Today we debate a crisis in Syria – a crisis of people oppressed by their government. That government, like all in civilized and uncivilized history, has probably justified its questionable practices with the all-too-popular concept of ‘protection.’
On the home front, an American civil war brews. The divide in our nation doesn’t smell like Sarin gas or feel like the detonation of an artillery shell, but it compromises the integrity of our private homes just the same. The instruments of the American government have taken apart our walls and left our businesses naked to the scrutiny of a sprawling surveillance system we barely understand.
The world waits for America and our allies to intervene in Syria, but whom is the American public looking to for intervention here? The party elected to power under the most attractive promise of personal liberty has a Commander-in-Chief that has strongly upheld the unconstitutional practices of his predecessor. (Has it yet occurred to the American voter that being president requires the abandonment of your campaign platform’s most appealing planks?)
Only very recently, in response to “The Snowden Effect,” has the president begun to acknowledge the shadow government Americans are at the mercy of.
Our knee-jerk response to being spied on is an attempt to dismantle or, at least, reform the NSA and the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is problematic. First of all, the argument for a constitutional surveillance state and against what we have now is years overdue (The Patriot Act was first signed into law only about a month after 9/11).
It’s embarrassing that America is surprised by this exposure. This generation can testify that we’ve heard the “terror” threat thrown around to warrant anything that government officers would need a court-ordered warrant to execute. But those who are now finally in action for our rights are right: It isn’t too late. Unlike the opinion on gun control published last semester in The Mirror, we should not accept our government’s dominance with this issue.
But the question still stands: To whom does the public look as an ally against unconstitutionality? Those in the trenches on this news story are a handful of legitimate news organizations (The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and ProPublica really deserve the credit so far). Wikileaks all of a sudden seems more relevant now, too.
How much can be exposed before that whole ‘terrorism prevention’ logic becomes more than an excuse? After all, one of our government’s hardest pieces of evidence in the allegations against the Syrian government is a file of wiretapped phone calls with their military concerning the use of chemical weapons. Thus, espionage looks pro-democracy again. Don’t let that fool you. Stories have broken in recent weeks about our government tapping into the private business of Brazil, Germany, the United Nations and even private companies. With years behind it and an uninformed public voting, the envelope has been pushed and America is losing credibility.
What if the public pushes the envelope, too? A town in Colorado is issuing permits for residents to shoot down drones with their rifles (impossibly practical considering drones fly much higher than any kind of rifle round – but the message stands).
A more simple exercise would be to speak the words “Obama,” “Osama,” “Washington D.C.,” “pressure cooker” and “fertilizer” into a telephone conversation. Chances are, the NSA’s advanced surveillance computer would tag your call and store it in with other millions of terabytes of data in some warehouse in Nevada. Under our current shadow law, you could then be detained and questioned.
The worst part is, your own Senator, President or favorite Supreme Court Justice (Ginsburg is pretty attractive) doesn’t have any power in the process. This isn’t Syria, but it doesn’t feel much like democracy, either.