from the half-right dept
In the wake of the NSA scandal leaks, there have been several examples of government officials and law enforcement coming out to state both that the program is necessary and that its existence ought never have been revealed. Those who espouse the latter often indicate that, as a result, Edward Snowden is some measure of a traitor, and in some cases so are members of the press that reported on the revelations. Not all former and current government folks are in that camp, of course, but those that are not typically argue the polar opposite: that the NSA program is either unconstitutional or unnecessary. Those are sentiments I happen to agree with, but there is a refreshingly original third course of thought.
That comes from NYPD police commissioner Ray Kelly, who has managed to blast the secret NSA program...but only for being secret.
“I don’t think it ever should have been made secret,” Kelly said yesterday, breaking ranks with other US law-enforcement officials. “I think the American public can accept the fact if you tell them that every time you pick up the phone, it’s going to be recorded and it goes to the government. I think the public can understand that. I see no reason why that program was placed in the secret category. Secondly, I think if you listen to Snowden, he indicates that there’s some sort of malfeasance, people . . . sitting around and watching the data. So I think the question is: What sort of oversight is there inside the [National Security Agency] to prevent that abuse, if it’s taking place?”Now, the easy reaction to this is to write off Kelly's opinion that the majority of Americans would be okay with data surveillance as long as we were well informed about it. After all, stop and frisk is fairly above board, and people still hate it. But the point is an important one with real implications on how democracy is supposed to work versus how it actually does work in America today.
By that I mean whether secretive programs run by the government that impact the majority or all of Americans can be undertaken without the consent of the governed. Step back a moment from Kelly's assertion that the public would be on board with the program if we had known about it all along. Isn't the better point to be taken from his statement that we should at least have been given the opportunity to find out? As a member of a representative democracy, if my fellow Americans were indeed informed and signed off on this program, I have to accept it, whatever my dissenting views. If the government was above board on the checks and balances in the program, they might have a good PR case. But that process was never given a chance to incubate. Instead, broadly worded, vague legislation birthed secretive policies, subject to secretive committees and secretive courts, and it was only by the providence of a humanitarian leaker that the public had any inkling of what was going on. That isn't how the American concept is supposed to function.
And now we'll never know whether Kelly is right or not, because the experiment that could have occurred has been foiled. Any complacency by the public now can be written off as apathy born of anger and mistrust. Any dissent is tainted by the same as a result of the secrecy of the program. The method by which the NSA spy program was both initiated, continued, and finally revealed is almost a perfect counter example to the democratic process. I fear that our founding fathers, those men of the enlightenment so often referenced by the career politicians of the day, would be calling for revolution once more.