NSA spying kills my faith in America

I thought privacy and the Fourth Amendment meant something. What do I tell my kids now?

Topics: Since You Asked, NSA, NSA whistleblower, fbi misconduct, FBI, Edward Snowden, Spying,

NSA spying kills my faith in America (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I write to you about the idea of identity, particularly my identity as an American in the wake of the NSA warrantless wiretapping and PRISM program. Growing up, perhaps naively, I have carried this ideal of America, freedom, liberty and the right to privacy as absolutes. The First Amendment of free speech and the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches provided a base that shaped my understanding of my place and role in society. As a citizen I could anonymously say within reason almost any idea or thought without repercussions from the government. As a citizen I expected my communications and personal life free of government intrusion and inspection. If a government action or program started to run afoul of these rights the judiciary would step in and make the necessary corrections.

The recent revelations about widespread government warrantless spying including recording phone conversations, email, and Internet traffic — programs that have been blessed by secret courts created by secret laws — have shaken my belief in what it means to live in a free society, about the basic ideals of America.

There have been reports, though uncorroborated, that these programs have stopped terrorist activities in the United States and throughout the world. I find these reports hard to believe as they come from the same government that has to justify its actions. Even if they are true, the sacrifices to our liberty and individual freedom as a society do not justify living in fear of a few dozen terrorist plots. This young country has lived through civil wars, world wars, revolutionary wars without the need to give in to fear and fundamentally change the basic tenets of our society.

As an individual I find myself lost, not knowing the country I live in anymore. I am struggling to rectify [sic] my beliefs with those of our elected officials who are sworn to protect the Constitution without giving in to fear and external pressure. True, I can write letters to our government and sign petitions; perhaps support candidates that are in line with my beliefs.

But I am afraid that it is too little too late. That the tide has already turned and we are left with a new paradigm, a new society that is foreign to what our founders intended.

My question to you is where do I go from here? How do integrate myself with a world that I do not believe is right? How do I tell my children that I used to live in a world where freedom and privacy meant something? How do I regain my sense of country and a place in society?


P.S. Hi, NSA contractor. I hope you find my letter interesting.

Dear Lost,

In attempting to answer your letter today, I followed so many paths that by deadline, I had no one coherent answer. So I am going to take two or three days on this one.

I understand what you are saying. I feel the depth of your outrage and something verging on despair. You feel that you have been robbed of something. I get that. I have felt that as well. So I really want to delve into this.

But today all I can do is lay the foundation.

My interest lies in the psychological. I am not a political reporter or commentator. What interests me is how we accommodate ourselves to the dissonance between reported fact, propaganda and myth. How do we as individuals feel and think about the modern state?

Feelings about the virtue of a state can border on the religious. The Founding Fathers wrote some brilliant and at times poetic documents. But those documents are not sacred. They are secular. They are concerned with governance.

Governance is concerned with the world as it is. In the world as it is, governments lie, cheat, murder, spy and steal. Those documents written by our Founding Fathers were concerned with limiting that. They were concerned with limiting that because that is what governments do.

I will say more in the days to come. You ask some great questions. I will try to answer all of them. Including what to tell your kids.

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