history, meaning, and purpose of the Constitution to the contrary, is not paying attention to reality.

Some defenders of the kind of theories of “corporate speech” or other Constitutional rights that led to the disaster of Citizens United, argue that corporations must have Constitutional rights in order for the rights of Americans to be secure against government overreach.

And foxes should guard chicken-houses.

More than a year ago, in a piece called “Why Americans Should Support the People’s Rights Amendment,” Ben Clements, a former federal prosecutor, Free Speech For People Board member (and, full disclosure: my brother) responded to this “corporations will save us” argument. He explained how the illegal spy operation in the Bush Administration (which we now have learned was continued or even extended by the Obama Administration) illustrates the folly of relying on Google, AT&T or any other corporation to protect Constitutional rights or limit government violation of the Constitution:

[In the] corporate rights world, your private information is protected from government intrusion only until Google (or Amazon, Verizon, AT&T, Apple, CVS, or any number of other corporate entities who maintain private information about all of us) decides to turn it over to the government. To suggest that we can and should rely on for-profit corporations to protect our constitutional rights misconstrues the nature and role of corporations as much as it misconstrues the nature and purpose of constitutional rights. To cite just one example, the willingness of the telecommunications corporations to blatantly violate federal wiretapping laws at the request of the Bush administration (and in order to participate in highly lucrative government contracts) demonstrates that allowing constitutional rights of real people to become dependent on supposed constitutional rights of corporate entities is ultimately a vision in which only the corporations have constitutional rights.

Over and over again, we see that global corporations do not assert rights on behalf of real people but in active opposition to those rights. And we repeatedly see corporations and the government collude to violate the human rights of real people, just as in the repeated, on-going spy operation of the telecom corporations and the NSA.

Then, when illegality is discovered, and Americans seek recourse, the corporate-government collusion moves into high gear to block justice.

Telecom corporations brought to court to explain the illegal surveillance? Congress quickly enacts a retroactive corporate immunity law and the cases are dismissed.

Monsanto and the federal Food & Drug  Administration collude to prevent Americans from getting the truth about genetically modified organisms in our food? Courts strike down state GMO labeling laws and Congress jumps to enact the Monsanto Protection Act to create immunity for Monsanto.

Firearms manufacturers brought to court for conspiring to evade gun safety laws and common law duties of care, resulting in death and injury to hundreds of thousands of Americans? Congress quickly enacts a retroactive corporate immunity law and the case is dismissed.

Americans know that this big corporate-big government collusion is not serving the interests of Americans or protecting our Constitutional rights. That’s why fourteen states have now called for a Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. That’s why in ballot initiatives such as that in Montana, 75% of the people vote across all party or ideological lines to end the wrongful fabrication of Constitutional rights for corporations and the crippling of our ability to get big money out of our elections and government.

So when someone tries to sell the line that Constitutional limits on government overreach means we must somehow let corporations have the human rights of our Constitution, don’t buy it. Instead, remember three words (and there are lots more): Verizon. AT&T. Monsanto.

In the end, it turns out that preservation of freedom and self-government for human beings really does require that the sovereignty-based rights in our Constitution must be reserved for human beings, not the corporate entities that are creations of, and colluders with, the state.

About Jeff Clements

Jeff serves as President of American Promise, a nonpartisan national movement to reform and renew America's political system to combat corruption and secure freedom and equal opportunity for all Americans. He has practiced law for three decades in public service and in a private firm, and is the author of Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy From Big Money & Global Corporations. He is also the founder of Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides sustainable financing to businesses in the local agriculture economy. Twitter: LinkedIn:
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