The Corrupting Power of the NSA's Domestic Surveillance Program

The domestic spying problem raises other questions about concentration of power.

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When presidents get into trouble they travel. So Barack Obama is on the road while the controversy over the domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency comes to a boil back home.

The domestic surveillance raise important questions about the concentration of power in the United States. Lord Acton's famous precept, "all power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely" seems appropriate here.

We will soon celebrate the 4th of July and the contributions that our Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson made to American democracy. The founders had good reason to be concerned about the concentration of power. The king of England and his ministers had absolute power over America and we had little opportunity to influence decisions made in London about the colonies.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the NSA.]

In particular, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence contained a litany of grievances against George III, the King of England. The problem that the founders including Jefferson had with British government was that the king was essentially judge, jury and executioner rolled into one. That concentration of power led to corruption and repression so the founders carefully divided power between the president, the Congress and judges so that no one person could become a tyrant like the King of England.

That's why the patriots would have been horrified about the Patriot Act which justified the domestic NSA supervision. The Patriot Act gives the president the power to pry into the private lives of Americans with minimal congressional or judicial review. Then there are the drone attacks against suspected terrorists including American citizens which literally make the president, judge, jury and executioner.

The domestic spying problem raises other questions about concentration of power. The surveillance power creates an unholy alliance between the government and the powerful communications industry.

The power of the axis of information which includes the federal government, Verizon, Facebook and Google frankly scares the living hell out of me. The U.S. Government should protect Americans from the excesses of corporate America, not encourage them. The cozy relationship of the National Security Agency and Silicon Valley is a dangerous to democracy as the alliance between the Treasury Dept and Wall Street.

[Read Robert Schlesinger: The Corporate Roots of the NSA Spying Controversy.]

The titans who run Silicon Valley are as bad or worse as the crowd that controls Wall Street. Google is especially arrogant. The software giant's customers are justifiably angry that the company has shared personal data about its customers with NSA. A federal court order obtained by the government prohibits Google from sharing the details of its ugly relationship with the feds. So Google has countersued and argued that the government's prohibition on sharing details of the program is a violation of the company's First Amendment right to free speech. 

Google has some nerve saying that the company's First Amendment rights were violated when the company collaborated with the National Security Agency to deprive its customers of their Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Individual citizens have little power when so much of it is concentrated into a few hands. When people feel they are out of the loop, they get angry and sometimes they start revolutions. It has happened before and it will happen again.

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