Edward Snowden’s release of classified NSA files on their surveillance program has shined light on the inner working of America’s intelligence organizations and their attempts to monitor and record the activities of American citizens. This dubious circumvention of our 1st and 4th amendment rights has civil liberty groups up in arms, meanwhile lawmakers and politicians are calling for the arrest and trial of this whistleblower. But what Snowden has done is far from criminal- what he has done is brought to light to the sobering reality that America’s government has crossed the line, and how the American government has rationalized this type of behavior in the age of digital communication. What Mr. Snowden has also done is provide a window into the intelligence community and the overwhelming fear and paranoia that grips our government over its own people. This culture of suspicion has trickled into our national conscious, shaping the world in which we live, and the world that is to come.
This dystopic realty has only been made possible by utilizing the aftermath of a tragic event which would have much deeper consequences than anyone could have ever predicted. It was after September 11th when America’s false sense of security was shattered by a seemingly haphazard plot by a few rogue terrorists in some far off land, under the leadership of a former C.I.A. ally, Osama Bin Laden.
The intelligence community’s lack of foresight into such matters proved to be a hard blow to the agencies involved, as well as the strength and perceived security of the U.S. government. In what I will call the ‘fog of terror’, the U.S. government took steps to make sure that such a tragedy would never happen again; more importantly though, they wanted to make sure information as serious and as threatening as the 9/11 attacks would never pass by them unnoticed again.
American Democracy Has Suffered
As the drums of war sounded off and the false justifications for the invasion of Iraq were just reaching the ears of the United Nations, many Americans were far too scared with all the talk of ‘biological war’ and ‘terror threat levels’ rising from orange to red seemingly every other day to even begin to analyze or take in what their government was doing- stripping away liberties for the sake of ‘security’. In the wake of the Iraq invasion, Americans and the world uncovered the orchestrated lies by the U.S. government, proving that the American government was less looking after the security and protection of its own people, but more looking after the ‘interests’ of the American foreign policy machine – that is, the hegemonic, long term strategic conquering of foreign lands for obscure and often frivolous economic interests which was famously embodied by the Dulles brothers when they ran the C.I.A. in the 20th century.
This policy of secrecy, deception and the dismantling of civil rights didn’t stop there. More and more people were picked up by the TSA, the DOHS, and the DOJ for seemingly inconspicuous things like having a foreign sounding name, or frequenting a place of worship deemed ‘suspicious’. This holds many more troubles than just a draconian government aspiring to be the fear that Orwell so aptly described in his book ‘1984’- the policy resonated with the American public culturally. Xenophobia and racial discrimination increased dramatically, resulting in crimes committed against people of color and Middle Eastern religions. People began to accuse others of being ‘unamerican’ for simply stating not all Muslims are extremists or that Islam was a religion of peace.
Facts became undesirable as an overzealous and wildly patriotic fever took over America. If the statistics didn’t match the talking points, they no longer were relevant- they simply became technicalities that needed some whitewashing to get over, much like the American government has done in various incidents since 9/11; most namely the Iraq war. This wild disregard for the livelihoods of their fellow Americans led America towards a path of paranoia, belligerence, and downright callous remarks and actions by both the citizenry and the political elite alike. The trickle-down effect- a nation profoundly more ignorant, more violent, and more suspicious than ever.
The extension of the USAPATRIOT Act to sanction the surveillance of hundreds of millions of people without probable cause is a reflection of the current state of affairs in American society. A society which through the advent of the internet and social media, has no real concern about their privacy, or is even confused about their privacy rights. Apps and websites like Instagram and Facebook have normalized the sharing of any and all information, no matter how inconsequential that information may seem.
But what this revelation tells us is that it doesn’t even matter if you willingly share your location, thoughts or conversations with your groups or friends- the NSA and the government at large already have unwarranted access to your daily activities, your patterns, your relationships, your conversations, and worst of all, it is all being collected and piled in a virtual sky high wealth of information, all for the sake of analysis by government officials to determine whether or not you ‘pose a threat’ to ‘national security’.
Despite people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden sounding the alarms on such nefarious activities, the American public and its government continue the mislead policies pursued in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, even extending and deepening them to only add onto what Edward Snowden calls the ‘architecture of oppression’. So it seems as though Hobbies and his ‘Leviathan’ have come to life.
An all powerful government which governs over a society driven by its most primal and destructive of passions; fear. But what Hobbes and the U.S. government have failed to realize is that placing our security over our freedoms and liberties puts the security of our nation at threat by its own hands. If we are to allow our government in times of instability and chaos to lock in such detrimental policies like the USAPATRIOT Act, we are going to get exactly what we are trying to fight against- the erosion of our democracy to a force hostile to liberty.