Barack ObamaThis issue with this massive domestic surveillance program is not simply if you can trust it with President Obama or who ever ends up the next president. The important question is, are you willing to entrust this massive information gathering machine to all the people who could potentially come to power over your lifetime? Once something like this becomes truly established as “acceptable” it is nearly impossible to uproot. Even if you think it is not being abused at the moment, the potential for abuse should be frightening.

History teaches us how much damage a government can do with this level of surveillance from the Soviet Union, to West Germany, to Apartheid South Africa.

We don’t even need to look to foreign examples to understand potential danger of government abuse. In living memory the power of the government has often been turned unjustly against Americans viewed a dangerous or undesirable. Image how these surveillance machines could have been used by individuals like Senator McCarthy to “uncover” networks of communist sympathizers. Picture how it could have been used in previous decades to expose homosexuals that were “endangering” young people by working as teachers. I’m sure many pro-segregation Governors and Senators would have loved to have access to database with all the phone records of every single civil rights organizer, activist and lawyer.

Currently, these systems are supposedly focused on potentially Islamic extremists. Since many Americans aren’t Muslim they are not bothered by this intrusion into privacy, but that will inevitably change.  In the future some events could easy make Chinese-Americans, political groups, certain Christian denominations, even “gun right activists” the main focus. It is funny that so many Republicans are concerned about the potential abuse of a gun registry but don’t seem to realize that the NSA’s massive collection of metadata should make it easy for the government to produce a virtual gun owner registry with a frightening degree of accuracy.

Photo by Barack Obama released under Creative Commons License