About a year ago, Taymour Karim, 31-year-old doctor in Syria was abducted and tortured for his protest against the government in Damascus.
His captors beat him so hard that they knocked out two of his teeth and broke three of his ribs, yet he refused to give up the names of his friends.
Despite his efforts, his computer had already told the men beating him everything they wanted to know.
“They knew everything about me,” he told Bloomberg. “The people I talked to, the plans, the dates, the stories of other people, every movement, every word I said through Skype. They even knew the password of my Skype account... my computer was arrested before me.”
To many Americans, Karim’s tragedy seems like an awful story of abuse in far off country, but this week, we learned that the United States government isn’t much different.
The NSA now has access to records of every call made on Verizon cell phones in America, and is separately authorized by the Patriot Act to conduct wiretaps.
We recently learned that the NSA is pulling our personal information, photos, and emails from the servers of popular websites like Google, Facebook, and YouTube, and that they’re tracking our credit card purchases as well.
While we don’t yet know what the Obama administration plans to do with the details of who we’re calling, how long we’re speaking to them, and where we’re calling from, that’s beside the point.
The real issue at stake is the growing chasm between the powers we granted to government in our Constitution, and the powers government has seized.
Civil liberties were at the core of the American founding, and the recognition of these liberties in our Constitution and Bill of Rights is supposed to separate us from the totalitarian dictatorships of the world. But these liberties are quickly eroding, and all Americans, regardless of their political leanings, should be deeply concerned about the gross abuses of power we’ve seen from the Obama administration in recent weeks.
Even politicians as different in their views as Vice President Al Gore and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz agree: the government has infringed too far on our personal lives and liberties, and it’s time to take a stand.
A thousand paper cuts can be as deadly as a single gunshot, and our civil liberties are bleeding out from the sheer volume of direct attacks by the Obama administration. Whether it’s the IRS auditing grandmothers who have worked with the Tea Party, or the EPA targeting conservative groups, or the Justice Department harassing reporters, or even HHS extorting funds from health insurance providers, every day we learn about a different department violating our rights.
What’s scariest of all is that these each of these scandals continued for months or even years before they came to light.
It’s fair to wonder exactly how many other federal agencies are abusing power, targeting the administration’s foes, and invading our privacy under the cover of darkness. In fact, at this point, all areas of government deserve a healthy degree of suspicion.
In the era of the paternalistic surveillance state--where government gives itself permission to invade your privacy because it think it knows what is “best” for you--blind indifference is possibly the most dangerous threat to our freedoms.
Conservatives were roundly mocked for suggesting that ObamaCare authorized death panels, but after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke to Congress about choosing “when someone lives and someone dies,” it’s entirely reasonable to question whether placing so much power in a bureaucrat’s hands is such a wise idea.
We need to start viewing an attack by the government on one set of Americans as an attack on all Americans. When the IRS audits Tea Party organizations, or judges authorize the NSA to spy on all Verizon customers, we are all victims. The government could just as easily have chosen one of us to harass.
And with no end in sight to the rise of the powerful federal agencies, particularly with ObamaCare giving the bureaucracy even further control over health care decisions, there’s no reason to believe government will decide on its own to start upholding our civil liberties.
Upholding the Constitution is not a partisan issue, but rather an American issue, and if we don’t start standing up for our rights, there’s going to be no one left when the surveillance state comes for us.
Jason Stverak is president of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.