The Fear of Big Brother Government

First the IRS. Then the DOJ. And now the NSA. Comparisons of the current Administration to the Big Brother Administrative State must now be taken seriously, particularly in light of recent revelations. The stories revolving around separate departments of our increasingly complex bureaucracy reveal something much broader about the current state of big government and the individual liberties of the average American citizen. The picture painted is one we as a society need to debate very seriously, for the interaction between the administrative state and its people may well be at a critical turning point in American history.

nsa irs spying voting rights actOne thing is clear: the new digital age has fundamentally changed the concept of privacy in our everyday lives. Our digital footprints, from simple cell phone calls (revealing one’s location and interactions) to our daily correspondence via email (revealing one’s communications and thoughts), to our credit card purchases (revealing one’s preferences), to our web browsing (revealing one’s interests) are increasingly becoming permanent. Revelations about the NSA’s intelligence gathering program, leaked initially by former NSA contractor Eric Snowden, demonstrate that the permanency of our digital footprints is not an academic afterthought, but is in fact being actively gathered by our very own government.  And while there are certainly legitimate reasons to monitor the movements of known terrorists, it is clear that the privacy of average Americans is implicated as well.  When collected, it is quite easy for the government to know almost everything a person does throughout the day.  The cementing of this information into a national “database” carries with it enormous implications.

The mere fact that this information can be gathered should not come as a major surprise; for years Google has utilized the information its algorithms gather based upon keywords from an individual’s browser searches and emails to determine which advertisements that person should see.  We as a society have generally accepted this as clever marketing and a cost of doing business today.  But what happens when the information is used and tracked not to send an advertisement, but rather, by the government to spy on American citizens?  Taken one step further, what if the government uses technology to monitor, in real time, the correspondence of a normal American citizen, such as a reporter covering a story that sheds a bad light on the government?

Such a specific example is used because this exact fact pattern may have actually occurred (with an emphasis on may).   CBS news reporter Shary Attkisson published several important stories surrounding the Benghazi massacre in late 2012, some of which contradicted the Administration’s stance on the story at the time. Her actions were entirely consistent with a journalist aggressively pursuing the truth — in short, doing her job.  Shortly thereafter, however, Attkisson began to notice unusual activity on her personal computer — it would turn off and on randomly at night, for instance.  Perplexed, she looked into the matter via third party forensics analysis. CBS news recently confirmed that her computer was indeed hacked from an outside source who appeared to have snooped on her daily computer activity, while ignoring her personal information, such as financial data and passwords. Thus, the entity monitoring her computer was more concerned with whom she was corresponding with and what she knew about breaking stories, such as Benghazi.

We should not jump to conclusions before knowing all the facts — it may very well have been a rogue snoop with zero connection to the government who monitored her digital movements. However, knowing what we know about the NSA’s all encompassing monitoring, the DOJ’s pursuit of journalist’s contacts, and the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, we must pause to consider the thought of the government as the actor at play here. It now appears that the NSA keeps a database of nearly every call made in the United States. We know that the Department of Justice issued search warrants for Fox News journalist James Rosen’s cell phone records in response to his publishing information that the government believed to have been leaked from the State department. We know that the IRS has targeted conservative groups applying for tax exempt status with additionally onerous scrutiny. It is not that far a leap to think that the government might attempt to monitor a reporter, in real time, for reporting information detrimental to the Administration.  And that possibility carries with it enormous consequences. If proven, it is evidence of an administrative state that may have grown to the point of no return.

More importantly, the possibility demonstrates the raw power yielded by unelected bureaucrats who administer the day to day activities of today’s Leviathon, i.e. the administrative state.  It is unlikely that the President himself ordered the monitoring of a particular reporter’s sources; it is, however, not beyond the realm of possibility to think that an unelected bureaucrat, within some branch of the government, did exactly that.  When an ideologue (see the IRS’s Lois Lerner) with an agenda to weaken political adversaries has a position of influence via a wing of the administrative state, that person can use this bureaucratic position to harass and monitor average Americans.  At this point, government then ceases to serve the governed but rather begins to serve itself alone.  The government could very well spy on political opponents any time it chooses; monitor the daily correspondence of CEOs to gain information about corporate mergers that it deems inappropriate; snoop on nongovernmental organizations who espouse viewpoints the government finds inconvenient.  The possibilities are seemingly endless.

One of the principal fears of big government is that a vastly powerful administrative state will infringe upon the liberties of individuals by targeting those who espouse political views that diverge from that of the government with harassment and bullying of the kind the IRS appears to have engaged in.  It is for this very reason that the recent revelations regarding the NSAs incredibly invasive monitoring program are so disturbing.  In short, the Big Brother Administrative State, watching our every move and then targeting the politically inconvenient, may very well be upon us.  Are we ready to accept it?

(Ben Everard is an attorney and producer based in Los Angeles.)

Comments

  1. Contrary to what many people think, the TSA’s obscene overreach is not new news. Whistleblowers such as William Bonney and Russell Rice have been trumpeting this fact for years, only few were listening. I am happy that Edward Snowden’s “revelations” have captured the attention of the American public, but we must not allow this to be where our attention ends.

    What the hell have major media outlets been doing? Certainly not their job, or the Snowden story wouldn’t have been the big deal it is. Anyone remember FireWire or Fast & Furious? These (and many other issues) remain as relevant as ever, but you wouldn’t know it by the media’s coverage or by the pubic discourse about it. A week or two seems to push the limits of our collective attention span. How sad.

    If we are ever to get better information, we must demand it…or look elsewhere for it. As for me, I gave up on MSM several years ago, and harbor little to no hope for its resurrection. Good riddance.

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