I'm beginning to see a trend from conservative commentators that the recent scandals demonstrate a shift of power from the individual or private institutions, to the government. Never one to mince words, Rush Limbough called it a coup. Roger Kimball describes it as " the administration’s gradual transformation of itself into an unaccountable nomenklatura with more or less unlimited powers." Kimball concludes:
Just like those unpleasant chaps in Orwell’s 1984, the fact that we are now and apparently ever shall be on a war footing means that we are living in a state of perpetual emergency, which in turn means that he, the man in charge, can do pretty much whatever he wants to whomever he wants, and so can his minions. Either you’re part of the nomenklatura, or you’re not.Glenn Reynolds writes:
But, in fact, there's a common theme in all of these scandals: Abuse of power. And, what's more, that abuse-of-power theme is what makes the NSA snooping story bigger than it otherwise would be. It all comes down to trust.It would be shortsighted to blame Obama for all of this. The gradual and escalating accumulation of power, and the inevitable corruption that accompanies power, has been ongoing for a considerable time. There is a disconnect between what people perceive government should be doing and what government thinks it should be doing. People believe government should provide necessary services--i.e., public goods. There may be genuine debate over the actual need for services, or the extent of those services, but I believe the general public is concerned with what government can do to serve the public.
The justification for giving the government a lot of snooping power hangs on two key arguments: That snooping will make us safer and that the snooping power won't be abused.
Has it made us safer? Anonymous government sources quoted in news reports say yes, but we know that all that snooping didn't catch the Tsarnaev brothers before they bombed the Boston Marathon -- even though they made extensive use of email and the Internet, and even though Russian security officials had warned us that they were a threat. The snooping didn't catch Major Nidal Hasan before he perpetrated the Fort Hood Massacre, though he should have been spotted easily enough. It didn't, apparently, warn us of the Benghazi attacks -- though perhaps it explains how administration flacks were able to find and scapegoat a YouTube filmmaker so quickly . But in terms of keeping us safe, the snooping doesn't look so great.
As for abuse, well, is it plausible to believe that a government that would abuse the powers of the IRS to attack political enemies, go after journalists who publish unflattering material or scapegoat a filmmaker in the hopes of providing political cover to an election-season claim that al-Qaeda was finished would have any qualms about misusing the massive power of government-run snooping and Big Data? What we've seen here is a pattern of abuse. There's little reason to think that pattern will change, absent a change of administration -- and, quite possibly, not even then. Sooner or later, power granted tends to become power abused. Then there's the risk that information gathered might leak, of course, as recent events demonstrate.
The government itself, speaking of officials, politicians, and bureaucrats, have different concerns, which is can be boiled down to the accumulation and continuation of their power. That is, basic public choice theory. (What is ignored in public choice theory is the basic rule, enunciated in The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, that power is better than wealth, because wealth inevitably follows after power). The NSA surveillance is less an issue of protecting America than finding some reason to justify their budget and authority. The danger is that officials or employees with access to the data can use it for their own purposes.