Seeking solutions instead of blame
Let’s acknowledge the very uncomfortable truth: most of us are unwilling participants in a massive government-industrial surveillance experiment that would cause stalker-envy in the Stasi.
On the government side, the President falls back on legalisms (“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls”) while ignoring the fact that hardware, software, and/or people are tracking and recording information from your calls, your travels, your credit card purchases, your e-mails and files, your photographs, your bills, your voice over internet calls, and more. While Mr. Obama may not technically be lying, he’s intending to deceive. Similarly, he doesn’t want any discussion on how the government’s surveillance laws are interpreted and he prefers, once again, to throw down his well-used “trust me” card.
But the “trust me” card isn’t a viable play when the reservoir of trust has run dry.
On the industry side, the internet-based companies participating in Prism (there’s also the Boundless Informant program) offer a similar treatment: tightly worded denials that are intended to mislead. And they do so with the top cover of plausible deniability and secrecy provided by (and required by) the government. (The recurring use of the phrase no “direct access to our servers” suggests the government may have participated in drafting press releases.) And chances are, we’re just starting to find out about the depth and breadth of the government-industrial surveillance complex.
But in time, the government-industrial surveillance complex is likely to become less an issue of public outrage and more of a political ‘Who can we blame?’ issue. Even before this disgrace, the President knew his “Catastrophic Presidency Fail Light” had been illuminated steadily, so his position is simple: say Congress was all briefed (Congress disagrees), the judges all signed off, and therefor assert the program is all neatly legal.
Indeed, it may be so, but legal does not mean the surveillance state is just, proper, moral, ethical, beneficial, justified, or warranted. Those who were in the know in Congress are taking their cues from Mr. Obama and are falling back on the claim to legality, rubberstamped as it appears to be be.
So is there a solution to what appears to be a national intent-to-deceive on an unprecedented scale? A first step is to move from depression to acceptance. There are things that can be done and doing nothing would be a poor choice.
Like Soylent Green, our government (the IRS, the State Department, the Justice Department, the NSA, etc.) is made up of people. And all people are flawed, fallen creatures even as our federal government has long blown past the marginal benefits (arguable as they are) that we are said to receive. The conclusion now seems obvious: an ever bigger government creates ever bigger problems and ever bigger unintended consequences. This seems to be true whether government is promising to keep you safe (often, from yourself), employed, well-regulated, healthy, fed, educated, funded in retirement, or whatever else unkeepable promises may have been made, explicit or implicit.
If these things are true, it would seem the real solution to the government-industrial surveillance complex is to make the government smaller. (Industrial surveillance is another issue altogether.)
But how—exactly—do we make government smaller? It isn’t that hard; in fact, it’s simple.
When the government is overfunded (from both taxpayer contributions and debt), it is in a position to do too much, which as we’ve seen throughout history, isn’t a good thing. This happens even as government itself says, “Whatever we’re getting, it isn’t enough. Nor will it ever be so.”
Ergo, consider the words of the wise man who said, “If it ain’t funded, it ain’t.”