We should be shocked at the American tapping scandal, and shocked that Obama doesn't seem to care
By Daniel Hannan Politics Last updated: June 7th, 2013
You know all those bearded survivalist types holed up in places like Idaho with their paranoid anti-government conspiracy theories? Suddenly they're looking rather less paranoid.
The rest of us, by contrast, are rushing to adjust our world view. The revelation that the U.S. Government systematically taps online communications challenges the way we think about freedom, the way we think about property, the way we think about the Internet and, not least, the way we think about America.
What has happened, briefly, is this. In 2007, Congress passed a law that allowed the National Security Agency to intercept foreign data – that is, communications between two non-American parties – without a U.S. Warrant. This power was said to be a necessity in the struggle against terrorism. ('Necessity,' said Pitt the Younger, 'is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves'.) As invariably happens, the authorities gradually enlarged their remit. It now turns out that the NSA has been directly accessing data from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple.
Most of the companies named have denied any knowledge or complicity – though those bearded Idaho types have been quick to point out that some of their denials refer only to not granting 'direct' data access to the NSA. Some conservatives mutter darkly about the long-standing cosiness between Google and the Democrats, who are supposed to have made great use of Google's profiling techniques when targeting voters. Certainly the Obama administration has been unapologetic about the whole business.
The scandal did not break in a vacuum. It followed the revelation that the Federal Government was harvesting information from the telecoms giant, Verizon. And it came just weeks after the truly shocking news that the U.S. tax authorities were deliberately targeting conservative pressure groups. It's like being in a movie where the authorities illicitly tap everyone until Will Smith exposes them.
This time, the Will Smith part has been played by the Washington Post and the Guardian – immensely to the credit of those two newspapers, which have put their devotion to civil liberties above their reverence for Barack Obama.
The days when Leftists would allow their tactical support for Obama to trump other considerations are evidently over. Even the New York Times declared in the first edition of its editorial that the administration 'has now lost all credibility' – though its liberal conscience later kicked in, and the sentence was enlarged to read 'lost all credibility on this issue'.
Not that Obama much cares: he faces no more elections, after all. The rest of us, though, should care very much. The United States is supposed to be a country where this sort of thing doesn't happen. Bit by bit, in the name of anti-terrorism, successive administrations have chipped away at the liberty of the individual. The American republic, in Russell Kirk's phrase, is behaving like an American empire.
Americans deserve better. And the rest of us expect better.