One of the pillars the national security state heavily depends on is wholesale surveillance. Total surveillance society, as predicted by George Orwell more than a half-century ago, has finally arrived. Technological advances, achieved over the past three decades, made total surveillance both possible and "affordable."
Listed below are 10 aspects that characterize life under the national security and surveillance state:
1- The end justifies the means and terror is fought with terror. Wars that could potentially destroy entire nations become justifiable. In other words, these devastating wars become a "necessary evil." Civilians who die as a result are considered "collateral damage." The use of every imaginable instrument of terror from torture, to waterboarding, to rendition, and to drone attacks becomes normalized and acceptable.
2- The rule of law and human rights take a back seat. Who cares if "dangerous terrorists" are afforded basic human rights. Why should rules governing citizens be applied to those "dangerous bastards"! After all, rule of law is only made for "civilized people." These demons don't deserve a fair trial. Detention centers that are located in no man's land (i.e. beyond the reach of the law) become a must-have tool to lock up these "aliens" for ever. Proof of crime is not that important. Their innocence or guilt doesn't matter. What matters is what "we" believe they are.
3- Domestic policing is guided by the "zero-tolerance" policy. That is, no margin of error in catching terrorists, or wannabe terrorists, is allowed. Taking this extreme approach to policing means every citizen has the potential of becoming a "bad guy." Hence the need for mass surveillance. Furthermore, those who voice strong political opinions may eventually resort to violence. So why not lock them up by entrapping them into false terrorist plots! In other words, citizens, also looked upon as consenting subjects in the national security state, are no longer judged based on what they have done but rather they are judged based on what they "intend to do." In that respect, free thought, specifically the one that challenges the status quo, is considered a danger to the continued existence to the national security state.
4- Foreign intelligence and anti-terror policies are based on the 1 % doctrine. In simple terms, this means if there is only a 1% chance that a terrorist act is being planned abroad against the state, this likelihood has to be treated as a certainty. So when using drones to target terrorists, those who happen to be in the vicinity of the targeted site are also considered terrorists (regardless of whether they happen to be women or children) because there is 1% likelihood that they might actually be!
5- Minorities are considered dangerous. They are not to be trusted. Their loyalties must be questioned. They are ticking bombs. They all have the potential to become sleeper cells. So the state better treats them like second class citizens as to keep them powerless. Empowering them will lead to them being placed in high-ranking positions where decision making takes place.
6- The state is not to be questioned on what's right or what's wrong, i.e., there is no need for accountability. The executive becomes the judge and the executioner. The state knows what's best for its subjects. There is absolutely no need for checks and balances because the state has good intentions. If the state makes a mistake it should be overlooked for the sake of "greater good." Those who question the expanded powers of the state should be ostracized and ridiculed. Their patriotism is questioned, and they become subject of state-sponsored harassment and intrusive surveillance.
7- Secrecy becomes the norm and transparency becomes the exception. Whistleblowing, otherwise considered an act of heroism that deserves praise, is considered treason. Whistleblowers are pursued legally, vilified in the media, and intimated by a 24/7 covert, and sometimes overt, surveillance. Those who leak "good news information" about the state are tolerated, and are sometimes implicitly encouraged to do so. Those who leak "bad news information" are punished with the fullest extent of the law.
8- Massive defense and counter-terrorism budgets become justifiable. No need to examine the rate of return because the money is spent on a good cause. Massive structures are built, thousands of employees are hired, and intrusive spying gadgets are installed in public places such airports and public transportation. Nothing is beyond the reach of the state. Public good trumps individual privacy. Since warrants are old-fashioned and too cumbersome to obtain, backdoor access to people's electronic communications is implemented. No-fly zones become a must-have measure simply based on "what if" scenarios.
9- Racial profiling and guilt by association are institutionalized. Does it really matter that there are six degrees of separation between the "suspect" and a "person of interest"? Someone who knows someone who knows someone who happens to know someone who has been associated with "bad guys" can himself become the subject of investigation. Police tunnel vision is reinforced where 100 pieces of evidence that prove innocence of the "suspect" are discarded while one piece of evidence that points to guilt is magnified and manipulated. A two-tiered justice system ensures that "terrorists" never receive a fair trial.
10- The national security state and the corporate state are one and the same. The first spreads the fear into the populace and the latter reaps the benefits by producing and selling more war machines, more surveillance equipment and more spying gear.
The aspects mentioned above are simply a summary of what life looks like under the national security state.
If George Orwell were alive today he would have regretted that his prediction fell short of accurately portraying the total surveillance society that he had envisioned. For that he must be rolling over in his grave.
Maher Arar is an award-winning human rights activist and is a frequent speaker at national security related events. In 2010, Maher founded Prism, an online not-for-profit magazine that focuses on the in-depth coverage and analysis of national security related issues.