In my junior year of high school, which now seems like a distant memory, my AP English Language and Composition teacher assigned an essay in which we were to determine whether reality better resembled Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” or George Orwell’s “1984.” To this day I feel both works hold a disturbing amount of truth.
In light of this summer’s revelation that the National Security Agency has a spying program, which automatically collects cell phone and internet data on virtually all American citizens, it is safe to say “1984″ is upon us. Though it is sad and frightening, we must now realize the Bill of Rights is dead.
The NSA spying program is the most blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment one could possibly imagine. The founders of this nation believed people should be secure from unwarranted search and seizure and because of this, the federal government’s collection of data on American citizens is not only unwarranted – more importantly, it is unconstitutional.
The data the government is currently collecting is our intellectual property, and we have a right to keep it secure. We also have an implied right to privacy under the Ninth Amendment that apparently no longer exists. These NSA spying programs are an assault on our basic rights and liberties.
While the program is currently used only to gather intelligence in hopes of detecting potential terrorist threats, it presents an imminent threat of something much worse: a big brother state watching everyone. In “1984,” Orwell presents the idea of “thought crime.” In the dystopian world of his novel, the government’s political stronghold is so strong and its surveillance capabilities so advanced that anyone who so much as thinks negative thoughts about the party in power is captured and killed.
While this is of course an exaggeration, it does present the real danger – that the premeditation of a crime could be the subject of punishment, rather than the crime itself. The collection of our private data opens the door for the government to spy on us however it sees fit, and, if left in place, will inhibit the lives of normal, law abiding citizens.
In recent years, many other pieces of evidence have proven the Bill of Rights is dead. The Supreme Court has ruled police can collect the DNA of anyone they arrest. They have also ruled that invoking the right to remain silent, a right ensured by the Fifth Amendment, can be used against someone in court (it appears you actually don’t have the right to remain silent). Unmanned drones have been used to kill American citizens without a warrant. Suspected terrorists were tortured, violating their Eighth Amendment right, and the Patriot Act abridged many civil liberties.
In a practical sense, the Bill of Rights means nothing today because those in power do not follow its intentions strictly enough. James Madison is rolling over in his grave.
We the people must demand our rights back. The Constitution is a contract between our government and us, the governed. The government is not living up to its side of the deal – these are our rights and they are being taken from us. The next election should be centered on questions about American civil liberties because the federal government is in crisis – it is overstepping its bounds.
Our rights are being slowly chipped away. To echo T.S. Elliot’s warning, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”
In the meantime, we should pressure Wisconsin to pass a law protecting our data and intellectual property from unwarranted search and seizure. If the federal government won’t recognize our rights, maybe our state government will. Montana has such a law in place. The NSA spying program is such a federal overreach that our states need to protect us people from it.
Make no mistakes about it — this is a crisis. Just as Orwell predicted, our rights are slowly being eroded in the name of national security, and no one seems to care. We must take a stand soon or we will lose them forever.
Spencer Lindsay (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in political science.