The Future is Paranoia
Religion & Liberty Online

The Future is Paranoia

We know the government is listening, watching, gathering information. We know that we’re being told it’s all for our own good; after all, who wants to miss a possible terrorist attack? Sleeper cells, the Boston bombers, the haunting memory of 9/11 say all of this is necessary for our safety, right? Not so fast, says Peggy Noonan.

First, she reminds us that the NSA has – at least technically – only limited authority when it comes to spying on American citizens. Yet, it seems they are monitoring 75 percent of our internet traffic. And clearly, our privacy doesn’t matter a bit:

 [A] finding was revealed that the NSA violated the Constitution for three years running by collecting as many as 56,000 purely domestic communications without appropriate privacy protections. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court slammed the agency for “misrepresenting” its practices to the court, and noted it was the third time in less than three years the government misrepresented the scope of a collection program.

Noonan says that if 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that the government has decided it can do just about anything it wants in the name of national security. After all, if you’re tasked to keep Americans safe, you’re going to do whatever that takes, right? No holds barred.

It is in the nature of security professionals to always want more, and since their mission is worthy they’re less likely to have constitutional qualms, to dwell on such abstractions as abuse of the Fourth Amendment and the impact of that abuse on the First. If you assume all the information that can and will be gleaned will be confined to NSA and national security purposes, you are not sufficiently imaginative or informed. If you believe the information will never be used wrongly or recklessly, you are touchingly innocent.

While governments are supposed to balance safety with its citizens’ right to privacy and freedom, the rules have changed. Security has become a government industry, and civil rights come out on the losing end. Noonan quotes an anonymous U.S. Senator, whom she refers to as a “moderate conservative”, who sees the danger in all of this:

All this scares me to death,” the former senator wrote. “How many times do we have to watch government, with the best of intentions, I am sure (or almost so), do things ‘for us’? Now ‘security’ and ‘terrorism’ argue for and justify the case for ever more intrusions—all in the name of protecting us. The truly frightening thing is that we are told we have to depend on government to police itself. Not a comforting thought, for we already have far too much evidence of the lack of such self-supervision…I am fearful that this will ultimately lead a nation of sullen paranoids, ever more dependent upon government, ever more fearful of it. A free society, it will not be.”

Asking the government to police itself? Asking it to stop growing? Asking it to stop over-stepping its Constitutional boundaries? Maybe we need to stop asking, and start demanding.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.