I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.

Marley's Ghost, A Christmas Carol

Leonard Pitts writes that that

If ever tyranny overtakes this land of the sometimes free and home of the intermittently brave, it probably won’t, contrary to the fever dreams of gun rights extremists, involve jack-booted government thugs rappelling down from black helicopters. Rather, it will involve changes to words on paper many have forgotten or never knew, changes that chip away until they strip away, precious American freedoms.

It will involve a trade of sorts, an inducement to give up the reality of freedom for the illusion of security. Indeed, the bargain has already been struck.

Pitts articulates an issue that has been with us since the beginning of the Cold War. We have been constructing a security / surveillance apparatus that long, and the security-freedom balance has been obscured by Red scares, McCarthyism, "soft on Communism" accusations, "cut-and-run Democrat" ad hominem attacks etc.

Individual liberty has always taken a beating during war time, with the measures justified as temporary if regrettable necessities. (Lincoln suspended habeas corpus; the WW2 internment camps are infamous; and the Bush-Cheney depredations are too lengthy to go into). But, the Cold War, the War of Drugs, and the War on Terrorism never end. You can say that these aren't really wars, but in terms of security the public has pretty much bought the argument that they are.

It's not a simple issue. The basic problem with Pitts' formulation is that it can be turned on its head. After all, It wasn't that long ago that we were all happy that the FBI had the capacity to process CCTV data -- those things are ubiquitous -- and enable Boston law enforcement to track down the Patriot's Day bombers.

This doesn't even get into the industry that has sprung up around security and surveillance. Once money is involved, meaningful change becomes very difficult. The public isn't that interested in change, anyway.

I'm all for declassifying FISA court hearings a la the Merkley legislation. But the bill won't undo that much: The FISA/PRISM stuff is just another link in a chain that has been in the forge since 1945. It is a ponderous chain.

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