Big Brother is Watching. Should We Care?

Shortly after the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings was arrested, I went to some friends’ house for dinner. We discussed the use of surveillance cameras to identify the two Tsarnaev brothers and speculated on whether other cities would be increasing their use of them. Almost certainly, we thought. My host, Paul, said that increased surveillance by the government doesn’t really bother him if it keeps him and other people safe.

Probably many if not most Americans agree with him. The number of people in any society who care about democratic freedoms is rather small. Similarly, the number of people who care about constitutional government is small. Hence our Congress’ rush over the last 12 years to surrender both for the sake of security, and the irony that the very people charged with upholding the Constitution have been eager to abrogate the rights spelled out in it. Thus, the suspension of habeas corpus rights, the expansion of secret surveillance programs, extrajudicial detentions and killings and a raft of other abuses following 9/11. In the Boston bombings, martial law was imposed and an entire city shut down to look for one teen-ager. Police conducted warrantless door to door searches, which the Constitution explicitly forbids. A reporter interviewing a legal expert disturbed by this noted that most people in Boston were probably happy to open their houses for this purpose; the legal expert pointed out that consent doesn’t mean much if you’re staring down the barrel of a gun, which is why the Constitution prohibits such searches.

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This week’s revelation in The Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting metadata on millions of Americans’ phone calls may cause people to re-evaluate whether they really want the government poking its nose into their business without cause. I hope so because while it may sound relatively harmless if the government knows who you called and for how long you spoke, it’s unrealistic to think that the information gleaned could not and would not be used against you should it ever be in an unscrupulous or misguided government official’s interest to do so. And it’s a small and obviously easy step for the government to move from knowing when and whom you telephone to listening in on your conversations. It’s possible the government would ask the permission of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court before doing this, but as the FISA courts appear to be rubber stamping anything the government requests this is unlikely to afford you much protection from an intrusive government eavesdropping on your conversations not because you’ve done something wrong but simply because somebody thinks one might conceivably learn something of interest.

The subsequent revelation in The Washington Post of June 6 that the NSA is also mining Internet data from the servers of nine leading Internet firms, collecting emails, photos and videos, indicates the government is massing enormous amounts of personal information about millions of citizens. Big Brother is watching.

Perhaps like Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, widely quoted as saying “If you’re not getting a call from a terrorist organization, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” many Americans will be unfazed by the news that there’s little in their lives that remains private from the reach of the government. But the potential for abuse is huge. As FBI director, J.Edgar Hoover misused his authority to keep tabs on tens of thousands of Americans, from prominent politicians to actors and entertainers to so-called subversives, and used his knowledge not only to smear reputations but to intimidate presidents. Do we really want to give the government carte blanche to spy on us all? Is it so inconceivable that the government could misuse its vast and growing authority? There’s plenty of evidence that the government already has, not only in the breadth of its snooping but in the secretiveness with which it’s proceeded

After the news in May of the government seizing the phone records of Associated Press journalists, the new revelations about the NSA combing through the phone and Internet communications of millions of ordinary Americans should be a wake-up call to citizens. The old saw that people get the government they deserve is true. If we the people don’t care about good government, we surely won’t have it. If we don’t care about protecting our liberties, we will lose them. Because we can never be too safe, there will always be an argument to be made about why we can’t afford to preserve our liberties. But the people who fought our revolution and drafted our Constitution didn’t think safety was more important than liberty. Maybe we shouldn’t either.

Margot Patterson

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Stanley Kopacz
5 years 4 months ago
If these increasingly invasive methods work, we will be safe from everything. Except, of course, our government.
ed gleason
5 years 4 months ago
Not to mention that the surveillance is on data for INTERNATIONAL calls make your complaint useless. Please understand that 90% of us don't care about the gathering data on numbers and times of international calls.. and we're not taking about Mexico and Canada .. get a grip.. .
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 4 months ago
90% of us don't care about a lot. For my part, getting a grip means getting a grip on my corporate-owned government. Interesting that it took a leak to find out this much. If it's such a great thing, why didn't they tell us what wonderful things they were doing for us or to us?
ed gleason
5 years 4 months ago
The POTUS has explained all Congress knew about this. The Chinese military are already having the access you deplore. To trust China more than the US Gov. is absurd...having these records on international calls and emails allows the NSA to walk the cat back on terrorists connections hopefully before they strike and more easily after they strike..I and NSA assume all your international calls are boring.. When the local police trace the cell phone calls from the murderer's phone by the cell towers at the murder scene we all clap.
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 4 months ago
I never gave the Chinese government permission to access my records. What does that have to do with anything? Sounds like an excuse for everyone but the first perpetrator of a gang rape.
ed gleason
5 years 4 months ago
Stanley... stop w/ the gang rape anology..A few bucks to Google advertisers would give me everything I would not want to know about you. yes and you did not give them permission.. so sue and see what you get. Change your name, eliminate credit cards, health care etc.. never use the net or phone or mail ... go into the deep woods and don't complain to anyone for ten years. as I said get a grip.
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 4 months ago
This is my last post here. But don't tell me to not complain. Maybe that's another right you want cancelled.
Tammy Gottschling
5 years 4 months ago
It's called deflection and avoidance re the topic. I hope you continue to post here, Stanley.
Thomas Rooney OFS
5 years 4 months ago
@ed, you're right...I might not care if I thought the gathering of all this data was simply on numbers and duration of international calls. Unfortunately, I believe the surveillance is far greater in scope than that. And given the uproar that this latest leak has spawned, I think there's a far greater percentage of Americans who DO care about this surveillance.
Vincent Gaitley
5 years 4 months ago
Yes, we should all care, and be afraid, very afraid. While the US government denies listening to the phone calls, the truth is the listening portion is outsourced to private firms here and abroad (UK). This provides deniability. They are listening, so speak up and resist the new United Socialist States of America.
Anne Chapman
5 years 4 months ago
The reality is that they literally do not have time to listen to every single phone call in the world every day. Do they listen to some calls? Yes - the computers listen initially, to spot keywords and track patterns. If a sufficient number of words and patterns combine to indicate a possible threat, they may then get a court order to listen to calls. Really - there aren't enough people working at NSA and related agencies to listen to your calls. Unless someone is involved in terrorism or illegal international activity such as drug running, human trafficking etc, they don't need to worry that somebody is listening .
Anne Chapman
5 years 4 months ago
Google denies the report that the govt has direct access to its servers. http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2013/06/what.html
Jim McCrea
5 years 4 months ago
Amazing. This is a country where every unimportant thought is spread prolifically via email, twitter, facebook and God-knows what else. Where one's purchasing habits are known to any and all merchants because of the extravagant use of credit cards. Where did anyone get the idea that privacy was somthing that exists in a country where is is to profligately thrown away in the name of ego and conspicuous consumption? It is OK to give it up voluntarily to any Tom, Dick and Harry who has access to social media and the internet, or to merchants who can buy practially any information they want to know about you? But you are worried about limited actions that might just help prevent another World Trade Center? My ladies do protest wayyyyyyyy too much.
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 4 months ago
The world trade center, that blank check.
Jake Bonar
5 years 4 months ago
It seems as if every couple years a NSA or surveillance story is leaked to exactly the same response: mass hysteria and public demands that the government release reports of just how extensive these procedures dig. And it seems as if every couple years we forget that the same thing happened just happened a couple years ago. Questionable government surveillance procedures have been known and discussed since before 2008, but somehow we have pushed this knowledge into the back of our consciousness. While I am not condoning NSA procedures, I do think it is outrageous the amount of spurious news coverage that windstorms in the months following any inevitable leak only to be quelled by time, forgetfulness, and the apparent immutability of surveillance since the last outbreak of hysteria.
Bob Baker
5 years 4 months ago
”Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.” Ben Franklin
J Cosgrove
5 years 4 months ago
A couple comments: For those who have seen the CBS show, "Person of Interest," the Prism program will be familiar. The system in the show is a lot more sophisticated but supposedly the idea is the same. But as a lot of the country is up in arms about Prism is it in reality a joke? We should be more worried about how ineffective the government systems and data bases are and the programs that theoretically mine the data. There was a real life opportunity for these systems to shine but they failed big time. The Boston Marathon bombing happened on Monday. I would have thought that by Monday night the Tsamaev brothers whould have been identified and locked up, being on a Terrorist watch list and living a mile from the bomb site. But no we had to publish some photos to the world and as a result a policeman died and a major city was held hostage for a day. Where was the NSA as the world looked on at the gang who couldn't shoot straight tried to track down one badly injured terrorist.
Robert Zomer
5 years 3 months ago
This is not good, http://www.google.com needs to keep his pace.

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