Steven Watt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, told an assembly of agencies in conjunction with the Organization of American States that the National Security Agency (NSA) is conducting surveillance on hundreds of millions of people worldwide. “The government has sought to justify this mass surveillance on national security grounds, yet official reports indicate that the NSA has conducted surveillance of the communications of world leaders, of allied foreign powers, U.N. and E.U. offices, foreign corporations and endless numbers of innocent Americans and foreign nationals.”
Edward Snowden played a major role in bringing to the attention of the world the existence of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. For bringing these things and others of equal importance to light, he is declared a criminal, and is in fear of severe punishment. On Saturday, October 26, during a massive “Stop Watching Us” rally in Washington, D.C., his statement, read aloud, was: “This is about the unconstitutional, unethical, and immoral actions of the modern-day surveillance state and how we all must work together to remind government to stop them. …It’s about our right to know, to associate freely, and to live in an open society.”
It becomes clearer daily that Edward Snowden is a hero, a patriot, and a true fighter for freedom. Today, we find ourselves caught up in an unexpected dark corner of the Obama presidency. It has come to light that our government has spied on private correspondence even with our allies. They have invaded private phone calls and Internet communication. We can feel the pain of German chancellor Angela Merkel, knowing that conversations she perceived as private were being listened to and recorded by agents of the United States. The United States has clearly gone well outside the boundaries one would expect from a country that has taken pride in its stances on freedom and human rights.
In America, we can write in criticism of the government; we can stand on soap boxes or wooden platforms, and carry signs expressing our displeasure; but we are under a growing threat of having our personal exchanges monitored and judged. Is this a reflex response to the new openness afforded by the Internet? On the one hand, thinking persons can share insights about leaders and lawmakers; on the other hand, there is a new level of inspection by government listening posts.
Today we may say, “We have nothing to hide.” But if the government intrusions go unchecked, tomorrow the watchers may become emboldened to move to new levels of surveillance. Tomorrow or the next day, we may all have files and folders recording our beliefs, our political stands, even our parenting and marital fidelity.
Does this all sound extreme? Consider: If the federal government can categorize our phone calls and electronic letters, how long will it be before local elected officials in townships and counties undertake the same measures? In rural areas, church membership and school selection may become items for collection. Voting records may be the last to fall prey, but they too may become open to inspection. In small towns, employers and those who supply housing might, through clandestine bargaining, come into possession of our most private activities.
As we are watched, we develop a passive attitude; if we don’t harbor important thoughts, then we avoid the attention of the government listening posts. If we don’t think, we don’t attract attention.
Obama may be a great and thoughtful president, but he has made mistakes. He seems clearly at fault in this new surveillance issue. He seems to have had, and denied, earlier knowledge of the measures brought into being following the terrible attacks of September 11, 2001.
This president has expanded bombing and killing by drone aircraft, in spite of the high incidence of civilian casualties. He has failed to close the horrendous torture and detention centers in Guantanamo Bay. Now he has insulted German Chancellor Merkel, while posing as a friend. It is not only the Muslim world that is seeing in the United States a fall from grace. Even our allies see the new corruption and profiteering. They see the end of the very attributes that made us great, that we hold as sacred. How long can the world endure a nation that grows daily more hostile, seeking to rule with an iron hand?
Some will say, “My country, right or wrong!” But some must have the courage of Edward Snowden, and the foresight of George Orwell, in order to see our nation through these darkening hours. Is 2013 the new 1984? Is the end of the American era etched in stone? Or will the free-speech promise of the Internet continue to carry us through uncertain times? We might join together then, to await a great new morning, a bright new day, and a re-birth of the freedom that was the dream of our forefathers.
Photos: Rally photo, Asterix611 at Flickr. Chancellor Merkel photo, WikipediaPowered by Sidelines