US President Barack Obama has defended his administration’s surveillance programs, so it’s more than likely that the “spying” activities being conducted by America’s National Security Agency, reported by The Washington Post and Britain’s The Guardian, will continue. Obama has admitted to a change in his attitude toward secret surveillance programs since his election to the presidency. Those who are sincerely surprised by this stance will just have to deal with it. The “healthy skepticism” that he said he once nursed about such programs has since given way to the conviction that “modest encroachments on privacy” are necessary to keep America safe from its enemies.
From reports, this was what the young US president—the fair hope of those who had despaired that the Bush administration doomed America—said about the surveillance programs: “In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.” He said the surveillance on the phone conversations of Americans as well as on the personal information of foreigners using e-mail and other Internet services was a court-approved procedure that also had the sanction of both sides of the aisle in the US Congress. It’s lawful, in other words.
In this neck of the woods, one is somehow reminded of the dossiers on activists collated by the functionaries of martial law, which incidentally the strongman Ferdinand Marcos made sure was “lawfully” imposed and implemented. The existence of the dossiers dampened but did not quite douse, and in some instances even served to stoke, youthful passions, as many of that era would remember (and as many of the names of the dead heroes etched on the Bantayog ng mga Bayani would attest). Of course, think how primitive the collation (and planting) of “incriminating” data was back in the day, compared to the sophisticated means (numbers-crunching, say, done at breath-taking speed) prevailing now. Think also of the sheer quantity of information flying around in the unthinkable vastness of cyberspace, and begin to comprehend the power of the one that controls it.
Now a former computer technician of the US Central Intelligence Agency has come forward to claim responsibility for the leaked information on the surveillance programs. Speaking with The Guardian, Edward J. Snowden indicated that he could no longer endure the abuses of a surveillance state. “If you realize that that’s the world you helped create and it is going to get worse with the next generation and the next generation and extend the capabilities of this architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risks, and it doesn’t matter what the outcome is,” he said in a video interview made somewhere in Hong Kong. The claim of the 29-year-old ex-member of the US Army Special Forces has accelerated the inquiry initiated by US national intelligence director James R. Clapper Jr. and sparked debate on whether his act was a defense of civil liberties or high treason.
Internet companies such as Facebook, Google and others linked to the surveillance program called Prism have issued statements denying having knowingly taken part in it, or even knowing about it. But the statements were observed to be so carefully worded as to allow for certain admissions when push comes to shove—for example, turning over user information when served a legal order. At any rate, the spy programs are hardly new, having apparently been conducted early on under the aegis of the US Patriot Act that was enacted after the 9/11 terror attacks.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sounded a call for the progressive-minded to register outrage at the spy programs, saying the situation was “beyond Orwellian.” Indeed, the world appears to have become George Orwell’s Oceania in “1984,” where citizens are monitored by cameras, daily life is governed by “Big Brother” (think with a shudder of that local reality show) and dissidents are tortured or executed. In these modern times, the planet is literally circled by US spy satellites, unmanned drones snuff out the lives of perceived enemies (and civilians) in the name of peace, and rendition is deemed necessary and lawful.
And freedom? “Freedom is slavery,” according to Big Brother’s dictum, just as “war is peace” and “ignorance is strength.” Thus has doublethink morphed into facts of life.
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