In conversations with people in my local community, I have discerned a pattern. While most people look on the NSA's massive surveillance programs disfavorably, they concurrently conclude that it's not so bad. I have nothing to hide is a common refrain.
My question is: How can you be sure? How do you know what the surveillance state specifically is looking for? How do you know that something that today is constitutionally-protected activity might later be deemed not to be or, even worse, that the people snooping don't care if it's constitutionally-protected activity?
Remember Martin Luther King, Jr.? He was never considered to be a terrorist threat. It wasn't alleged that he had ever killed anyone, embezzled funds or bribed public officials. In fact, no one ever suspected that he was up to anything illegal at all (other than OVERT civil disobedience)! Despite this fact, the FBI secretly hounded him for nearly a decade, up until the very day of his assassination.
They bugged his home, his office, homes of his close associates and even many of the motel rooms he stayed in as he traveled around the country. They employed informants to try to get close to him and they spied on him in other ways too. While some of this spying was patently illegal, much of it had been signed off on by US Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
And why did the Kennedy and Johnson administrations -- liberal Democrats both -- consider King such a threat? Because he made them look bad!! He made Kennedy look bad because of his work as the leading civil rights activist that showed the nation and the world the inhumane treatment of Negroes and how the Kennedy administration wasn't doing very much to stop it. He made the Johnson administration look bad by vociferously opposing the Vietnam War, something Johnson was escalating.
Most of King's activities were well within the parameters of his constitutional rights and the ones that weren't -- acts of civil disobedience -- were undertaken purposely to expose the unethical and immoral nature of the laws he readily broke.
While most of us will never show an nth degree of the courage that King did to speak out against the injustices in our world today, the important point of this brief lesson in history is that the rights bestowed upon us by the US Constitution offer little or no protection against current government snooping. Even though American citizens supposedly enjoy the rights of free speech and free assembly, if a government spook gets it in their head that we somehow pose some sort of threat to someone or something, those two rights simply will evaporate before our eyes.
If a future president is an avowed member of the Assembly of God Church, he/she may decide that any church to the left of the Southern Baptists poses a threat to this great nation and all the members of moderate or liberal churches will be suspect.
If a future president is a lifelong member of the NRA, he/she may decide that any person who advocates for reasonable gun control is some kind of commie and therefore poses a threat to national security.
If a future president is a puritanical prude, he/she may decide that pornography -- loosely defined -- is the scourge of the nation. And so this president will have no qualms at all in trying to discern which citizens have ever visited a porn website or looked at an image which contains a naked belly button.
If a future president is the former CEO of a major corporation, he/she may decide to go after anyone who has ever worked for a competing company, even the folks who mop the floors or work in the mail room.
And if a future president simply is paranoid, he/she may be looking at everybody because you never know where the next "threat" will come from.
This is the problem we face. With all of our communications and financial dealings slurped up and stored in government warehouses, anything we've ever said or done -- even the most innocuous stuff -- becomes available to be cherry-picked by one or more persons utilizing almost any criteria imaginable. Today's commonplace activities may be viewed with a suspicious eye tomorrow and, because it is done in secret, we may never know what hit us until we are picking ourselves up off of the floor.