Civil liberties are big news again now that the news about the government spying on journalists broke last week. The story is making a big splash, because while everyone knows the government spies on foreign countries as part of maintaining national security, American citizens seemed to be exempt through various legal protections. It is becoming apparent that even though the government seems to protect Americans from hostile nations, it appears to be protecting itself from its own people. When a government "by the people and for the people" starts travelling down that path, it might be time to reevaluate the framework within which it operates.
The frightening part of all this is the fact that the government is in charge of determining that very framework. Much of this occurs in the Executive Branch and little congressional oversight is exercised. In other words, the people that will be violating civil liberties get to decide when and how to violate them. Such a scenario lays the groundwork for a police state that would put Enemy of the State to shame and keep George Orwell up at night. Here's four examples of how that nightmare is becoming a reality.
Nothing says "I'm watching you" like automated "eyes in the sky" hovering over an area. Drones proved that capability on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan so well that domestic law enforcement is becoming interested. Drone use on U.S. territory is limited to mostly to the U.S.-Mexico border, but that could be expanding to major metropolitan areas in the near future. No one questions using drones in a war zone, but their ability to conduct persistent surveillance over a large area for a long period of time has many privacy advocates concerned. Just who is watching through the eyes of a drone and what are they looking for? What will they try to use against me? These are just some of the questions that using drones on American soil raise. They are pretty troubling on their own, but when the Department of Homeland Security has described the 100 mile radius around the U.S. border as a "Constitution-free zone," the ramifications are truly frightening.
This goes all the way back to the second Bush administration. No one denies that the NSA conducts warrantless wiretaps on phone conversations. Some may defend its necessity, but this issue has passed beyond the status of an open secret into a publicly accepted narrative. Even though the ACLU continues to fight against it, Americans shrug with resignation about the feds snooping in on their calls. Most of us have nothing to hide, after all, so the line goes. The problem is that the government's activities against domestic groups are growing increasingly political. Even though some may not be be aligned with the targeted groups, that may change when a new administration comes to town. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, and executive powers historically refuse to die.
George W. Bush brought us the Department of Homeland Security, promising this new federal agency would help prevent additional terrorist attacks like 9/11. With the DHS came fusion centers, which were supposed to bridge the gap between federal intelligence organizations and local law enforcement. Unfortunately, Congress seems to think that the fusion centers do nothing but waste money and violate civil liberties by spying on "anti-government Americans." Now that the Obama administration has cast doubt onto what exactly anti-government Americans are, it definitely seems like no one is safe from the all-seeing eye on dollar bills.
Government spooks intent on tracking and collecting information about Americans are counting on how most people can't seem to go anywhere without a cellular phone. That's because cell phones are equipped with internal GPS used to identify the nearest cell tower so as to avoid breaks in service. That means cellular providers have near-real-time information on where people are. They archive this information in order to plan network coverage. Now the government wants warrantless access to this information so that police can track crime suspects. The problem is this provides the government with all that information whenever it wants and without the public's knowledge. So if the feds get their way with the Supreme Court, they will know where people are, when they go there, and how often, which is disturbingly reminiscent of Batman's methods for tracking the Joker in the film The Dark Knight.