If you’re not living under a technology rock, chances are the government is monitoring you.
In a surprise revelation that makes the most dramatic of conspiracy theories seem reasonable, documents have been leaked that reveal that the federal government regularly spies on civilians, both at home and while abroad, through a program called PRISM. This program allows the government access to the digital records of many major technology companies, particularly Verizon. This terrifying monitoring goes far beyond phone taps to include email, texts, calling services (i.e. Skype), and social-media accounts.
Obviously, several companies, including Apple and Google, have made statements that they are not complicit in these activities, but the scope of monitoring has yet to be revealed. It’s foolish to think the buck stops at Verizon, and many suspect that these companies appear to be in the dark precisely because only a select group of people actually know about the information back-doors.
This domestic spying story is likely to be the biggest scandal of the year, if not of Obama’s presidency, but the one silver lining in this Orwellian story is that we finally have an issue creating bipartisanship.
Several senators are defending the administration. Both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Committee on Intelligence have stated that the monitoring is entirely legal, legitimized by legislation like the PATRIOT Act and institutions like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) explained that Congress receives regular briefings on the seven-year-long program, implying that it was successful at uncovering terrorist plots. Fellow committee member Senator Chambliss (R-Ga.) added that the program is used to gather information “only on bad guys.” Even Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) proudly flaunted his status as a Verizon customer, stating that he was “glad” such work was being done to protect U.S. national security.
At the same time, there are many who are demanding answers for this overreach of governmental power. Former Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) has been particularly outspoken, issuing a statement that calls the program “not patriotic” and insists that we do not have to sacrifice our liberties for “some glimmering hope of security.” Others have joined him. Senators Wyden (D-Or.) and Udall (D-Colo.) echoed Paul’s sentiments in a letter to the U.S. Attorney General expressing that many were “surprised and angry” at the government using such “chilling logic” to defend its outrageous actions.
Why, in these highly partisan times, is this issue breaking down party lines?
Well, first of all, the spying itself is a bipartisan effort. The White House’s main response to these allegations thus far has been to remind the American people (and perhaps Congress itself) that the Hill is just as complicit in these activities as the president. As Senator Feinstein noted, Congress has had full knowledge of this spying, and so far, it has done absolutely nothing to stop it. Regardless of whether or not they find it ethical, by defending it as a public virtue, congressional representatives are saving their own hides just as much as the administration’s.
At the same time, the opposition contains both Democrats and Republicans because they’re approaching the issue from two different angles. The Democrats are concerned with preserving civil liberties and the privacy of the American people, while the Republicans are getting both a scandal against Obama and an issue that exemplifies the problems with big government. Domestic spying, it seems, is something both Democrats and Republicans can agree is a bad thing.
The scariest part of this entire scandal, however, is not the warrantless monitoring or the support from our representatives. The scariest part is the idea coming from some congressional offices that the scandal will blow over as “citizens grow accustomed to the new reality that they are being monitored.” Domestic spying isn’t a revision to the tax code or the building of a new road that we should “grow accustomed” to it. It’s an outright violation of one of our most basic civil liberties outlined in the Fourth Amendment. The only thing worse than the government pursuing this abuse is their assurance that the American people are too stupid and lazy to do anything about it.