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National Security: A Cat and Mouse Game…But Who Is The Cat?

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The NSA Scandal: How Much Privacy Do We Really Have?

The Controversy Over Nationwide Surveillance

Big Brother as depicted in the 1956 film version of 1984. Photo Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.The people of the United States hold their freedom dearly. That long cherished word “freedom” is maintained not through the workings of a peaceful approach though, as measures must be taken in order for our nation to fend off the threats to its functioning. Specifically in question is the issue of surveillance, and how much of it this country deems appropriate, how far we are willing to let the government peer in through our windows in order to weed out any possible trouble in its formative stage. Naturally, our first response to being surveyed is one of shock, which is obvious based on the importance we have granted Edward Snowden’s leaking of private N.S.A. reports.

These reports informed the American people of a truth that conspiracy theorists have long suspected: that our National Security takes liberties in gathering information about our phone calls. This truth was apparent long before Barack Obama held the position of President, and so hoisting blame upon him is a futile position to take as he inherited the legacy of counter-terrorism that 9/11 created. What concerns me is the fragile position that our country is in, in which small issues become big ones, in which a government collecting data about our phone calls becomes the breeding grounds for us to question: is this really necessary?

Well it was “necessary” when congress enacted The Patriot Act in 2001, which planted the seeds for law-enforcement to stretch its net a little further by permitting them to view business records of American citizens, and to detain or deport suspected terrorists. The word “suspected” here is key, as it was suspicion then, and suspicion now that gives credential to the PATRIOT Sunset Extensions Act, which President Obama signed in 2011. Updated, the act further opened the door for the government to supervise the American people, authorizing roving wire taps, and allowing it to survey suspected terrorists, not affiliated with terrorist groups, or as they call them “lone wolves.”

One response is to view this as a breach of human rights as its action does not require one to be even acquainted with a terrorist group for him to appear a likely suspect for terrorism. This may be justified, but if you have nothing to hide then why worry anyways? The answer to this would be that many citizens would prefer to not be suspects at all in the search for terror, and that too makes sense but then the condescending line comes through my head: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

So these lone wolves might exist as was evidenced by the Boston Marathon Bombings in which two perfectly normal kids suddenly became to those who “knew” them as murderers. In my mind, I can’t blame the government for tracking us as we live in a country whose facade of freedom is supportable only through such means. What scares me is the possibility of further and further prodding into our lives, of cameras placed everywhere, including our own homes. We’re already halfway there, and Edward Snowden was just kind enough to remind us of that. I credit him for shining a flashlight on the flashlight that was already pointed through our front window.

As a people, we are easily distracted. Well, this has recaptured our imaginations but in a way that simply does not make sense. Surprised? I was too…twelve years ago. Outraged? Well…you can beat your fists against the system but guess what? You have just become a threat. It is hard to trust a system that does things in secret, but it is not a matter of the government taking us for granted. No, our country is a large place, full of wires, full of information, full of secrets, and we as a people are too busy to notice every detail and so we require a system that automatically traces our movements. The cost of our physical security comes at the price of our mental insecurity. Questions begin to fester in our brain, leading us to imagine our futures as lab rats in an experiment that is being reworked as we go along, in which security has to up its ante constantly in the face of our perceptions of danger, in which the flag stands at half mast in honor of a camera that was shot to death during its capturing of terrorists in a gun fight.

Until we develop a group of vigilante justice units who weed out terrorism by snooping on each other, perhaps we should be grateful that we forgot for a while that we were watched. Just turn on the TV and let the flash of its electric light zap you back to ignorance with the same affect as those gadgets the Men in Black used. All joking aside, the question of whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a villain is a distraction from the issue at hand. He was a mere pawn in the game of chess being fought between cat and mouse, between citizen and his protectorate. The funny thing is that we are no longer on the same side; the government requires privacy to do its spying…as Dick Cheney makes clear…and the citizen need not worry about being followed as long as he understands that his stalker is a gentleman keeping his eyes open.

Ezra Prior is a Contributor to The Free George. Photo Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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