Do you trust the government absolutely? Do you believe that the government only does what is in the best interest of law abiding citizens? Do you believe that the government is immune to corruption and misuse of power?
My bet is you answered “no” to at least one of the above questions. It is not in human nature to trust government absolutely because government is made up of humans and humans are, dare I say – human. Part of our standard recognition of what being “human” is lies in our fallibility and imperfections – it is the beauty and curse of humanity. Yet, we would like our government to be immune from the failings of humanity. Toward that end, our country’s forefathers drafted documents designed to continually focus and refocus our attention on a government structure that seeks to provide a balance between individual rights and freedoms, and governmental power. It is, and always has been, a delicate dance.
At no time in the entirety of our history as a country have citizens completely trusted the government. Instead, a culture of healthy distrust has existed to ostensibly keep the government honest. We all know as regular citizens that there are things our government knows and does that we cannot know. We understand that national security requires us to provide the government some latitude in keeping secrets. The challenge is knowing when the latitude given the government is being misused or abused.
One of the most quoted lines of the Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The United States Constitution is designed to both grant and protect those rights. These rights are the underpinning of who we are as a country – they shape the American reality. Those who protect these rights are called patriots. Those who seek to defile them by making our government vulnerable are called traitors.
Much has been said recently about Edward Snowden who recently leaked top secret details about U.S. and British government surveillance programs. Snowden is stated to have leaked these details because he believes the government is overreaching and the citizens should be aware. There has been much discussion and debate about whether Snowden is a patriot or a traitor for leaking this information. Which is it – patriot or traitor? Is there any middle ground such as unintended patriot or well-intentioned traitor?
Perhaps a better question is: Is the real issue here for most Americans Snowden himself or the information he disclosed about the government’s covert surveillance of citizens? Did Snowden really tell us anything we didn’t somewhat suspect? This whole Orwellian notion of Big Brother is old news in my mind. With increasing technology has come an enhanced ability to conduct high-level surveillance across a multitude of channels.
There is very little information the government cannot find out about citizens. Which begs the question that I believe we should be focusing on more intently than where in the world will Snowden get political asylum – the question of why the U.S. government with its dearth of surveillance information cannot do a better job of preventing crime and terrorism. More specifically, what is the benefit of this activity? Can examples be provided to the American public that allow them to weigh the cost of this intrusion with the benefit of it?
Is this really only about one singular crafty fellow who managed to leak top secret information and seemingly get away with it, or is it about the fundamental relationship between the U.S. government and American citizens? I would suggest our attention should be much more intently focused on the latter. We have to decide as a country what we are willing to give up for the sake of security and then we need to decide if that level of security is being achieved by the measures being allowed. But Snowden’s point is this – the American people on the whole didn’t decide on these measures – the government took liberties under the guise of national security.
On this day of barbecues, fireworks, and celebrations, ask yourself – to what extent do you approve of government surveillance and for what purposes? On today – of all days – we must remember that this is a country of our own making. Snowden, whether right or wrong, shed light on government actions that many citizens were unaware of – actions that some say are overly intrusive. What kind of country do you want to live in and how much trust will you place in the government? The ability to chime in your thoughts on these type of questions are part of the protected and essential liberties of this country. Chime in America – chime in.
Day one thousand four hundred and fifty-seven of the new forty – obla di obla da