us federal govt

There will be many people whose reaction to the US governments gaining access to millions of internet users and monitoring of reporters phone records will be a shrug of the shoulders. The right of privacy has been steadily eroding for decades even pre 9/11 but the process was accelerated by those horrendous attacks where privacy concerns were heavily outweighed by the governments priority of preventing another attack on that scale. However, reaction to this encroachment on the individual’s rights should not be one of resignation but of genuine fear and anger especially when we learn of the companies who are allegedly involved in this so-called prism program and the revelation that GCHQ may have been piggy-backing on to the program to spy on citizens in the UK.

Now in the modern world we live in with everyone’s Friday night session plastered all over social media you would be forgiven if your reaction was big whoop people don’t worry that much about their privacy so what if the government views what their friends can see on facebook.  The FBI is using this information to snoop into our private lives there inviting themselves into our living rooms to rifle through intimate details of our lives if this was happening in reality rather than in cyberspace we would be horrified and appalled and quickly kick them out.

Now there will be an argument developing especially in the wake  of the Boston bombings and the attack in Woolwich that who cares about privacy if spying on citizens private information can prevent these atrocities and catch genuine terrorists in waiting isn’t that worth sacrificing a little liberty for. This is not a new debate it is one that has been raging for centuries but if history has taught us anything there is no such thing as a little liberty and once it is given up government will infringe further than expected and once lost it can be hard to get back.

There are obvious examples from fascist dictatorship in the 30s to the soviet states in the 50s. However there are examples in democratic countries as well, Japanese internment, McCarthyism and Guantanamo Bay in America. Internment in Northern Ireland in the UK. Now you may think it’s fanciful for me to suggest that internet snooping may led to an institutionalised nanny state but just like enhanced judicial powers led to the incidents listed previously, enhanced surveillance techniques will become second nature to the security services and the line between terrorist surveillance and oppressive big brother style government will become more and more blurred.

Although this attack on civil liberties should be the focus of this story another aspect that is going to fuel opponents of Obama is that this if proof that the federal government has become so big it’s now a danger to ordinary US citizens. An argument has been made that if you allow government to expand in terms of social welfare, education and health that these are the stepping stones to an all powerful oppressive soviet style government. Now this seems hypocritical of a party whose last president expanded the federal government’s budget exponentially which included a huge increase in surveillance.

However the bulk of these attacks will come from the libertarian wing of the Republican party led by Senator Rand Paul whose argument is that the federal government should be as small as possible in order to allow individual freedom to flourish. The FBI and Justice department monitoring on both individuals and reporters is a huge example that they can point at to justify their argument to significantly reduce government. However individuals can only flourish if they have the means to and if social justice exists in society, something that can only exist with government intervention. So those in the Obama administration who want to use government as a tool to solve society’s problems must also rein it in so individual freedom is still respected.

So how do we get back from here is it too late to put the rabbit back in the hat are we stuck with the surveillance state forever. There is one person who has the power to reverse our misfortunes Barack Obama. When he was elected in 2008 Obama was seen as this great Liberal icon that was going to change America for the better that status helped shore up his Liberal base in 2012. It’s time he started living up to that reputation by reining in the clandestine actions of the FBI and ensuring that programs like prism are a thing of the past rather than the future. He should also put attention and political capital into alternative methods of anti-terrorism. This is one of the greatest political questions of our generation and we can’t just shrug our shoulders at the inevitability of the states power we need action from our political leaders to protect our privacy from those who would abuse it.

By Chris Toal