We have also received e-mails from individuals who argued against the public's right to know when it comes to issues such as NSA warrantless eavesdropping or mass collection of citizens' financial and other personal data by various intelligence and defense related agencies. They unite in their argument that any measure to protect us from the terrorists is welcomed and justified. One individual wrote: "so what if they are listening to our conversations. I have nothing to hide, so I don't mind the government eavesdropping on my phone conversations. Only those engaged in evil deeds would worry about the government placing them under surveillance." But how far can one let the government go based on this rationale? This issue is well articulated in Federalist, No. 51, "You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." How do we oblige our government to control itself?
You may ask how NSA eavesdropping affects you when you have nothing to hide. Let us try to explain why you should worry. Even if, as the government claims, this program is only looking for "terrorist activity," still all your conversations have to be processed; have to be linked to other calls and sources of "possible" terrorist activity. All it takes is an innocent phone call to a friend, who has placed a call to a friend or relative, who has legitimate business or personal contacts in a foreign country where there may be "suspected terrorists." You have just become a potential target of government investigation - you may be a terrorist supporter, or even a terrorist. Remember "Six Degrees of Separation" (the theory that anyone on earth can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances with no more than five intermediaries)? The NSA program can easily mistakenly connect you to a terrorist. Furthermore, since the program is being conducted without judicial oversight and under no recognized process there is nothing to restrict how the information obtained under the program is being used.
But let us take things from the widely shared point of view of the individual quoted above; the view that there is nothing for honest people to fear from warrantless, presidentially-ordered surveillance. What other invasions of rights would such acquiescence to government authority inevitably lead to?
What is next in the name of national security? Will our government call out to all citizens in particular communities to turn in their weapons to law enforcement agencies? Perhaps it will cite the following reason for such call: "We already know that several Al Qaeda cells reside in the affected communities. Our intelligence agencies have received credible information concerning these cells' intention to break into Americans' homes to obtain firearms, since they do not want to risk detection by purchasing firearms from the market." Would our compliant citizen quoted above be more than happy to give up his right under the Second Amendment for possible security promised to him by his government? When the agents show up at his door asking for his legally registered Colt, what will he do?
There are those well-meaning "conservative" Americans who have been lead to believe that our nation's security is somehow damaged when an employee of one of our "security" agencies comes forward to shed light on activities by our government that may be illegal, may be un-constitutional, and may be a danger to the nation's security. These Americans have accepted too easily the government's propaganda sold to them shrewdly packaged in a wrapping of fear of terror - that if you expose any government action, however misguided or un-constitutional, then you are jeopardizing our security; you are aiding the terrorists. This quote from Benjamin Franklin sums it up well: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Since when did true conservatives agree to surrender their individual rights under the Constitution for the sake of some imagined temporary security? Since when have we become so afraid of some foreign terrorists that we shiver and hide under a blanket of imagined security offered up by those in power who feed on our fears? Since when have we forgotten the messages of the Founding Fathers, who understood so clearly that the greatest danger to our liberties is an oppressive government, not outside foreign forces? We should never fear those who are brave enough to speak out, but we should fear greatly those who would silence them.
We like to believe our nation is one that prizes individual liberty and freedom from authoritarian restraint, the dictates of hierarchy, or governmental limits. Throughout its history our nation's soul has been based on anti-authoritarianism and fear of a large, tyrannical government. Our notion of liberty has been built upon a philosophy of limited government with the highest value placed on preservation of individual rights. Our nation's political thought found its roots in the writings of John Locke, who stressed an insistence on imposing limits on authority, on governmental authority, in order to further individual rights and liberty. No wonder both liberal and republican traditions, although each in its own way and style, pride themselves in their eternal quest for 'limited government'.
Our entire system of government and its institutions is grounded in an insistence that tyranny be combated and that individual liberty be protected from a potentially tyrannical government. The result is a suspicion of authority and an emphasis on limited government. Samuel Huntington, a well-known conservative Republican, states in American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony: "The distinctive aspect of the American Creed is its antigovernment character. Opposition to power, and suspicion of government as the most dangerous embodiment of power, are the central themes of American political thought."
After 9/11 our president came out and warned us: "the terrorists are resolved to change the way of our lives. They hate our freedom and our way of life here." Well Mr. President, we have come a long way since that awful day. Our way of privacy in communicating on the phone and through our computers, our way of detaining and prosecuting people, our way of trusting our records with our librarians, our way of reading and discussing dissent, our way of treating our ally nations, our way of making it from the airport gates to the airplanes...simply, our way of life, has surely changed drastically in five years. But, Mr. President, we don't have the terrorists to blame for this. We only have you and our three branches of government to blame.
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