Monday, August 26, 2013

NSA The New Normal

“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 of aggression.

 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 administration.
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

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