A nation may lose its liberties in a day and not miss them in a century.
Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755)
The leak by US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden has given us a unique opportunity to ask a vitally important question: Do we want unchecked surveillance? If we give up our right to privacy, what wider implications does it have on our democracy and society?
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The answer to these above-mentioned questions can be found in many volumes of history. Social thinkers like Montesquieu, whose ideas were crucial in creating today a functioning Western democracy, warned us about the dangers of absolute and unchecked power.
It’s not my estimation, but that of many others who are equally concerned about how the United States has compromised its civil rights, specifically the fourth and fifth amendments, which guard its citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures and abuse of government authority.
Considering the close links that the NSA has with the CIA, it’s clear that such organizations would care less about civil liberties.
A security organization that requires up to an estimated $80 billion to operate and may have 100,000 employees ensure that we’ll be applying the same wrong medicine to the problem of security. Like a locksmith, who will never admit that crime has fallen sharply, the NSA will never downsize itself either but continue to grow and amass more power and pry into the lives of billions of people.
It is the aim of any state, be it small or a hyperpower like the United States, to survive and attain immortality. States go about this in a number of ways. Some, like the NSA, monitor and place under scrutiny our privacy in a belief it makes our country more secure.
Former Eastern European communist states and the Soviet Union attempted the same thing. It wasn’t the lack of civil liberties that eventually led to the downfall of these former autocratic states, but unchecked power and surveillance.
Even power-hungry military dictatorships in Latin America, which were backed by Washington and the CIA, planted the seeds of their destruction when the believed tried to attain absolute unchecked power.
When any state or government believes that it is invincible because it controls ultimate power, that’s the moment when their irreversible demise begins. The reason why they fall from grace is because they lose focus on the problem and decide to survive with the help of absolute power and force.
If we want to make the world a more secure place, we have to address social inequality, hunger, corporate power, autocratic regimes, human rights violations, privilege, environmental damage and others that we have the resources and ability to solve together.
The demise of a country doesn’t begin with an attack like 9/11, but on the credibility of its actions. True, a country may arm itself to the teeth because of fear, but that is only the penultimate phase before tyranny, social strife, demise and revolution.