Sunday, June 1, 2014

The NSA--A Threat to the Future

I’ve talked about the NSA’s spying programs so much in private that now, when I’m actually putting my thoughts out where others can (theoretically) read them, I feel almost like I have nothing new to say—after all, the original scandal broke close to a year ago. The reason I focus on it now, though, is that newly published documents indicate that the NSA collects millions of images daily in order to run them through their facial recognition technology, thereby putting a face with the other information they have.

Theoretically, the targets are supposed to be residents of other countries (which should still be concerning to anyone who believes in protection from government intrusion), but anyone who’s communicated with a citizen and resident of another country could have their pictures swept up as well. 

This program has apparently been significantly expanded under Barack Obama, the very candidate who rode into office promising to overturn the vile legacy of George W. Bush, and his vicious disregard for the Bill of Rights. So much for that promise. We’re getting closer and closer to a government that has the ability to know virtually everything about where you are and what you do, whenever it wants. With technology advancing as it is, the idea of privacy rights could be nothing but a quaint legal fiction by the time my generation is middle-aged.

“Who cares? The government might be able to know what I do, but it’s not like it honestly matters to them. They’re not about to ship me off to Guantanamo—I’m doing nothing to piss them off.” If you think this, you’re probably right—you aren’t doing anything to attract any unwanted attention. But here’s a newsflash for you: in the most dictatorial, authoritarian states in the world, people who follow the rules have nothing to worry about. If you have no problem with anything that’s going on in the United States, then you probably shouldn’t care about the NSA, either. But if you have an objection to the growing disparity in wealth, the government’s imperialistic foreign policy, the drug war, or any of the other various issues that the Powers That Be would rather you ignore—then this news is pretty disturbing.

Back in the 1960s, when the Powers That Be were busy opposing the civil rights movement, the FBI spied on Martin Luther King, Jr.—among others—collecting whatever it could use to blackmail him, including a tape recording allegedly of him having an affair. If a King-figure were to emerge for any of the modern movements, they should expect the same treatment—worse, most likely. In case you think we’re past the point where the government fears and distrusts popular movements, you should be aware that the FBI deemed Occupy Wall Street “terrorist” in its memos and closely watched its leaders. Conceivably, that—and the widespread police brutality against the movement—could have been what led to its ultimate failure.

Social change is not always inevitable. In spite of the FBI’s ruthlessness, civil rights succeeded, but that was the only tangible achievement of the New Left. American society over the ensuing decades did not become more equitable, as figures like King would have liked, but less so. The Vietnam War dragged on, expanding into Laos and Cambodia, until Nixon ultimately deemed it a hopeless cause and threw in the towel. Since its end, the government has armed terrorists in South America, invaded countries that posed no threat, and supported brutal regimes around the world. Aside from civil rights, just about every movement we remember from the sixties failed. [Later note--I now realize my summary of the anti-Vietnam War movement's role in ending the war is horribly oversimplified and inaccurate.] Today, the movements we need to correct society’s ills barely exist. The NSA’s programs are just another part of the government’s making sure they never grow any further.

NOTE: I originally said in this post that the government could "presumably" intercept communications between US citizens with approval from the FISA Court; I have removed this as it is incorrect.

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