CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An NBC story of May 8 arrived with little fanfare. An investigation revealed the FBI and some U.S. Attorney offices were routinely reading domestic emails without a warrant.
Consider the ramifications: Government violating the 4th Amendment just because the technology permits it. Decades ago, government intrusion was difficult. It required surveillance, a judge-signed warrant, and gumshoe detective work. It was expensive, too. Moreover, people who warned of such intrusions were usually limited to the fringe.
Now, four cultural shifts have combined to create a perfect storm for basic civil liberties.
One, the increasing paranoia of militia groups. They amass arsenals and practice for the arrival of a police state. But, their particular fears may be misdirected. Sadly, too few of these people appreciate the entire Bill of Rights, preferring instead to focus exclusively on the 2nd Amendment. Ironically, they may be the most subjected to illegal domestic espionage.
Two, widespread public ignorance and apathy. The response to the NBC report should have been Congressional hearings, thousands picketing in the streets, letters to the president. At least something symbolic. But a collective yawn? Nothing? And even this. "Well, I'm not doing anything wrong so I don't mind. They're only going after the bad people, right?" The Founders knew the power of unchecked government personally. They wrote protections into living documents so we could remain a free people. Now some Harvard law graduate with a god complex is snooping around my communications and I don't even know it. And nobody cares? Worse, I have no recourse?
The third thing that's destroying our freedom is the reality of a post-9/11 world. Americans so desperate for safety have sacrificed their liberties on the bloody altar of an all-seeing security apparatus. Does anybody read? George Orwell warned of these things in a classic work of fiction. Reading 1984 30 years ago was good clean fun, not a prediction of a future American dystopia.
The Boston bombing resulted in three stupid things. One, those blathering idiots in Congress calling for more cameras, even drones. Public gatherings must be kept safe. What about our children? That's right, appeal to the maternal instinct and civil liberties don't stand a chance. Two, Americans looked to government blindly to keep them safe, which plays directly into the schemes of people who crave power and control, the very people we do not want looking out for our welfare. Three, it turned a percentage of the population who were already deeply distrustful of Muslims into raging bigots.
The fourth thing that has helped destroy basic freedom in this country is technology without ethics. Launch a drone over American airspace but never consider the morals. Eavesdrop on mobile phone conversations but keep it a secret. Many writers have warned about the speed of such progress without the legal or ethical framework to operate. The tools have outrun their users. The cameras may be coming whether we like it or not.
But, the eavesdropping must stop. And the drones? Radicals have threatened to shoot them down. That's not the answer, but my fear is, the drones will just start shooting back. And when they do, posse comitatus will go out the window, joining habeas corpus, search warrants, and trial by jury. God help us.
Swindell is a professor of journalism at Marshall University. Contact him at chris_swind...@hotmail.com.