Jun 8, 2015
In early June, Congress passed the “USA Freedom Act,” and President Obama signed it. It is supposed to stop the government from collecting the population’s private communications. No less than the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) praised it as a “milestone ... the most important surveillance reform bill since 1978....”
It’s nothing but a shell game – this supposed “new” law. The totality of every single person’s private communications will still be collected – phone, e-mail and Internet. But instead of the government doing it, the government will pay giant private companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to do it for the government.
The politicians went through this huge charade because of the scandal raised by Edward Snowden’s revelations. Two years ago, Snowden, a former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) leaked secret documents to newspapers around the world. At risk to his own life, Snowden lifted the veil on U.S. government programs to spy on the entire U.S. population. He was supported by Daniel Ellsberg, who during the Viet Nam War was prosecuted by the government for releasing the secret Pentagon Papers, which exposed the U.S. role in the war.
Snowden showed that the government collects every single conversation that every person has by telephone, e-mail, or through the Internet. It keeps track of what we look at on the Internet, as well as everyone’s movements, through cell phones, traffic cameras, and license plate recorders. In other words, the U.S. government treats every person as a potential enemy of the state. In other words, it acts like every other dictatorship.
U.S. officials couldn’t deny it, given the release of massive amounts of their own official documents. They tried to reassure the public, pretending this gigantic amount of spying was aimed only at preventing terrorist attacks, another 9/11. In the news media, champions of the government asked why would anyone have anything to fear if they were doing nothing wrong, anyway.
But as Snowden made clear, everyone does have reason to fear. Any of that spying can be used in the future against anyone who opposes government policies. Government officials can twist and distort recorded conversations for their own purposes.
Anyone who doubts this can just look at what the government has done in the past – when it had much less technology at its disposal. During the McCarthy period, the government spied on union militants, communists and socialists, spreading lies about them in order to purge the workforce and strike fear and intimidation in the population. During the mobilization of the black population, government spying as well as assassinations were used against the main leaders, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Malcolm X to the Black Panthers, as well as against countless masses of lesser known activists. During the Viet Nam War, the government carried out rampant spying on leaders and activists.
No one should be surprised by any of this. The U.S. government defends the rule of a tiny minority – the capitalist class – over the rest of society.
Today, the capitalists and their government officials know full well where their policies are leading. Protecting their profits and wealth at the expense of everyone else in the midst of the growing crisis will only cause greater hardships, more unemployment and suffering. Sooner or later this can provoke new social movements and struggles by people to defend their own interests, their own survival. The capitalists and their government are preparing today for the struggles that can break out tomorrow.
One thing history shows is how much people can accomplish once they begin to move. The working masses have enormous strengths and power, which come out of not only their vast numbers, but their key role in making society run.
Mass movements of the working masses shook this society during the 1930s and the 1960s. But those struggles were not taken to their conclusion, by overthrowing the capitalist class’s power structure and government.
The spying going on today shows that working people will confront that power structure once again.