If there is something one can unfortunately count on in the realm of public discourse, it is the citizen who will dismiss mass surveillance as unimportant, that “if you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s nothing to worry about.” It is premised on what is a fundamentally un-American trust in the benevolence of power, and an historically unwarranted faith in those who wield it, particularly out of the purview of the public eye.
David Swanson does a very good job Here in confronting that mindset, and in explaining the foolishness that underlies it.
On top of that, the over-investigation leads to all sorts of harm to innocent people that was completely avoidable: wrongful prosecutions and imprisonments, deaths and injuries during unnecessary confrontations, and disastrous cultural and legal changes. Once everyone has become a suspect, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant. Once activists are targeted for surveillance and suspicion, many become reluctant to engage in activism — which, believe it or not, leads to corruption and tyranny.
It’s also possible to be wrong about one’s innocence. There are over 5,000 federal crimes on the books, plus 300,000 regulatory crimes, plus regulations, plus state crimes. Almost everyone is certainly guilty of something or easily made to appear guilty of something.
All of these points become clearer, I think, when one learns, not just what could happen in the near future, but what is happening right now in the nature of abuses often considered futuristic or dystopian. A great place — maybe the best place — to start is John Whitehead’s new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.
This book captures the stories of slowly growing abuse and suppression, and collects them in sufficient mass to shock readers out of their complacency. Have police pulled you over and done cavity searches yet? They have to others. Have they forcibly drawn your blood to check for alcohol? Have they stopped you on a sidewalk and patted you down? Some things you simply don’t know whether they’ve done: have they scanned your pockets, bags, and clothing as you passed? Have they filmed you with a drone and stored the information, allowing a retroactive search of where you were when, should the need arise? Have they tracked you via your cell phone or your license plate? Do they know your web browsing history and the content of your emails? Have they entered your home and searched it while you were out? These actions are all “legal,” even if unconstitutional.
Drones, in Whitehead’s view, open up a whole new level of militarization. As tear gas, tasers, sound cannons, assault vehicles, and other military weapons were passed on to police, so too are drones being domesticated. The reckless killing and blanket spying that will follow pale in relation to some of the suicidal stupidities the military has planned, such as nuclear-powered drones and drones carrying nuclear weapons.