It is melancholy to observe how swiftly Americans have been divided by federal surveillance. A new poll finds that a majority view Edward Snowden as a whistleblower, and a plurality of respondents say “government goes too far in restricting civil liberties in the name of anti-terrorism.” These worrywarts need to be reminded of all the reasons to trust their government. What reason do any of us have to doubt that President Obama can be fully trusted on this matter?
Numerous Obama Administration officials say that they’re acting within the law, that they’re careful to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans, and that they’d never abuse their power. Would elected officials really break their promises or lie to the public? What precedent is there in U.S. history to suggest that politicians would violate their oath to uphold the Constitution? Would the government really abuse civil liberties to fight terrorism of all things? And what reason has Obama himself given us to think that he’d brazenly break his word? Besides, the NSA, CIA, and FBI wouldn’t dare contravene the law while under the supervision of a Constitutional law expert with Obama’s reputation for investigating and prosecuting lawbreakers. Seeing how he dealt with Bush-era torturers, would you break the law on his watch?
Some Americans worry that the NSA conducts its surveillance in secret, under the supervision of a secret court with secret rules. But as Hendrik Hertzberg writes, “I still don’t know of a single instance where the N.S.A. data program has encroached on or repressed any particular person’s or group’s freedom of expression or association in a tangible way. Nor have I come across a clear explanation of exactly how the program could be put to such a purpose.” Yeah. How would you even abuse a vast database detailing the private communications of Americans?
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