Monday, August 12, 2013

Big Brother is Watching, Listening, and Generally Making a Nuisance of Himself: Welcome to the National Security Surveillance State


We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.- O'Brien speaking to Winston Smith in 1984

Add to that "the object of surveillance is surveillance". As a Democrat who twice contributed funds to Barack Obama's presidential campaigns, I'm more than a little miffed that the candidate who campaigned on openness has become a President with a cavalier attitude towards the NSA's domestic surveillance program. The 4th Amendment is pretty clear on stuff like needing warrants for searches, and  prohibiting unreasonable searches or seizures. Yet, under cover of official secrecy, the FISA court has reinvented itself and has made classified interpretations of public law, thus allowing the NSA and Executive Branch to decide in secret when it needs a warrant and what is reasonable, in other words, it can wipe its collective ass with the U.S. Constitution.

Efforts to make the public "more comfortable" with the government's "classified law" and its lying about its snooping make a silk purse of legal sow's ears. There is, to be sure, scant comfort that we wouldn't even be having the conversation had not Edward Snowden spilled the beans on the activity. Its never a good thing when a junior operative (or anyone, including Daniel Ellsberg) makes far reaching decisions on the boundaries between Constitutional law vs. releasing classified information, which is why we should not be repeatedly playing fast and loose with the Constitution, public trust, and thus willfully creating more Daniel Ellsbergs as honest civil servants become compelled to blow the whistle. U.S. Senators knew of this problem, complained repeatedly to the United States Attorney General (in 2011 and 2012), and nothing was done. Perhaps Senators Wyden and Udall should have spilled the beans. They certainly have more standing. But all remained secret, hence the Snowden fiasco. As I have said in the comments section of the NY Times, if Mr. Snowden deserves his day in court, then Mr. Obama deserves his day defending himself in front of the U.S. Senate.

...Person in the street shrugs -- "Security comes first"
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
-Bruce Cockburn, from The Trouble With Normal

As a nation, we've allowed ourselves to be far too complacent in the face of a rising Big Brother ever since the 9-11 attacks or perhaps even long before that seminal event. Unless we change our complacency to government overreach, we will eventually find that what we once considered unthinkable becomes the new normal. Much of this unconstitutional conduct goes on in secret and some of it benefits powerful private corporate entities that profit from our complacency. Hence secret overreach has powerful clients and the folks who do this work have powerful friends in Congress to rationalize and support their efforts.

So what really bugs me is not the surveillance, but that the public was lied to and had secret policy made behind our backs. Indeed, we may be willing to consent to many of the NSA's activities as reasonable in an unreasonable world. Just ask us. In an ideal world, I think PATRIOT should be repealed and replaced by a law with more stringent safeguards.  The public should give (or deny) through our vote, consent to what we consider a reasonable level of government surveillance over our private lives, given the world we now live in. The Supreme Court should reign in FISA's breadth and confine it to narrow questions of operation rather than letting FISA secretly re-write the U.S. Constitution's protections--this is the most egregious offense, in my opinion, to a democratic government subject to rule by the law of the land made in our names. Of course, its the Chief Justice who appoints FISA judges, much of Congress has drunk the Kool-Aid, and the President seems to have bought into the Nixon Doctrine: "If the President does it, that means its not illegal". This is not an ideal world.

Long Live B-B, eh? 

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