Our Govt. Is Turning into a Surveillance State That's Almost Impossible to Stop
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Throughout six years of spying on entire communities for no other reason than their religion, not a single lead or terrorism investigation was generated by the programme. Nonetheless, the damage done to the psyches of individuals who knew their community was deeply infiltrated was palpable. Communities and personal relationships were torn apart by government-induced suspicion and paranoia, as people became too afraid to speak or even associate with one another. As documented in AP's report on the programme:
"Interviewees stress that the ever-present surveillance chills - or completely silences - their speech."
"Every other store on this street could be an informant. You start wondering about each one: how did this person get his liquor license so quickly?"
"'Nobody will trust you with things that they did trust you with before... Trust is gone. My own neighbor - he doesn't say it, obviously no one says it. But I feel like it's on their faces."
Given what relatively crude means of surveillance can do to a community, what long-term effect will a pervasive, technologically-advanced, multi-billion dollar national spying programme have on the fabric of society? One means of combatting seditious and unwanted speech is to simply make ordinary people too afraid to speak and commiserate with each other whatsoever, and the surveillance state being built today may ultimately accomplish this goal.
As much as is still possible, citizens should seek to jealously guard their personal information and to be judicious with what they share on seemingly-innocuous social media outlets. One thing that can be assured is that the infrastructure exists to document - allegedly in the minutest detail - an increasing amount of private data, and until citizens begin to lobby government for safeguards upon their privacy the surveillance state will only continue to grow.
The potential consequences for individual liberty cannot be overstated, and it is incumbent upon those who wish to protect Constitutionally enshrined personal freedoms to make sure that government surveillance becomes an issue of urgent public scrutiny and oversight.
Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst focused on issues related to Middle Eastern politics.