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Glenn Greenwald: How America's Surveillance State Breeds Conformity and Fear

Once the government is able to monitor everything we do and say, we will be unable to fight back.

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Just listen to these two quotes that they gave to the New York Times a month ago.  Senator Wyden said:

“I want to deliver a warning this afternoon. When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned, and they will be angry.” 

Now he’s talking about a different American people than the one that I know, but the point is that if you were paying attention and cared about these things as you should, you will be stunned and angry to learn about what the government is doing under this already broad act.

Senator Udall said, “Americans will be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.” Now they are two, as I said, established Democrats warning that the Democratic control of the Executive branch is massively abusing this already incredibly broad Patriot Act. And one of the things they are trying to do is extract some basic information from the NSA about what it is they’re doing in terms of the surveillance on the American people.  Because even though they are on the Intelligence Committee, they say they don’t even know the most basic information about what the NSA does including even how many Americans have had their e-mails read or had their telephone calls intercepted by the NSA.

So one of the things they did a couple months ago is, they wrote a demand to the NSA saying, we don’t want you to tell us anything sensitive, we just need to know the basic information about what it is that you’re doing. Such as, for example, the thing we want to know, is how many American citizens on U.S. soil have had their e-mails read by you, and their telephone calls listened to by you. That’s what we want to know, most of all.

And the NSA responded two weeks ago by saying -- I’m not exaggerating, I’m not saying this to be humorous, I’m not being ironic, I’m not snippeting a part of it to distort it -- their answer was, "We can’t tell you how many millions of Americans are having their e-mails read by us, and their telephone calls listened in by us, because for us to tell you that would violate the privacy of American citizens." (Laughter)

And just so you believe me, because if I were you I’d think, “That’s just ridiculous.” I just want to read you from the letter that the head of the NSA wrote to the Intelligence Committee as a response, “The NSA inspector general and NSA leadership both agree that a review of the sort you’re suggesting would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons.”

So, I think the important thing to realize is how little we know about what it is that they’re doing. But the little that we do know is extraordinarily alarming in exactly the way that Frank Church  described. Now, I just want to make a couple other points about the Surveillance State, that don’t get enough attention but that really are necessary for completing the picture about what it really is and what it does.

We talk a lot about things like the NSA and federal government agencies like the FBI, but it actually stands well beyond that. We really live in a culture of surveillance. I mean, if you even go into any normal American city or even, increasingly, small or mid-sized towns, there are all kinds of instruments of surveillance everywhere that you probably don’t even notice. If you wake up in the morning and drive to your local convenience store, you’ve undoubtedly been photographed by all sorts of surveillance cameras on the street. If you go to the ATM to take out money to buy things, that will be then recorded. If you go into a convenience store to buy things you want to buy, you’ll have your photograph taken and will be reported.