The NSA has used its ubiquitous wiretapping for ordinary police work. It used mass surveillance to prevent the murder of an eccentric artist, according to the New York Times. This means that the final line has been crossed; once mass surveillance of ordinary people is used for everyday police work, we are past the event horizon to a surveillance dystopia.
In an article outlining the vast capabilities of the NSA, the New York Times drops this tidbit:
The spy agency’s station in Texas intercepted 478 emails while helping to foil a jihadist plot to kill a Swedish artist who had drawn pictures of the Prophet Muhammad.
However, the New York Times fails to elaborate on the immense importance of this fact. This means that the NSA went far, far beyond its mandate of “national security”, and used its mass surveillance – ubiquitous wiretapping, really – for ordinary police work.
The Swedish artist in question is Lars Vilks, known for making outlandish art statements like putting images of the prophet Muhammed on crude dog sculptures in everyday traffic roundabouts. (It’s particularly unclear how the islamic prophet’s likeness was created, as he is traditionally imaged faceless.)
While preventing the murder of a highly eccentric artist may be admirable in its own right, it does not nearly qualify for national security concerns, nor for preventing terrorism.
So why is this important?
It’s important because it crosses the line we were promised would never, ever, be crossed – that the ubiquitous wiretapping would only be used for national security, and never for ordinary police work against citizens. Once that line is crossed, the wiretapping is used against the country’s own citizens.
For once you have prevented a murder, it’s easy to justify that you should be able to use the ubiquitous wiretapping to also prevent, say, rape and aggravated assault. No policymaker will protest that.
Once you are preventing serious violent crimes, it’s easy to justify that the NSA and the Police should use the ubiquitous wiretapping to prevent all violent crimes. People who protest that in the name of civil liberties will be shot down; “it’s a fundamental civil liberty to not be a victim of a violent crime”. And so, surveillance will be Newspeaked into civil liberties in televised debates by Big Brother hawks.
Once the wiretapping is preventing all violent crime, it will be repurposed to prevent all prison-time crime (described as “serious crime”), and from there, to prevent all crime. And those who speak up against this will be accused of “siding with criminals”.
I have seen each of these steps happen in the past decade in various stages of policymaking. Yes, I’m presenting a slippery slope argument, but these steps are typically just 3-4 years apart, and I’m speaking from first-hand experience with this development.
Then, once you have the ability to enforce all laws, out come the moral laws – typically first banning all kinds of sex that aren’t intended for reproduction, then everyday drugs, life-saving pharmaceuticals, and anything else that the regime du jour considers immoral for whatever reason.
The crucial line to never be crossed is that wiretapping of private communications must never be used for ordinary police work against people who aren’t under formal, individual, and prior suspicion of an identified and already-committed crime. And that line has now been crossed.
This means that we can unfortunately predict that the United States will take a very dark turn toward purebred fascism for a couple of decades, until it collapses under its own weight. We are now past the event horizon for that development.
The focus must now lie on isolating this development to the United States to prevent contagion to the rest of the world.