Prompt 146: Justified Snooping
146. The U.S. has come under fire for valuing safety and security above privacy. Do you think it's worth tapping into phone and online records to prevent a few potential incidents of terrorism? Why or why not?
First prompt of the New Year.
When it comes to this topic in particular, I'm of two minds on it. However in general, I'm against wiretapping, hacking, and secret recording of any kind. To sum up my objections: people won't stop and will use these techniques to intimidate and oppress others, so it's in general a net negative.
Were I part of some government, or a member of a government organization, of course I'd want advance knowledge, insight, and intelligence. I'd want to take advantage of every possible means of gaining an edge over enemies and rivals in an effort to maintain and perhaps expand my influence. I think this is a natural outgrowth or conclusion in terms of asserting any power and influence that one may have in the world.
When considered historically however, it becomes painfully obvious that any organization using these capabilities has abused their power. This can be observed from the highest office and officials of the land, down to the lowliest landlord and peeping stepbrother. Abuses can be expanded to imprisonment and detainment under false pretense, blatant corruption, and selective enforcement.
Government is not to be trusted in most respects, their offenses and crimes growing in direct proportion to the amount of power they wield - and the less oversight they require. There's documented history of governments committing acts of war, sabotage, and crimes against humanity, in fabricating justifications to declare war to support the business interests of their corporate allies, as well as coming down hard on whistleblowers and journalists who might provide notice to the public of these offenses.
Any significant revelations don't take place until long after the fact. In the town where I work, for example, there was a major scandal where a special task force of the police department was granted massive powers and ability to chase down and arrest violent drug criminals, with tremendous lack of oversight of their specific department. Inevitably, and years after it occurred, the officers were - without exception - indited for planting evidence, plotting murders, framing other police officers for wrongdoing, and worse.
On the flip side, if public pressure has attempted to use the same methods to force accountability on those in charge, the technology or capability misfires or provides inconclusive/inadmissible evidence. For instance, isn't it funny how, whenever there's a possibility of police officers' body cameras providing evidence for police brutality on or off the job, more often than not "the cameras didn't work," or "the footage was irretrievable," or some other convenient excuse that exonerates the officers? Isn't it convenient that, "upon internal review of the body camera footage, officers' actions were considered justified in the line of duty"?
Sure, there's some attempt to restore legitimacy by revealing these abuses after the fact: long, long after the offenders might suffer timely punishment - or even a slap on the wrist - for their crimes. It's similar to the paltry fines levied on corporations: typically far, far less than they money they've -made- through their illegal dealings, extortion, and corrupt activities. Meanwhile, "campaign contributions" and other bribes ensure that officials look the other way until public pressure becomes too vocal to ignore. Otherwise it's all eventually buried, and the perps escape any consequences.
To wrap it up, I think the temptation is too high to abuse the power one is granted in these instances, once they've been granted permission. Personally, I'd request at minimum there be installed an Ombudsman/Office of Inspector General to serve as a watchdog and a check on abuses. As it happens, there's really no such entity that oversees the Federal Government - and even most of local government - to fulfill that role. There's no reason for anyone in the Federal Government to advocate for it, so it's not done and likely never will be. So it goes.