The NSA, PRISM and the US Constitution
Over the past few days the PRISM scandal has dominated the news, revealing how America’s National Security Agency has been tapping up US internet giants to gather information about and monitor millions of people around the world.
An eloquent article in The Register highlights how anti-democratic and anti-constitutional the US government is becoming, violating such constitutional rights as the reasonable expectation of privacy and free speech and association, and even calls for a boycott of the cloud technology companies – difficult when we are so addicted and reliant on their services.
The creation of the US Constitution was, at the time it was written, a symbol of a radically different way of thinking and led to an unprecedented wave of wealth creation in the West. It was a declaration of the limitations of powers granted to the government by the people that allow said government to exist, rather than a declaration of rights and freedoms granted to its citizens by the government. However, in recent years the US seems to have gone back to an attitude that people exist only at the sufferance of the government.
Indeed, the American political system is becoming more and more damaged and corrupted. As recent events have highlighted, transparency is virtually non-existent, accountability laughable and the state elite are gaining more and more of a hold over the lives of not just US citizens, but global populations. There is a growing sense that the US government is out of control and has created a police state, even eliminating the right to trial by jury, or any trial at all, while the US Constitution itself is increasingly a work of fiction. The treatment of conscientious whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, and now Edward Snowden, seems to confirm how ruthless, violent and authoritarian the US government is becoming.
There is though a current dilemma as to the degree of privacy Americans are willing to trade for security. While the US Constitution makes no exception for national security, and terrorism specifically, given the context of actual or potential threats, arguments on both sides of this divide should be rationally defended in a public debate. However, politicians and state bureaucrats seem to be doing all they can to ensure that no such public debate takes place, instead continuing to secretly grow the state security apparatus. My own view is that given how rare a genuine terrorist event is in the US (you have more chance of being struck by lightening), the government suspiciously invests a wildly disproportionate amount of time and money preventing such ‘terrorism’. Furthermore, if you look back to the Soviet Union era it wasn’t US security measures or the projection of force, but the power and influence of America’s values and ideas, such as individual freedom and pursuit of the ‘American dream’, combined with diplomatic efforts and trade incentives, that actually won the Cold War.
Sadly, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s statement that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and for government to gain ground” rings true in modern day America, as well as in much of the world. More people need to follow the lead of Edward Snowden and both vociferously defend our freedom and attack the suffocating creep of government.