Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s previously super-secret surveillance scheme over the American people violates the U.S. Constitution, which sets forth the powers and restrictions on power that we the people have established for U.S. officials. Calling the NSA’s surveillance scheme “almost Orwellian,” Judge Richard Leon’s ruling is an amazing one, especially given the long history of the federal judiciary’s extreme deference to the national-security state, especially when the two magic words—“national security” are spoken. It is truly incredible that a U.S. District Judge has actually stepped forward and issued a major ruling against one of the three principal agencies of the national-security state. The fact that Leon was appointed by a Republican, George W. Bush, makes the ruling even more astounding.
While such a ruling is something that advocates of liberty and privacy should celebrate, it’s important that Americans go to a higher level. Regardless of how the courts ultimately rule, as long as the NSA is permitted to remain in existence it will inevitably figure out new ways, including illegal ones, to spy on the American people and monitor their activities in the name of protecting “national security” and “keeping us safe.” Equally important, as long as the NSA exists, Americans will have to live their lives under the assumption that it is spying on them, recording their telephone calls, and reading their mail. The only way to avoid that is to abolish, not rein in, the NSA.
Americans need to be asking themselves some fundamental questions. Is the NSA — and, indeed, the entire Cold War-era national-security state apparatus — compatible with the principles of a free society? Does the United States really need an NSA? Does America really need a government that spies on people? What would life be like in the United States if the U.S. government wasn’t spying on people?
The fact is that the NSA constitutes an extreme violation of the principles of a free society. Freedom necessarily entails a zone of privacy, one that is immune from the prying eyes of government officials. Freedom entails freely talking on the phone, corresponding by mail and email, and generally living one’s life without concern that the government is recording people’s calls, reading their mail, and following them around.
Would America fall into the ocean if the NSA were abolished? Would it fall victim to a violent takeover by communists, terrorists, drug dealers, Muslims, illegal aliens, or boogeymen?
Of course not. But in life under a national-security state, fear is the coin of the realm. National-security state officials have to keep people afraid, constantly afraid. In that way, they can scare people into supporting whatever they are doing to infringe upon their freedom and their privacy.
Keep in mind, after all, that the United States lived without an NSA for almost 200 years. Our American ancestors would never have tolerated such a totalitarian edifice to be grafted onto their constitutional order, which is why Judge Leon stated, “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment” and that James Madison would be “aghast” at what the NSA has been doing.
In fact, it’s vitally important that Americans recognize that the NSA, along with its two sister agencies in the national-security state apparatus — the CIA and the military-industrial complex — are inherent parts of any totalitarian regime. Show me one totalitarian regime that doesn’t inculcate the citizenry with irrational fears and then spies on the citizenry in a purported quest to “keep them safe.”
The NSA, like the rest of the national-security state, was brought into existence as a totalitarian method to fight the Cold War against Soviet totalitarianism, which, not surprisingly, also had its own national-security state apparatus. Well, the Cold War is over. It’s time to raise our vision to a higher level — one that involves more than just reforming or reining in the NSA. It’s time to restore our fundamental, God-given rights to freedom and privacy. It’s time to abolish the NSA, not reform it.