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The philosophical underpinnings of America have traditionally been based on constraining the federal government through the interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Americans though, have willingly given up their rights based on security concerns, fear and perception of crime.
These fears have largely been driven by politicians, the media and “the crime du jour” which sensationalizes horrific events with the promise that one more law will fix our communities, or save America from terrorists. These public safety security concerns started with the Drug War and have expanded in a further deterioration of our civil liberties in the post 9/11 decade.
But it appears Americans are finally awakening to the fact that the quest for security is quickly turning us into an electronic “police state.” The media coverage of the depth of the National Security Administration (NSA) data collection after 9/11 should be troubling to not just civil libertarians, but to all of us. The recent disclosure of PRISM, and the massive metadata released to the government has even produced a euphemism by Microsoft employees called “hoovering.” Hoovering, alludes to the massive amount of data requested on Americans similar to the former FBI Director’s search for secrets that allowed him to amass power and destroy lives.
The War on Terror is now firmly entrenched in American life. This permanent emergency has been supported in large part because of policy interests that create fear and juxtapose that fear to patriotism. This creates a paradigm unprecedented in our society as Americans have accepted limiting their rights based not on facts, or critical analysis of a policy and what it is designed to do, but on sound bites and rhetoric.
“This creates a paradigm that is unprecedented in our society as Americans have accepted limiting their rights based not on facts, or critical analysis of a policy and what it is designed to do, but on sound bites and rhetoric.”
In a 2009 media appearance expanding a federal anti-drug program President Bush linked the War on Drugs to the War on Terror stating, “drug-users aid terrorists who get their money from global trafficking in narcotics. If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terrorism.”
This simplistic solution to ending drug addiction and terrorism reflects the lack of clarity by our elected officials in designing policy and laws that support the enshrined rights of Americans, yet allows government to do their job through the fair administration of the law.
Unintended and unforeseen consequences can and do result from laws crafted during times of emergency. It can contribute to “mission creep” in law enforcement investigations, thus allowing the intent of the law to be usurped by allowing “powers for one purpose being used for another.”
A classic example is noted by the ACLU at the 10th anniversary of the Patriot Act. This particular blog showed what investigations had, in fact, been conducted under the category for delayed-notice search warrants, more commonly known as “sneak and peak” warrants through the provisions of the Patriot Act. It is telling that in ten years there were only 15 terrorism related “sneak and peak” warrants issued while the rest were predominantly for drugs.
It is this mission creep which has led to many of the abuses behind not just the Drug War, but the War on Terror. It is the permanent state of war that has contributed to the lack of transparency that should concern all Americans as laws and technology collide. How do we balance the need for security and maintain our civil liberties? It is this discussion that is critical and requires the full light of day.
I am not here to debate if Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA information is heroic or treasonous. But what he revealed about America should startle us all and remind us of what Fredrick Douglass once stated in reflecting on governmental power:
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
It is my hope Americans today have finally reached the limit of government intrusion into our lives by making a choice between valuing security over our constitutionally enshrined rights. We can no longer blindly cede power to a “government gone wild” without demanding accountability. Whether Edward Snowden is a whistle blower, a criminal, or a conscientious objector to the Executive Branch’s war on our Constitution is immaterial to me. What matters is we must demand action, information and oversight of our government before it’s too late.