I'm writing this blog post shortly after a Federal court has ruled illegal — illegal, not specifically unConstitutional — "The unprecedented and unwarranted bulk collection of the entire U.S. population's phone records by the government" of the United States, and not long before the US Congress debates extending key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act beyond their expiration date of 1 June 2015.
Moving into a major election year, the Congress is not going to cut back significantly on surveillance of Americans nor are they — or any other moderate-to-highly visible group of politicians — going to cut back significantly in years without major elections. The surveillance of Americans will continue, along with anyone else heavily using electronic communications for two basic reasons.
First, because large-scale bulk collection of data can be done and is routinely done by various political States and a hell of a lot more by "Non-Governmental Organizations" in a broad sense of the term: including commercial operations. American and others spill our guts to the companies, so the data are out there; and being out there, that data will be collected, sifted, analyzed, shared, sold, and used: by commercial operations and by security operations.
Second, because no politician with ambitions, and only a vanishingly small number of politicians of any sort would be dumb enough to be totally honest on the subject on record.
Let me repeat a thought experiment. Question to the President of the United States, or would-be President: "Sir (or Ma'am), given that the President's main duty is to protect the American people, will you do everything possible to prevent an attack on US citizens?" Answer from the President (or candidate):
I'm not going to ad lib some bullshit clichés here, and you won't get a good sound bite; so I've e-mailed my text to your smart phones but will read it for the record.
First off, Thomas Hobbes in the 17th c. said that the first duty of any Sovereign was to protect his, her, or its subjects, and that's true enough; but Hobbes, at one time notoriously, followed that premise about protecting subjects to a logical conclusion that so long as the Sovereign provided protection, he, she, or it had to be obeyed absolutely; and Hobbes pushed his argument to recommend what we'd call totalitarian government.
The first duty of the President of the United States is "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States": my first job is defending America, and performing that job can cost the lives of some Americans or, at times, a lot of Americans. The first job of the President includes preserving the US Bill of Rights, and those rights can endanger Americans.
Most Americans most of the time would be safer in a police state. That we don't have a police state protects racial and ethnic minorities and people with unpopular opinions, but the net effect, even among minorities, is a loss of lives of people who'd survive better under an authoritarian of even totalitarian regime. That "tree of liberty," as Mr. Jefferson said, "must be refreshed from time to time" with blood, but not just "the blood of patriots and tyrants" but also of average, innocent folk who'd be not be killed — or wounded or maimed — if America were as rigorously policed as Germany under the Third Reich: but, in a non-racist way, with equal opportunities for all trouble-makers to be neutralized.
So, my duty is to protect Americans, but limited by — as the truism has it — limited by balancing safety with liberty.
And balancing safety and liberty with concerns beyond liberty. So: Will I do "everything possible to prevent an attack"? No, I will not. What is possible to be done pretty obviously includes things that have been done. What has been done has been very well documented by chroniclers and historians, and in our time by courageous people working for groups like Amnesty international.
There has been at least one regime that has tortured children in front of their parents to break the parents and get them to cooperate in suppressing antigovernment activity — or minimally to terrorize the parents and population. Will I order the torture of even one child to prevent an attack that might save many Americans? No, I will not. I will leave it as an absolute prohibition, literally absolute: no torturing of children, not even if doing such evil might — always might — do good. Great powers including the United Kingdom and the United States have bombed cities to flaming rubble to pursue war aims. The US invaded Iraq on the possibility it might become a threat. Would I order a military nuclear attack on a foreign city to preempt a terrorist attack on a US city? I would not. It's bloody arithmetic, but violating the taboo against nuclear weapons and killing hundreds of thousands of foreigners wouldn't be justified even if it saved the lives of three or four or five thousand Americans.
Get the point?
Toughen up, people. If you're going to be free, you and your children are going to have to take risks. If we as a country are to behave morally, some of us who might've lived long, healthy lives will end up dead or wounded or maimed.
So, I'll protect your butts but also your freedom and that of your descendants. I'll do what I can to keep you safe, but I will also "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States" and try to keep us, as a people, decent human beings.
If you don't like it,
impeach me. OR
don't vote for me as President. OR
vote against me for re-election.
Now, what are the odds on such a speech getting made, or, if made, the speaker's having a career in US politics?
So long as politicians can't say, "Hell, no! I won't do everything possible to protect you," they're going to have to do such relatively innocuous "things" as spy on us.