I got into a conversation the other day with someone who doesn’t understand what the big deal is when it comes to the NSA spying on Americans. He gave what I’m sure is a common response from Americans, which is essentially that he trusts the government not to abuse such power. He said, “Do you really think they’re using that power to just go after people they don’t like? They’re using it to go after terrorists so the only people who should be concerned about it are terrorists.” It’s a common argument, but it is breathtakingly naive and betrays a serious ignorance of history.
The US government has a long history of using wiretaps and surveillance on peaceful organizations that they don’t like. If you don’t believe me, do a google search for the term “cointelpro”. Cointelpro was an FBI program that infiltrated peaceful civil rights organizations (which the FBI pegged “dissident groups”), used wiretaps to get blackmail material on them, put out fake documents in their name, and a number of other things to undermine them. Think that sort of thing ended with J. Edgar Hoover? Think again.
According to recent press reports, Pentagon officials have been spying on what they call “suspicious” meetings by civilian groups, including student groups opposed to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel. The story, first reported by Lisa Myers and NBC News last week, noted that Pentagon investigators had records pertaining to April protests at the State University of New York at Albany and William Patterson College in New Jersey. A February protest at NYU was also listed, along with the law school’s LGBT advocacy group OUTlaw, which was classified as “possibly violent” by the Pentagon. A UC-Santa Cruz “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” protest, which included a gay kiss-in, was labeled as a “credible threat” of terrorism.
Do you trust your government not to misuse authority they shouldn’t have? I don’t.