The US Surveillance State and the Totalitarian Tipping Point



Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity. ~Wendell Phillips

american surveillanceIn the 20th century, the United States reached levels of wealth for more people than had ever been seen in human history. However, those in power whittled away at the nation’s basic freedoms, slowly and over generations. Complaints were few because material prosperity endured.

Today, massive and unsustainable debts are maintaining the US standard of living. Freedom continues to be whittled away at, but more US Americans are awakening to this hard truth, because material prosperity for many is evaporating. One area that they view with growing alarm is the emergence of the United States of America as a surveillance state, since, along with a militarized police force, it is the infrastructure of totalitarianism.

This is the second in a series of reflections seeking to understand these negative trends in the United States. The first essay analyzed the role of the US Supreme Court — in particular, its decisions that undermined private property rights and forced taxpayers to cooperate with evil. I concluded with the controversial proposition that the present system in the United States is post-constitutional.

For generations, US Americans believed that the first, third, fourth, and ninth amendments found in the Bill of Rights protected the privacy of citizens of the United States — that only a small number engaged in criminal conduct would be subjected to surveillance, following a court order permitting such activity by the authorities.

However, the arrival of new technologies provided the state with the means to circumvent these constitutional provisions. In the state of Florida, for example, automated systems are replacing toll operators, and they either process your information via your Sun Pass or by photographing your license plate and sending you the bill. According to the pre-paid toll program privacy policy, “information concerning a SunPass account is provided only when required to comply with a subpoena or court order.”

In other words, they are compiling and storing information on your whereabouts.

Affirming this reality, the American Civil Liberties Union stated on July 18, 2013, that “Police around the United States are recording the license plates of passing drivers and storing the information for years with little privacy protection. The information potentially allows authorities to track the movements of everyone who drives a car.”

However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation makes clear that the federal and state governments are monitoring not only US Americans’ physical movement, but also their telephone and e-mail communications.

The government is mass collecting phone metadata of all US customers under the guise of the Patriot Act. Moreover, the media reports confirm that the government is collecting and analyzing the content of communications of foreigners talking to persons inside the United States, as well as collecting collecting [sic] much more, without a probable cause warrant. Finally, the media reports confirm the “upstream” collection off of the fiberoptic cables that Mr. Klein first revealed in 2006.

The Edward Snowden revelations expose a national government that is systematically monitoring and recording the communications of the entire US American people all of the time, and beyond. From the Wall Street Journal:

The National Security Agency — which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens — has built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say. The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology . . .

What is equally disturbing is that private companies are complicit in the behavior — when not engaging in their own monitoring of internet communications — although, to be fair, their will is not always on the side of the spying. (See the video below.) Further, even though the immense and illegal surveillance apparatus is out in the open now, we see no remorse from the instigators and the elected officials responsible. Rather, they are doubling down, and their apologists are right there with them.

Unfortunately, there is no plan; there is no conspiracy. This expansion and centralization of power has continued under both Republicans and Democrats in the United States and would most likely continue under a third party. Centralized power has become an end unto itself, and as the late Czech president Vaclav Havel observed:

Once the claims of central power have been placed above law and morality, once the exercise of that power is divested of public control, and once the institutional guarantees of political plurality and civil rights have been made a mockery of, or simply abolished, there is no reason to respect any other limitations. The expansion of central power does not stop at the frontier between the public and the private, but instead, arbitrarily pushes back that border until it is shamelessly intervening in areas that once were private.

The United States is reaching a tipping point that leads into a totalitarian abyss and the crackdown on privacy whistleblowers is one of many ominous signs regarding where this centralization of power is heading.

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