It’s depressing, the way that every week brings us new revelations about the extent of spying by the U.S. government. It’s depressing that the Obama Administration keeps on getting caught in its lies about spying, rather than coming clean. It’s depressing to see how extensive the spying has become. It’s depressing to watch as the majority of politicians, and the majority of American citizens, decide to shrug off the information that’s revealed, rather than confronting the problem. Both political parties are tangled up in the scandal of spying by the National Security Agency, and so it brings no partisan advantage to anyone to acknowledge and deal with the issue. Next week, a congressional committee will hold a hearing to examine how health care reform violates Americans’ right to privacy, but serious investigation into NSA military spying against Americans has yet to begin.
Over the weekend, a long, last summer holiday weekend for those of us in the United States, it was revealed that the NSA has been engaged in electronic espionage against the presidents of Brazil and Mexico. There’s no thought that the presidents of Brazil or Mexico represent a terrorist threat. So, we can now see yet another example of how NSA spying is much broader than the shield against terrorism that is cited as its justification.
On the domestic side, it’s been discovered that the Department of Justice has been given ongoing access to a massive database of information about Americans’ private telephone calls, for investigations that have nothing to do with preventing terrorist attacks. The program, called Hemisphere, enables investigators at the Department of Justice to search for information about Americans’ telephone calls, dating all the way back to 1987. The searches are conducted without judicial warrants as required by the Constitution. Administrative subpoenas – demands for information from mid-level managers at the Department of Justice – are all that is required for an American’s private communications to be laid bare. Investigations have found that Hemisphere spies have direct access to the databases of AT&T, but it’s likely that the program has similar access to records from other telephone companies as well.
I remember, when I was a kid during the Cold War, righteous American capitalists would lecture us about how, under the Communist governments of Eastern Europe, the governments created huge spying networks to keep a watch on their citizens. How horrible it must be to live under a such a system, they said, and how lucky we are to live in the U.S.A., where freedom-loving people would never allow such a thing to happen.
How lucky we were.