Posts Tagged ‘Patriot Act’

“I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”—Osama bin Laden (October 2001)

Ironically, during the same week that we mark the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we find ourselves commemorating the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

While there has been much to mourn about the loss of our freedoms in the years since 9/11, there has been very little to celebrate. Indeed, we have gone from being a nation that took great pride in serving as a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state.

What began with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse.

Since then, we have been terrorized, traumatized, and tricked into a semi-permanent state of compliance. The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time, but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security.

All the while, the Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago. Most of the damage, however, has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—which historically served as the bulwark from government abuse.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all sanctioned by Congress, the White House, the courts and the like—a recitation of the Bill of Rights would understandably sound more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we truly possess.

We can pretend that the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, is still our governing document. However, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

Here is what it means to live under the Constitution today.

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind, assemble and protest nonviolently without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans should not be silenced by the government. To the founders, all of America was a free speech zone.

Despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Increasingly, Americans are being arrested and charged with bogus “contempt of cop” charges such as “disrupting the peace” or “resisting arrest” for daring to film police officers engaged in harassment or abusive practices. Journalists are being prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers. States are passing legislation to muzzle reporting on cruel and abusive corporate practices. Religious ministries are being fined for attempting to feed and house the homeless. Protesters are being tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and forced into “free speech zones.” And under the guise of “government speech,” the courts have reasoned that the government can discriminate freely against any First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Essentially, this amendment was intended to give the citizenry the means to resist tyrannical government. Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against SWAT team raids and government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons better suited for the battlefield. As such, this amendment has been rendered null and void.

The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen’s home without “the consent of the owner.” With the police increasingly training like the military, acting like the military, and posing as military forces—complete with military weapons, assault vehicles, etc.—it is clear that we now have what the founders feared most—a standing army on American soil.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you, unless they have some evidence that you’re up to something criminal. In other words, the Fourth Amendment ensures privacy and bodily integrity. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has suffered the greatest damage in recent years and has been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches and even anal and vaginal searches of citizens, surveillance and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors.

The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended. Certainly, if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. Yet when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution—civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums—that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears. However, as a growing number of citizens are coming to realize, the power of the jury to nullify the government’s actions—and thereby help balance the scales of justice—is not to be underestimated. Jury nullification reminds the government that “we the people” retain the power to ultimately determine what laws are just.

The Eighth Amendment is similar to the Sixth in that it is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” should be dependent on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether.

The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty—the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers—is clearly evident in this amendment. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme and which continues to pass more and more laws that restrict our freedoms under the pretext that it has an “important government interest” in doing so.

As for the Tenth Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance of a system of government in which power is divided among local, state and national entities has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, DC, power elite—the president, Congress and the courts. Indeed, the federal governmental bureaucracy has grown so large that it has made local and state legislatures relatively irrelevant. Through its many agencies and regulations, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level.

If there is any sense to be made from this recitation of freedoms lost, it is simply this: our individual freedoms have been eviscerated so that the government’s powers could be expanded.

Yet those who gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights believed that the government exists at the behest of its citizens. It is there to protect, defend and even enhance our freedoms, not violate them.

It was no idle happenstance that the Constitution opens with these three powerful words: “We the people.” As the Preamble proclaims:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION for the United States of America.

In other words, we have the power to make and break the government. We are the masters and they are the servants. We the American people—the citizenry—are the arbiters and ultimate guardians of America’s welfare, defense, liberty, laws and prosperity.

Still, it’s hard to be a good citizen if you don’t know anything about your rights or how the government is supposed to operate.

As the National Review rightly asks, “How can Americans possibly make intelligent and informed political choices if they don’t understand the fundamental structure of their government? American citizens have the right to self-government, but it seems that we increasingly lack the capacity for it.”

Americans are constitutionally illiterate.

Most citizens have little, if any, knowledge about their basic rights. And our educational system does a poor job of teaching the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For instance, when Newsweek asked 1,000 adult U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test44% were unable to define the Bill of Rights.

A survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that a little more than one-third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, while another one-third (35 percent) could not name a single one. Only a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto. One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration. And more than half of Americans do not know which party controls the House and Senate.

A 2006 survey by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that only one out of a thousand adults could identify the five rights protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, more than half (52%) of the respondents could name at least two of the characters in the animated Simpsons television family, and 20% could name all five. And although half could name none of the freedoms in the First Amendment, a majority (54%) could name at least one of the three judges on the TV program American Idol, 41% could name two and one-fourth could name all three.

It gets worse.

Many who responded to the survey had a strange conception of what was in the First Amendment. For example, 21% said the “right to own a pet” was listed someplace between “Congress shall make no law” and “redress of grievances.” Some 17% said that the First Amendment contained the “right to drive a car,” and 38% believed that “taking the Fifth” was part of the First Amendment.

Teachers and school administrators do not fare much better. A study conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis found that one educator in five was unable to name any of the freedoms in the First Amendment.

In fact, while some educators want students to learn about freedom, they do not necessarily want them to exercise their freedoms in school. As the researchers conclude, “Most educators think that students already have enough freedom, and that restrictions on freedom in the school are necessary. Many support filtering the Internet, censoring T-shirts, disallowing student distribution of political or religious material, and conducting prior review of school newspapers.”

Government leaders and politicians are also ill-informed. Although they take an oath to uphold, support and defend the Constitution against “enemies foreign and domestic,” their lack of education about our fundamental rights often causes them to be enemies of the Bill of Rights.

So what’s the solution?

Thomas Jefferson recognized that a citizenry educated on “their rights, interests, and duties”  is the only real assurance that freedom will survive.

As Jefferson wrote in 1820: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of our society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

From the President on down, anyone taking public office should have a working knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and should be held accountable for upholding their precepts. One way to ensure this would be to require government leaders to take a course on the Constitution and pass a thorough examination thereof before being allowed to take office.

Some critics are advocating that students pass the United States citizenship exam in order to graduate from high school. Others recommend that it must be a prerequisite for attending college. I’d go so far as to argue that students should have to pass the citizenship exam before graduating from grade school.

Here’s an idea to get educated and take a stand for freedom: anyone who signs up to become a member of The Rutherford Institute gets a wallet-sized Bill of Rights card and a Know Your Rights card.

If this constitutional illiteracy is not remedied and soon, freedom in America will be doomed.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have managed to keep the wolf at bay so far. Barely.

Our national priorities need to be re-prioritized. For instance, Donald Trump wants to make America great again. I, for one, would prefer to make America free again.

As actor-turned-activist Richard Dreyfuss warned:

Unless we teach the ideas that make America a miracle of government, it will go away in your kids’ lifetimes, and we will be a fable. You have to find the time and creativity to teach it in schools, and if you don’t, you will lose it. You will lose it to the darkness, and what this country represents is a tiny twinkle of light in a history of oppression and darkness and cruelty. If it lasts for more than our lifetime, for more than our kids’ lifetime, it is only because we put some effort into teaching what it is, the ideas of America: the idea of opportunity, mobility, freedom of thought, freedom of assembly.”

WC:  2481

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

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John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

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“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.”—William Binney, NSA whistleblower

We now have a fourth branch of government.

As I document in my new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this fourth branch came into being without any electoral mandate or constitutional referendum, and yet it possesses superpowers, above and beyond those of any other government agency save the military. It is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful. It operates beyond the reach of the president, Congress and the courts, and it marches in lockstep with the corporate elite who really call the shots in Washington, DC.

You might know this branch of government as Surveillance, but I prefer “technotyranny,” a term coined by investigative journalist James Bamford to refer to an age of technological tyranny made possible by government secrets, government lies, government spies and their corporate ties.

Beware of what you say, what you read, what you write, where you go, and with whom you communicate, because it will all be recorded, stored and used against you eventually, at a time and place of the government’s choosing. Privacy, as we have known it, is dead.

The police state is about to pass off the baton to the surveillance state.

Having already transformed local police into extensions of the military, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the FBI are preparing to turn the nation’s soldier cops into techno-warriors, complete with iris scanners, body scanners, thermal imaging Doppler radar devices, facial recognition programs, license plate readers, cell phone Stingray devices and so much more.

This is about to be the new face of policing in America.

The National Security Agency (NSA) has been a perfect red herring, distracting us from the government’s broader, technology-driven campaign to render us helpless in the face of its prying eyes. In fact, long before the NSA became the agency we loved to hate, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration were carrying out their own secret mass surveillance on an unsuspecting populace.

Just about every branch of the government—from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between—now has its own surveillance sector, authorized to spy on the American people. Then there are the fusion and counterterrorism centers that gather all of the data from the smaller government spies—the police, public health officials, transportation, etc.—and make it accessible for all those in power. And of course that doesn’t even begin to touch on the complicity of the corporate sector, which buys and sells us from cradle to grave, until we have no more data left to mine.

The raging debate over the fate of the NSA’s blatantly unconstitutional, illegal and ongoing domestic surveillance programs is just so much noise, what Shakespeare referred to as “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

It means nothing: the legislation, the revelations, the task forces, and the filibusters.

The government is not giving up, nor is it giving in. It has stopped listening to us. It has long since ceased to take orders from “we the people.”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, none of it—the military drills, the surveillance, the militarized police, the strip searches, the random pat downs, the stop-and-frisks, even the police-worn body cameras—is about fighting terrorism. It’s about controlling the populace.

Despite the fact that its data snooping has been shown to be ineffective at detecting, let alone stopping, any actual terror attacks, the NSA continues to operate largely in secret, carrying out warrantless mass surveillance on hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone calls, emails, text messages and the like, beyond the scrutiny of most of Congress and the taxpayers who are forced to fund its multi-billion dollar secret black ops budget.

Legislation such as the USA Patriot Act serves only to legitimize the actions of a secret agency run by a shadow government. Even the proposed and ultimately defeated USA Freedom Act, which purported to restrict the reach of the NSA’s phone surveillance program—at least on paper—by requiring the agency to secure a warrant before surveillance could be carried out on American citizens and prohibiting the agency from storing any data collected on Americans, amounted to little more than a paper tiger: threatening in appearance, but lacking any real bite.

The question of how to deal with the NSA—an agency that operates outside of the system of checks and balances established by the Constitution—is a divisive issue that polarizes even those who have opposed the NSA’s warrantless surveillance from the get-go, forcing all of us—cynics, idealists, politicians and realists alike—to grapple with a deeply unsatisfactory and dubious political “solution” to a problem that operates beyond the reach of voters and politicians: how do you trust a government that lies, cheats, steals, sidesteps the law, and then absolves itself of wrongdoing to actually obey the law?

Since its official start in 1952, when President Harry S. Truman issued a secret executive order establishing the NSA as the hub of the government’s foreign intelligence activities, the agency—nicknamed “No Such Agency”—has operated covertly, unaccountable to Congress all the while using taxpayer dollars to fund its secret operations. It was only when the agency ballooned to 90,000 employees in 1969, making it the largest intelligence agency in the world with a significant footprint outside Washington, DC, that it became more difficult to deny its existence.

In the aftermath of Watergate in 1975, the Senate held meetings under the Church Committee in order to determine exactly what sorts of illicit activities the American intelligence apparatus was engaged in under the direction of President Nixon, and how future violations of the law could be stopped. It was the first time the NSA was exposed to public scrutiny since its creation.

The investigation revealed a sophisticated operation whose surveillance programs paid little heed to such things as the Constitution. For instance, under Project SHAMROCK, the NSA spied on telegrams to and from the U.S., as well as the correspondence of American citizens. Moreover, as the Saturday Evening Post reports, “Under Project MINARET, the NSA monitored the communications of civil rights leaders and opponents of the Vietnam War, including targets such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohammed Ali, Jane Fonda, and two active U.S. Senators. The NSA had launched this program in 1967 to monitor suspected terrorists and drug traffickers, but successive presidents used it to track all manner of political dissidents.”

Senator Frank Church (D-Ida.), who served as the chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence that investigated the NSA, understood only too well the dangers inherent in allowing the government to overstep its authority in the name of national security. Church recognized that such surveillance powers “at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.”

Noting that the NSA could enable a dictator “to impose total tyranny” upon an utterly defenseless American public, Church declared that he did not “want to see this country ever go across the bridge” of constitutional protection, congressional oversight and popular demand for privacy. He avowed that “we,” implicating both Congress and its constituency in this duty, “must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

The result was the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the creation of the FISA Court, which was supposed to oversee and correct how intelligence information is collected and collated. The law requires that the NSA get clearance from the FISA Court, a secret surveillance court, before it can carry out surveillance on American citizens. Fast forward to the present day, and the so-called solution to the problem of government entities engaging in unjustified and illegal surveillance—the FISA Court—has unwittingly become the enabler of such activities, rubberstamping almost every warrant request submitted to it.

The 9/11 attacks served as a watershed moment in our nation’s history, ushering in an era in which immoral and/or illegal government activities such as surveillance, torture, strip searches, SWAT team raids are sanctioned as part of the quest to keep us “safe.”

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush secretly authorized the NSA to conduct warrantless surveillance on Americans’ phone calls and emails. That wireless wiretap program was reportedly ended in 2007 after the New York Times reported on it, to mass indignation.

Nothing changed under Barack Obama. In fact, the violations worsened, with the NSA authorized to secretly collect internet and telephone data on millions of Americans, as well as on foreign governments.

It was only after whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 that the American people fully understood the extent to which they had been betrayed once again.

What this brief history of the NSA makes clear is that you cannot reform the NSA.

As long as the government is allowed to make a mockery of the law—be it the Constitution, the FISA Act or any other law intended to limit its reach and curtail its activities—and is permitted to operate behind closed doors, relaying on secret courts, secret budgets and secret interpretations of the laws of the land, there will be no reform.

Presidents, politicians, and court rulings have come and gone over the course of the NSA’s 60-year history, but none of them have done much to put an end to the NSA’s “technotyranny.”

The beast has outgrown its chains. It will not be restrained.

The growing tension seen and felt throughout the country is a tension between those who wield power on behalf of the government—the president, Congress, the courts, the military, the militarized police, the technocrats, the faceless unelected bureaucrats who blindly obey and carry out government directives, no matter how immoral or unjust, and the corporations—and those among the populace who are finally waking up to the mounting injustices, seething corruption and endless tyrannies that are transforming our country into a technocrized police state.

At every turn, we have been handicapped in our quest for transparency, accountability and a representative democracy by an establishment culture of secrecy: secret agencies, secret experiments, secret military bases, secret surveillance, secret budgets, and secret court rulings, all of which exist beyond our reach, operate outside our knowledge, and do not answer to “we the people.”

What we have failed to truly comprehend is that the NSA is merely one small part of a shadowy permanent government comprised of unelected bureaucrats who march in lockstep with profit-driven corporations that actually runs Washington, DC, and works to keep us under surveillance and, thus, under control. For example, Google openly works with the NSA, Amazon has built a massive $600 million intelligence database for the CIA, and the telecommunications industry is making a fat profit by spying on us for the government.

In other words, Corporate America is making a hefty profit by aiding and abetting the government in its domestic surveillance efforts. Conveniently, as the Intercept recently revealed, many of the NSA’s loudest defenders have financial ties to NSA contractors.

Thus, if this secret regime not only exists but thrives, it is because we have allowed it through our ignorance, apathy and naïve trust in politicians who take their orders from Corporate America rather than the Constitution.

If this shadow government persists, it is because we have yet to get outraged enough to push back against its power grabs and put an end to its high-handed tactics.

And if this unelected bureaucracy succeeds in trampling underfoot our last vestiges of privacy and freedom, it will be because we let ourselves be fooled into believing that politics matters, that voting makes a difference, that politicians actually represent the citizenry, that the courts care about justice, and that everything that is being done is in our best interests.

Indeed, as political scientist Michael J. Glennon warns, you can vote all you want, but the people you elect aren’t actually the ones calling the shots. “The American people are deluded … that the institutions that provide the public face actually set American national security policy,” stated Glennon. “They believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change. But … policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter who occupies the White House: the secret government with its secret agencies, secret budgets and secret programs won’t change. It will simply continue to operate in secret until some whistleblower comes along to momentarily pull back the curtain and we dutifully—and fleetingly—play the part of the outraged public, demanding accountability and rattling our cages, all the while bringing about little real reform.

Thus, the lesson of the NSA and its vast network of domestic spy partners is simply this: once you allow the government to start breaking the law, no matter how seemingly justifiable the reason, you relinquish the contract between you and the government which establishes that the government works for and obeys you, the citizen—the employer—the master.

Once the government starts operating outside the law, answerable to no one but itself, there’s no way to rein it back in, short of revolution. And by revolution, I mean doing away with the entire structure, because the corruption and lawlessness have become that pervasive.

The game is rigged, the network is bugged, the government talks double-speak, the courts are complicit and there’s nothing you can do about it.”—David Kravets, reporting for Wired

Nothing you write, say, text, tweet or share via phone or computer is private anymore. As constitutional law professor Garrett Epps points out, “Big Brother is watching…. Big Brother may be watching you right now, and you may never know. Since 9/11, our national life has changed forever. Surveillance is the new normal.”

This is the reality of the internet-dependent, plugged-in life of most Americans today.

A process which started shortly after 9/11 with programs such as Total Information Awareness (the predecessor to the government’s present surveillance programs) has grown into a full-fledged campaign of warrantless surveillance, electronic tracking and data mining, thanks to federal agents who have been given carte blanche access to the vast majority of electronic communications in America. Their methods completely undermine constitution safeguards, and yet no federal agency, president, court or legislature has stepped up to halt this assault on our rights.

For the most part, surveillance, data mining, etc., is a technological, jargon-laden swamp through which the average American would prefer not to wander. Consequently, most Americans remain relatively oblivious to the government’s ever-expanding surveillance powers, appear unconcerned about the fact that the government is spying on them, and seem untroubled that there is no way of opting out of this system. This state of delirium lasts only until those same individuals find themselves arrested or detained for something they did, said or bought that runs afoul of the government’s lowering threshold for what constitutes criminal activity.

All the while, Congress, the courts, and the president (starting with George W. Bush and expanding exponentially under Barack Obama) continue to erect an electronic concentration camp the likes of which have never been seen before.

A good case in point is the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), formerly known as CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act). Sold to the public as necessary for protecting us against cyber attacks or internet threats such as hacking, this Orwellian exercise in tyranny-masquerading-as-security actually makes it easier for the government to spy on Americans, while officially turning Big Business into a government snitch.

Be warned: this cybersecurity bill is little more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing or, as longtime critic Senator Ron Wyden labeled it, “a surveillance bill by another name.”

Lacking any significant privacy protections, CISA, which sacrifices privacy without improving security, will do for surveillance what the Patriot Act did for the government’s police powers: it will expand, authorize and normalize the government’s intrusions into the most intimate aspects of our lives to such an extent that there will be no turning back. In other words, it will ensure that the Fourth Amendment, which protects us against unfounded, warrantless government surveillance, does not apply to the Internet or digital/electronic communications of any kind.

In a nutshell, CISA would make it legal for the government to spy on the citizenry without their knowledge and without a warrant under the guise of fighting cyberterrorism. It would also protect private companies from being sued for sharing your information with the government, namely the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in order to prevent “terrorism” or an “imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.”

Law enforcement agencies would also be given broad authority to sift through one’s data for any possible crimes. What this means is that you don’t even have to be suspected of a crime to be under surveillance. The bar is set so low as to allow government officials to embark on a fishing expedition into your personal affairs—emails, phone calls, text messages, purchases, banking transactions, etc.—based only on their need to find and fight “crime.”

Take this anything-goes attitude towards government surveillance, combine it with Big Business’ complicity over the government’s blatantly illegal acts, the ongoing trend towards overcriminalization, in which minor acts are treated as major crimes, and the rise of private prisons, which have created a profit motive for jailing Americans, and you have all the makings of a fascist police state.

So who can we count on to protect us from the threat of government surveillance?

It won’t be the courts. Not in an age of secret courts, secret court rulings, and an overall deference by the courts to anything the government claims is necessary to its fight against terrorism. Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case challenging the government’s massive electronic wiretapping program. As Court reporter Lyle Denniston notes:

Daoud v. United States was the first case, in the nearly four-decade history of electronic spying by the U.S. government to gather foreign intelligence, in which a federal judge had ordered the government to turn over secret papers about how it had obtained evidence through wiretaps of telephones and Internet links. That order, however, was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, whose ruling was the one the Justices on Monday declined to review…. One of the unusual features of the government’s global electronic spying program is that the individuals whose conversations or e-mails have been monitored almost never hear about it, because the program is so shrouded in secrecy — except when the news media manages to find out some details. But, if the government plans to use evidence it gathered under that program against a defendant in a criminal trial, it must notify the defendant that he or she has been monitored.

It won’t be Congress, either (CISA is their handiwork, remember), which has failed to do anything to protect the citizenry from an overbearing police state, all the while enabling the government to continue its power grabs. It was Congress that started us down this whole Big Brother road with its passage and subsequent renewals of the USA Patriot Act, which drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights. The Patriot Act rendered First Amendment activists potential terrorists; justified broader domestic surveillance; authorized black bag “sneak-and-peak” searches of homes and offices by government agents; granted the FBI the right to come to your place of employment, demand your personal records and question your supervisors and fellow employees, all without notifying you; allowed the government access to your medical records, school records and practically every personal record about you; allowed the government to secretly demand to see records of books or magazines you’ve checked out in any public library and Internet sites you’ve visited.

The Patriot Act also gave the government the green light to monitor religious and political institutions with no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they told anyone that the government had subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation; monitor conversations between attorneys and clients; search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without showing probable cause; and jail Americans indefinitely without a trial, among other things.

And it certainly won’t be the president. Indeed, President Obama recently issued an executive order calling on private companies (phone companies, banks, Internet providers, you name it) to share their customer data (your personal data) with each other and, most importantly, the government. Here’s the problem, however: while Obama calls for vague protections for privacy and civil liberties without providing any specific recommendations, he appoints the DHS to oversee the information sharing and develop guidelines with the attorney general for how the government will collect and share the data.

Talk about putting the wolf in charge of the hen house.

Mind you, this is the same agency, rightly dubbed a “wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast,” that is responsible for militarizing the police, weaponizing SWAT teams, spying on activists, stockpiling ammunition, distributing license plate readers to state police, carrying out military drills in American cities, establishing widespread surveillance networks through the use of fusion centers, funding city-wide surveillance systems, accelerating the domestic use of drones, and generally establishing itself as the nation’s standing army, i.e., a national police force.

This brings me back to the knotty problem of how to protect Americans from cyber attacks without further eroding our privacy rights.

Dependent as we are on computer technology for almost all aspects of our lives, it’s feasible that a cyberattack on American computer networks really could cripple both the nation’s infrastructure and its economy. So do we allow the government liberal powers to control and spy on all electronic communications flowing through the United States? Can we trust the government not to abuse its privileges and respect our privacy rights? Does it even matter, given that we have no real say in the matter?

As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, essentially, there are three camps of thought on the question of how much power the government should have, and which camp you fall into says a lot about your view of government—or, at least, your view of whichever administration happens to be in power at the time, for the time being, the one calling the shots being the Obama administration.

In the first camp are those who trust the government to do the right thing—or, at least, they trust the Obama administration to look out for their best interests. To this group, CISA is simply a desperately needed blueprint for safeguarding us against a possible cyberattack, with a partnership between the government and Big Business serving as the most logical means of thwarting such an attack. Any suggestion that the government and its corporate cohorts might abuse this power is dismissed as conspiratorial hysterics. The problem, as technology reporter Adam Clark Estes points out, is that CISA is a “privacy nightmare” that “stomps all over civil liberties” without making “the country any safer against cyberattacks.”

In the second camp are those who not only don’t trust the government but think the government is out to get them. Sadly, they’ve got good reason to distrust the government, especially when it comes to abusing its powers and violating our rights. For example, consider that government surveillance of innocent Americans has exploded over the past decade. In fact, Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin has concluded that, as a result of its spying and data collection, the U.S. government has more data on American citizens than the Stasi secret police had on East Germans. To those in this second group, CISA is nothing less than the writing on the wall that surveillance is here to stay, meaning that the government will continue to monitor, regulate and control all means of communications.

Then there’s the third camp, which neither sees government as an angel or a devil, but merely as an entity that needs to be controlled, or as Thomas Jefferson phrased it, bound “down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.” A distrust of all who hold governmental power was rife among those who drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. James Madison, the nation’s fourth president and the author of the Bill of Rights, was particularly vocal in warning against government. He once observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.”

To those in the third camp, the only way to ensure balance in government is by holding government officials accountable to abiding by the rule of law. Unfortunately, with all branches of the government, including the courts, stridently working to maintain its acquired powers, and the private sector marching in lockstep, there seems to be little to protect the American people from the fast-growing electronic surveillance state.

In the meantime, surveillance has become the new normal, and the effects of this endless surveillance are taking a toll, resulting in a more anxious and submissive citizenry. As Fourth Amendment activist Alex Marthews points out,

Mass surveillance is becoming a punchline. Making it humorous makes mass surveillance seem easy and friendly and a normal part of life…we make uneasy jokes about how we should watch what we say, about the government looking over our shoulders, about cameras and informers and eyes in the sky. Even though we may not in practice think that these agencies pay us any mind, mass surveillance still creates a chilling effect: We limit what we search for online and inhibit expression of controversial viewpoints. This more submissive mentality isn’t a side effect. As far as anyone is able to measure, it’s the main effect of mass surveillance. The effect of such programs is not primarily to thwart attacks by foreign terrorists on U.S. soil; it’s to discourage challenges to the security services’ authority over our lives here at home.

“I love America and I hate it. I’m torn between the two. I have two conflicting visions of America. One is a kind of dream landscape and the other is a kind of black comedy.”― Bono

Almost every week I get an email from an American expatriate living outside the country who commiserates about the deplorable state of our freedoms in the United States, expounds on his great fortune in living outside the continental U.S., and urges me to leave the country before all hell breaks loose and my wife and children are tortured, raped, brutalized and killed.

Without fail, this gentleman concludes every piece of correspondence by questioning my sanity in not shipping my grandchildren off to some far-flung locale to live their lives free of fear, police brutality, and surveillance.

I must confess that when faced with unmistakable warning signs that the country I grew up in is no more, I have my own moments of doubt.

After all, why would anyone put up with a government that brazenly steals, cheats, sneaks, spies and lies, not to mention alienates, antagonizes, criminalizes and terrorizes its own citizens and then justifies it in the name of safety, security and the greater good?

Why would anyone put up with militarized police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, act as if their word is law, and operate as if they are above the law?

Why would anyone put up with government officials, it doesn’t matter whether they’re elected or appointed, who live an elitist lifestyle while setting themselves apart from the populace, operate outside the rule of law, and act as if they’re beyond reproach and immune from being held accountable?

Unfortunately, not only do we put up with a laundry list of tyrannies that make King George III’s catalogue of abuses look like child’s play, but most actually persist in turning a blind eye to them, acting as if what they don’t see or acknowledge can’t hurt them.

A Government of Wolves book coverThe sad reality, as I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, is that life in America is no bed of roses. Nor are there any signs that things will get better anytime soon, at least not for “we the people,” those of us who belong to the so-called “unwashed masses”—the working class stiffs, the hoi polloi, the plebeians, the rabble, the riffraff, the herd, the peons and the proletariats.

For instance, we’re still being spied on by our own government. Incredibly, while the British courts recognize that mass government surveillance of cellphone and online communications is not only illegal but violates human rights, the U.S. courts and politicians continue to pander to the government’s whims, whether or not they run afoul of the rule of law. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) actually wants to make the NSA’s mass surveillance a permanent practice.

Not only is the government unapologetic about spying on its citizens, but government agencies are using their collective surveillance data to carry out Orwellian pre-crime programs that attempt to nab “criminals” before they ever commit a crime. To do so, they have to study our social media posts, our buying habits, and where we travel to and from, and on and on.

We’re still being treated like serfs working for an overlord, with little actual rights when it comes to our property, our bodies, our children or our welfare. It doesn’t really matter what the justifications are for such taxes, regulations, prohibitions and fines if they result in us having little-to-no control over how we live our lives. In Seattle, for example, even one’s trash is subject to government regulation. Residents who fail to separate out their food waste for composting are fined for each violation.

We’re still bartering our freedoms away for the phantom promise of security, and we’re no safer and much less freer than we were two decades ago. First, it was the Patriot Act, which continues to sanction all manner of government intrusions into our lives, from the government tracking what cold medicine we use and how we spend our money to what we read and with whom we communicate. Then it was whole-body scanners in the airports, which were expensive, invasive and ineffective. Most recently, we’ve been subjected to a song-and-dance number about the need for body cameras on police officers to rein in abusive cops, with little said about how these surveillance cameras will be used to identify and track those in their range, or how difficult the footage will be to acquire if needed for our own defense.

We’re still being fooled into thinking that politics matter and that there’s a difference between the Republicans and Democrats, when in fact, the two parties are exactly the same. As one commentator noted, both parties support endless war, engage in out-of-control spending, ignore the citizenry’s basic rights, have no respect for the rule of law, are bought and paid for by Big Business, care most about their own power, and have a long record of expanding government and shrinking liberty.

Our communities are still being held hostage by militarized police. Despite the fleeting attention paid to the transformation of community police into extensions of the military, the transfer of military equipment from the federal government to localities continues unabated, with more than $28 million worth of tactical equipment distributed in the last quarter of 2014. The federal government, in conjunction with local police, has created a standing army on American soil—something those who drafted our Constitution believed would devastate our freedoms.

We’re still exchanging one set of wars for another, to the delight and profit of the military industrial complex. We’ve gone from waging war against Iraq and Iran to sounding the war drums against North Korea, Syria and ISIS wherever it happens to rear its head.

Every once in a while, we get tossed a bone to satisfy that gnawing, nagging hunger for something that looks and tastes like freedom, democracy and free enterprise. Political elections, town-hall meetings, awards ceremonies, sports spectacles, high-dollar lotteries, reality TV shows, morning news programs and patriotic-themed blockbuster movies: these are all the trappings of a so-called free nation without the substance (what Shakespeare referred to as a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”). Indeed, Big Business, in conjunction with Big Government, have become very adept at distracting the citizenry so that “we the people” often have no clue as to the real nature of the political game being played.

Temporarily assuaged, easily distracted and suffering from an appalling case of public amnesia, we fall right back into our complacency and compliance, content to turn a blind eye to blatant abuses, forgive past transgressions, and forget all of the reasons why we should be mad as hell about the state of our nation.

So why do I stay? Why do any of us continue to put up with the gut-wrenching, soul-sucking, misery-drenched, demoralizing existence that is America today?

Perhaps I stay because I was raised to believe that anything worth having is worth fighting for, and I believe with every fiber of my being that freedom matters. In fact, I come from a long line of Americans who understood that there is a price to be paid for freedom, whether that means standing up to the British military, sitting down in a bus seat reserved for “whites only,” or pushing back against corporations who pollute our waters and pillage our lands for profit.

Perhaps I soldier on because I remember what it was like to grow up at a time when the only surveillance I had to worry about were the neighbors who reported back to my mother whenever I did something wrong, and I desperately want my grandchildren to experience that kind of carefree existence. I want them to know that there’s more to life than metal detectors, lockdowns, random searches and pre-crime units trying to nab them for a crime if they dare step out of line.

Perhaps I persevere because I know that there are genuinely concerned Americans out there, including some good cops, honest politicians and pragmatic idealists, who want to pitch in and turn things around for the better. As long as there is this small but vocal minority who cares enough to stand up and speak out, then all is not completely lost.

Perhaps I stick it out because I know that surveillance, overcriminalization, militarized police, power-hungry politicians and greedy corporations are not exclusive to America, and there’s nowhere you can escape to where tyranny cannot follow. No matter what you think of Ronald Reagan and his politics, he was right when he warned that, “If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.”

Most of all, perhaps I keep fighting on because I’m just not ready to give up on America. At least, not yet.

In the words of that revolutionary firebrand Patrick Henry:

Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! — I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!