OAKLAND, CAMany Americans trembled with fear when they learned of the breathtaking scope of government electronic spying on ordinary people, following whistleblower Edward Snowdens leaking of top-secret documents from the National Security Agency to members of the media.
The revelations would not have surprised them, however, had they been able to read the new book uncovering the hidden historyand likely futureof government domestic surveillance, American Surveillance: Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment, by legal scholar and historian Anthony Gregory (published by University of Wisconsin Press for the Independent Institute).
American Surveillance is the first book to make sense of the U.S. governments domestic spying programs by weaving together previously unconnected strands of research from political history, intelligence studies, and legal scholarshipand by examining the implications for liberty, privacy, civil society, and the rule of law.
Among the books findings:
- After taking over the Philippines in 1898, the U.S. military developed an elaborate intelligence program to compile dossiers on suspected rebels. Its surveillance methods were exported to the U.S. homeland and used against opponents of U.S. entry into World War I. The tools, methods, and scope of domestic surveillance were then further expanded, especially in conjunction with World War II, the Cold War, and the War on Terror.
- Despite a campaign promise of Change, the Obama administration was no less willing to intrude on the privacy of ordinary Americans than was the George W. Bush administration.
- The Fourth Amendment has been of limited effectiveness in protecting Americans from government invasions of privacy, partly because it left the terms unreasonable and search open to interpretation, and partly because the courts have ruled that it doesnt apply when a growing number of special needs of the government are deemed to be at stake.
- Civil libertarians and constitutionalists have little chance of curtailing domestic surveillance over the long run without a radical and lasting departure from standard U.S. foreign policy objectives, because domestic surveillance originated in response to reactions against U.S. government meddling abroad.
- Because surveillance technology is increasingly within reach of anyone with a mobile device, the future of privacy in America depends on whether or not a strong privacy ethos becomes a dominant attitude in the culture at large.
Anthony Gregory is a Research Fellow at Independent Institute and author of The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the Kings Prerogative to the War on Terror, winner of the 2013 PROSE Award for Best Book in Law and Legal Studies. The Independent Institute is a non-profit, research and educational organization that promotes the power of independent thinking to boldly advance peaceful, prosperous, and free societies grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity. For further information visit www.independent.org.
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