Since October, news accounts have disclosed a burgeoning Pentagon campaign for "detecting, identifying and engaging" internal enemies that included a database with information on peace protesters. A debate has roiled over the FBI's use of national security letters to obtain secret access to the personal records of tens of thousands of Americans. And now come revelations of the National Security Agency's interception of telephone calls and e-mails from the United States -- without notice to the federal court that has held jurisdiction over domestic spying since 1978.Well, now that depends on one’s notion of freedom, doesn’t it? If you’re one of the peaceful civilian protesters who was caught up in the dragnet launched by the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), or one of the tens of thousands of ordinary Americans, most of whom were not suspected of wrongdoing, whose telephone calls, correspondence, and finances were screened (and the information dumped into a government database) after the FBI issued a “national security letter” on you, you might reasonably feel that your freedom was being rather limited, and not so much defended.
Defiant in the face of criticism, the Bush administration has portrayed each surveillance initiative as a defense of American freedom.
Of course, you (and I and everyone else) have no way of knowing if we’re one of the people whose freedom has been encroached upon, or if we’re one of the citizens being told we should be thankful that others’ freedom is limited so that ours may be defended. The question each American, irrespective of political leanings, has to ask her- or himself is whether the circumvention of checks and balances, the evasion of official oversight, the subversion of civil liberties—including, possibly, your own—is, in the end, a bigger threat to freedom than the threats (of terrorism? of peaceful demonstration?) used to justify an abandonment of the rule of law in the first place.
(Crossposted at Political Animal.)