Saturday, August 09, 2008
The recent revelation regarding state police surveillance of a local peace activist group in Maryland is reminiscent of the Nixon years. Back then, everyone assumed that if someone was involved in any political activity left of the mainstream, one's phone was tapped. I grew up believing one shouldn't say certain things on the telephone--just in case. But I also always believed that the fear was overblown--why would the government bother with such small fry when there were real threats to focus on?
The news about the Takoma Park group is only the latest--the FBI spied on the faith-based group School of the Americas Watch in Georgia and anti-war protesters in Denver -- as well as throughout the country--as opposition to the Iraq war began.
September 11th changed the socio-political climate in so many ways that probably won't become clear for decades--but one obvious change is that the rules are being re-written, because we're allowing them to be. The abhorrence of domestic surveillance of citizens that was engendered by the Nixon/Hoover spying is a thing of the past. But I suppose we can't just blame Sept 11--it's probably also caused by the gradual eroding of the expectation of privacy during the electronic age: we happily post our private lives on Facebook and Myspace, give total strangers our credit card and bank account numbers, talk about our sex lives on national television. I think this erosion of our sense of privacy is one reason that this domestic spying doesn't seem to have shocked the nation--no one but watch-dog groups really seems to be upset. Of course, those who remember the Nixon admin's spying probably feel cynical--what did we expect? and plenty of folks who have been paranoid all along probably feel happily vindicated--we told you so! Although the Who was wrong when they declared we won't be fooled again, I guess a nation feels less foolish when it has no faith in its government to begin with.
If we don't value our privacy, we can't expect that our government will--if we are not outraged by the actions of the Maryland state police and the FBI, who will be? And if we allow the Republicans to convince us that government is necessarily bad--as apparently they have (that's one of their goals when in office--to screw up government so badly that taxpayers will stop wanting to pay for it)--can we blame government for doing what we apparently expect it to do--or don't give a damn if it does?
UPDATE, 12/7/08: the revelations about spying on innocent American just keep on comin'...