Unchecked NSA Surveillance Sets the Stage for an American Stasi

By Eapen Thampy
Our America Initiative Advisory Council Member of Drug Policy

Recent revelations that the NSA engages in warrantless dragnet surveillance have many profound implications for American rights and global stability.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, a surveilled population changes its behavior in several ways. Insofar as some of those adaptive behavioral innovations aim to create social and relational spaces maximizing privacy, even pervasive electronic surveillance may have fundamental limits of access. Yet this only sets the stage for a further totalitarian project; the wholesale penetration of society by governments leveraging dragnet electronic collection to develop informants throughout populations.


The Germans are the most vocal of this danger; the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic, Marianne Birthler, says, “The secret police of the communist dictatorships were formed according to the Soviet model. They fulfilled their primary task, protecting the power of the ruling parties, with no consideration for human rights. Even if large differences exist from country to country and from decade to decade – the goal was al­ways to penetrate and control all areas of society. The secret police comprehensively monitored the popu­lation, intimidated them and created a climate of fear and powerlessness. The victims remain uncounted, even today. The communist secret police were simi­larly structured and worked closely together. The academic research into this collaboration is still in its beginning phases – not least of all because the files of the KGB are primarily closed.”

One thing is sure in my mind; if this fascism develops further in the United States, it will not take the mantle of Marx, Lenin, or Stalin. Communism to us is a dead ideology. But the lesson is that tyranny does not require the mantle of any particular ideology; all that is necessary is that there are ruling parties and elites that enforce their power by totalitarian means.

The NSA’s vast powers represent the turnkey to that dystopian future. I, for one, am unwilling to accept that path; we must seek drastic reform now and end this system of extrajudicial, unlimited surveillance and limit the powers of the federal government to the strictures of the Consitution.

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