I don’t have a feel for where we agree/disagree on the whole NSA surveillance program . So let me start with a series of postulates and see whether we can construct a framework within which we can operate.
The primary is function of any state should be to guarantee the safety of its citizens. This means that it must control the means of violence within that society; the police, the army, the National Guard, etc. Whether individuals or groups, promulgators of violent opposition to the society’s agreed upon organizing principles must be effectively suppressed.
You and I, as well I assume, the overwhelming majority of our 300 million countrymen and women, want to live in a society in which political power stems from the active, ongoing choices of our fellow citizens through the mechanism of democratically elected representative government, and within which basic rights of privacy, freedom of expression, and autonomy of economic and cultural choice remain fundamental organizing principles of public and private life. We accept as true that such a society is only possible when great constraints are placed upon those whose responsibility it is to control the state’s implementation of violence. We further believe that those who job it is to control and dispatch violence under the authority of the state will accept those constraints for the simple reason that, ultimately, they want to live in the same kind of country that we do.
Over the last 20 years or so, a series of increasingly well financed, well organized, ruthless, international based groups have stated as their primary goal the foundation of a transnational empire constructed on religious based (or so they claim) principles of their choosing. They assert further that their ideology is based upon the word of God, and therefore incontestable. Until recently none of these groups has achieved any functioning coherence as a nation state. Now, the Islamic State In The Levant has made substantial progress in controlling territory and population, although it remains to be seen whether its leaders are capable of, or indeed interested in, in building the sort of nation state whose economy might have the means to sustain its citizens, and the military to hold the territory it has recently conquered. Mostly these groups have utilized terror of an increasingly brutal nature to achieve their concomitant goal, which is the destruction of the very organizing principles of the free societies that we hold so dear. With conviction, they argue that the framework of shared democratic principle and individual liberty is heretical, illegitimate,and fragile at its core. They need only to mount and sustain enough of an assault against our crucial sense of safety and security to transform our societies into police states; with the veneer of post enlightenment humanity stripped, away, they are sure we’ll be ripe for the taking.
The United Sates has found itself in this pickle more than once; from the Alien And Sedition Acts to the suspension of habeas corpus to thePalmer Raids to the mass interment of our fellow Japanese citizens, to , most recently to the torture of members of the aforementioned groups. We even have survived 50 years of leadership of the national police agency by a man who might have fit in equally working for the Romanovs instead of Roosevelt. Inevitably, these segues into the dark side have met with unapologetic defense on one side andremorse and pledges never to allow them again on the other. Reliably, when our need to feel secure (whether we care or not we are is a separate question) outweighs our need to fee free they recur.