“The National Security Agency’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.”—Senator Frank Church (1975).
We now find ourselves operating in a strange paradigm where the
government not only views the citizenry as suspects but treats them as
suspects, as well. Thus, the news that the National Security Agency
(NSA) is routinely operating outside of the law and overstepping its
legal authority by carrying out surveillance on American citizens is not
really much of a surprise. This is what happens when you give the
government broad powers and allow government agencies to routinely
sidestep the Constitution.
By sifting through the detritus of your once-private life, the
government will come to its own conclusions about who you are, where you
fit in, and how best to deal with you should the need arise. Indeed, we
are all becoming data collected in government files. Whether or not the
surveillance is undertaken for “innocent” reasons, surveillance of all
citizens, even the innocent sort, gradually poisons the soul of a
nation. Surveillance limits personal options—denies freedom of
choice—and increases the powers of those who are in a position to enjoy
the fruits of this activity.
If this is the new “normal” in the United States, it is not friendly to
freedom. Frankly, we are long past the point where we should be merely
alarmed. These are no longer experiments on our freedoms. These are acts
The constitutional accountability clause found in Article 1, section 9,
clause 7 of the Constitution demands that government agencies function
within the bounds of the Constitution. It does so by empowering the
people’s representatives in Congress to know what governmental agencies
are actually doing by way of an accounting of their spending and also
requiring full disclosure of their activities. However, because agencies
such as the NSA operate with “black ops” (or secret) budgets, they are
not accountable to Congress.
Eventually Americans were given undeniable proof—thanks to NSA whistleblower
Edward Snowden—that the NSA had not only broken privacy rules or
overstepped its legal authority thousands of times every year
but was actively working to flout attempts at oversight and
accountability, aided and abetted in this subterfuge by the Obama
Then again, all Snowden really did was confirm what we already
suspected was happening. We already knew the NSA was technologically
capable of spying on us. We also knew that the agency had, since the
1960s, routinely spied on various political groups and dissidents.
So if we already knew that the government was spying on us, what’s
the big deal? And more to the point, as I often hear many Americans ask,
if you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you care?
The big deal is simply this: once you allow the government to start
breaking the law, no matter how seemingly justifiable the reason, you
relinquish the contract between you and the government which establishes
that the government works for and obeys you, the citizen—the
employer—the master. And once the government starts operating outside
the law, answerable to no one but itself, there’s no way to rein it back
in, short of revolution.
As for those who are not worried about the government filming you
when you drive, listening to your phone calls, using satellites to track
your movements and drones to further spy on you, you’d better start
worrying. At a time when the average American breaks at least three laws
a day without knowing it thanks to the glut of laws being
added to the books every year, there’s a pretty good chance that if the
government chose to target you for breaking the law, they’d be able to
come up with something without much effort.
Then again, for those who insist they’re not doing anything wrong,
per se, perhaps they should be. Because if you’re not doing anything
wrong, it just might mean that you’re not doing anything at all, which
is how we got into this mess in the first place.
By John W Whitehead, from here