Big Brother is Watching. Not That You Care.

June 25, 2013

Next week, Americans will celebrate Independence Day, the fourth of July holiday that typically sees us grilling out, enjoying various outdoor activities, and toasting each other as to what a spectacular nation we inhabit.
We will celebrate the values espoused by the Founding Fathers, and enjoyed by Americans ever since. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Freedom of religion. Freedom to get together, wherever and whenever we choose, and say whatever we wish to say, so long as it is not too offensive to those within earshot.
As you celebrate, someone will inevitably raise an iPhone and capture you on video, with your arm around a close friend, saying how proud you are to live in this most free and greatest nation on earth. How proud you are that the Seals nailed Bin Laden. And how proud you are of your revolutionary forefathers.
Your friend will then email the patriotic display to his brother. Who will forward it to his dad. Who will forward it to everyone he knows. All of which will be traced, tracked, recorded and stored by the National Security Agency.
The days of limited government are gone. We live in a day of government overreach. In the last two years, the Federal government has:
1) Co-opted and taken complete control of the national healthcare system.
2) Used the Internal Revenue Service to punish anti-tax groups with overbearing audits.
3) Used the Department of Justice to secretly acquire two months of phone records from twenty Associated Press phone lines.
4) Used the Federal Bureau of Investigation to establish drones as a means of domestic surveillance.
5) Used the National Security Agency to (perhaps illegally) establish a means of secretly tracking the phone calls and internet activity of members of the press, as well as the general public.
We live in the most locked down, highly scrutinized, centrally controlled free society the world has ever known.
Many Americans appear to be unsettled by the amount of government intrusions into their private lives. Yet, those same Americans feel like they've nothing to hide. So, why should they care?
Because, dear citizen, you need not care until the day you should. At which point, it's too late. Snooping governments, having gathered dossiers on every citizen, control everything because of the amount of data they have on everyone. Embarrassing data. Financially damaging data. Career-affecting data. Relationship-ending data. Violence-inducing data. Self-compromising data. Hurts-your-loved-ones data.
Enough data to force anyone at anytime to do anything.
Orwell saw it. Laid it threadbare in his visionary book, 1984. His ingenious portrayal of a claustrophobic, centrally controlled society portrayed a world in which individual decisions had been purged. A society in which the government knew everything about everybody. And a never-ending, centrally controlled broadcast network provided citizens with their news, their schedules, their opinions and their worldviews. Until, their thoughts were no longer theirs.
Today, we assume that no president or government would abuse the information revealed by Google, Facebook or NSA phone taps. Beware the danger of low assumptions. Because the lower they get, the easier they are to leap over.
One day, free society. The next day... "An act of domestic terrorism has forced the FBI to lock down large swaths of the country. The NSA has shut down all internet and phone service as the White House asks citizens to remain calm and avoid public gatherings until the unrest has been quelled. Please tune into your local broadcast networks for further updates."
Crazy? Of course. But it's always crazy. Until it's real.
Consider this. At one point, the internet represented pure freedom. One could say, do or see anything at anytime without any form of control, suppression or censorship. Then, 9/11 occurred. The government passed The Patriot Act. Today, The Patriot Act mandates the government's ability to track, record and follow your every activity as it occurs over the airwaves, cable and fiber. In other words, U.S. lawmakers have pushed us away from freedom and towards a more centrally controlled system.
While nobody in their right mind desires the abject freedom of anarchy. Nor would they desire the complete certainty of a system completely controlled by the state. Most yearn for something closer to the freedom end of the spectrum. Yet not too close as to sever the comfort of a just, citizen-minded system. We have more recently, however, found ourselves moving towards the control-end of that spectrum. At an alarming rate.
My point? You cannot keep descending towards the warming fires of hell without waking up one day and finding yourself in hell.
The Founding Fathers knew this. They knew that between the offsetting polar boundaries of anarchy and dictatorship was room for a system that provided for happiness and freedom. But it was a system that had to be respected and followed. Rigidly. So they wrote the constitution.
Which brings us back to the recent revelations of Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower currently being hunted down by American agents the world over. A recent opinion piece in Bloomberg points out the truly disturbing facets to this story, none of which involve Mr. Snowden having made his revelations. They include:
1) Twelve years after 9/11, and two years after killing bin Laden, the U.S. security apparatus continues to grow, not shrink.
2) The U.S. government is monitoring its citizens' communications on a scale that was previously unknown and is without precedent.
3) The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has declined just 11 of the government's more than 33,900 surveillance requests.
4) The legal interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is used by that court to rule on government requests for information, is classified. So the laws that enable this surveillance are themselves, in effect, secret.
5) The group meant to guarantee appropriate privacy safeguards, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, was authorized by Congress in 2007, but didn't get a full-time chairman until last month, and has met with President Barack Obama exactly once.
Yes, Snowden broke the law. He must be given a fair trial and a chance to present his case.
More disturbing, however, is the fact that the U.S. Federal government may also have broken the law. And the constitution. And without the daring acts of a whistleblower who appears to be running for his life, we may have gone much longer without having this much needed debate. A debate answers one simple question:
Who will watch the watchers?

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