The politics of this whole thing drives me crazy. The same people who looked the other way when the Bush administration was engaged in the same activity are now decrying "Big Brother," and are all of the sudden huge civil libertarians. Note that many of these same people call the ACLU a liberal organization and denounce it as "evil." It really is the height of hypocrisy.
I've been told that this is neither a Democratic issue nor a Republican issue. Really? Then where were you when the PATRIOT Act was being passed and Americans were being spied on without a warrant? The Republicans were silent--and many Democrats were, too--as the giant war machine roared on. Anyone who spoke out against it was called unpatriotic and a supporter of terrorists.
If you doubt me on this, imagine if a Republican were in the White House now. How many Republicans would be trumpeting the right of government to engage in this activity all in the name of national security? That brings me to my next point.
National Security has, for a long time, been a blanket excuse for the government engaging in a whole host of activities that trample the rights of American citizens. This was rampant during World War I, when many individuals--mostly socialists--were under the supposedly erroneous notion that freedom of speech was an essential element in a democracy, even during wartime.
Evidently, however, all the government officials must do is utter the phrase "national security," and all bets are off. Speech is suppressed, the Fourth Amendment is ignored, and some people go to prison. Thankfully, the Supreme Court through the years has prohibited the government from engaging in prosecution for "seditious" speech, but it's important to note that the Espionage Act of 1917 is still used by prosecutors to suppress speech.
I'm not as forceful on this point, but the right of individuals to speak out against the government raises a serious question: at what point does someone cease being a whistleblower and become a leaker of classified information?
Don't we want someone to let American citizens know when its government is doing something wrong? Then why is Bradley Manning being prosecuted? Shouldn't we know when our government is murdering journalists and other civilians? And now, the government will undoubtedly target Edward Snowden for his information regarding the NSA spying activities.
Don't get me wrong. National security is important. But the government should not be able hide behind that cause and end the debate--it should be a starting point. We should at least be able to weigh Americans' right to know what their government is doing and their right to privacy against the government's duty and ability to keep Americans safe. But right now, we can't even have that debate. Anyone who dares to defend Manning, Snowden, or Daniel Ellsberg--or even question whether their decisions were justified--is branded an extremist or unAmerican. As long as "national security" is the card that trumps all others, that will, sadly, continue to be the case.