“I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or even your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President if I had a personal e-mail,” Snowden said, revealing himself to be the source of recent leaks exposing the extent of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.
Snowden has been employed by the NSA and the CIA. More recently, as an employee of a corporation that contracted with the CIA, he has had “privileged access” to information that these law enforcement agencies have culled from e-mails, mobile phones, and other technologies. During his career, he found that the NSA’s mission was to gather any information – including domestic communications – that it could.
Snowden proved what many believers in liberty already knew: that if government is unchecked, it will continue to grab more and more power for itself. Knowledge, after all, is power. That includes the knowledge of which websites you have visited, who you call regularly, and what you told your friends in an e-mail. The NSA “is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible,” said Snowden; and while that used to be “narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas,” that has changed.
“Now increasingly we see that it’s happening domestically, and to do that they, the NSA specifically, targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system and it filters them and it analyzes them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient, and most valuable way to achieve these ends.”
Instead of forcefully denying the charge (we’re not buying that crap anymore), government and its media friends have shifted the conversation from the real issue of domestic spying, to Edward Snowden the man. Jeffrey Toobin, the little quisling from the New Yorker, wrote a whole article slamming Snowden for committing a crime and fleeing to China. CNN is asking its readership whether Snowden is a hero.
As usual, when the conversation gets uncomfortable, the media (the ever-watchful guardian of its corporate sponsors) shifts the conversation: it isn’t about what Snowden unearthed. It’s about who he is, and what he did. But the smallest part of this story is Edward Snowden. The much bigger part of the story is the NSA, President Obama, and our dwindling right to privacy.
Defense contractors, and their lobbyists, make their billions by convincing us that their services are always required. That includes services like PRISM, the subject of many of Snowden’s revelations. Snowden’s revelation put, front and center, the issue of whether all of this surveillance is necessary. All of this is lucrative to contractors. Politicians and bureaucrats expand their power and influence through selling us the lie that we need to be watched for our own good. But all it does for the American people is make them less secure, and less free. Don’t let the media change the subject!
All Snowden did was shine a light on the practices of our erstwhile leaders. They couldn’t stop the Tsarnaev brothers from bombing the Boston Marathon; but by golly if they’ll let you brag to your brother, over e-mail, about the barbecue you bought from Home Depot, without archiving a copy of the e-mail by default, for later consumption if it turns out you’re a terrorist, pedophile, or libertarian.
The last entry in that triple, by the way, was not ironic a facetious. In fact, it jibes nicely with Snowden’s closing remarks – which were a hell of a lot more chilling than the oft-quoted claim that a contractor for the NSA could wiretap a federal judge. Snowden worries that if nothing changes today,
“[in] the months ahead, the years ahead it’s only going to get worse until eventually there will be a time where policies will change because the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy. … And because of that a new leader will be elected, they’ll find the switch, say that ‘Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.’ And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny.”
He’s right to worry. Can you imagine explaining the Patriot Act to an American citizen on September 10, 2001? A September 10 American would likely call you a crazy conspiracy theorist – just like some might have dismissed claims that Big Brother is always watching as a crazy conspiracy theory mere weeks ago. Our complacency with government overreaches has changed a lot more than the New York skyline in the years after 9/11.
In the face of Snowden’s revelations, Toobin points out that that the government never broke the law. Frankly, Mr. Toobin, that’s the scary part! And it ought to spur us to action.
Jonathan Lubin is a civil litigator in Chicago, Illinois, concentrating in Constitutional law and civil rights. Jonathan has studied at BrandeisUniversity, the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, NJ, and at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He writes about politics, the law, and current events, at www.reasonableinferences.com.