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The surveillance state

Late on a recent Friday evening, Congress renewed Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). I get a strange chill up my spine when the House Freedom Caucus and the ACLU find themselves aligned. Yet, there we were. 


Renewal of FISA for two more years gives U.S. intelligence agencies the means to surveil Americans without a warrant. Proponents say that FISA is necessary to provide security by intercepting crime before it happens. Opponents argue that FISA is a dangerous encroachment on our Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure. 


This slow dribbling away of our privacy rights caused a flashback to a movie called “The Truman Show.” Filmed just down the road in Seaside, Fla., the movie followed the everyday life of a man named Truman, who was unknowingly the centerpiece of a reality show. Truman lived in a fabricated world never realizing that his friends, family, and co-workers were cast members. His every moment was contrived. The outside world was fixated on “The Truman Show,” with people spending countless hours hanging on the everyday events of Truman’s life. 


There was a sadness to the story as it became apparent that the infamous Director Christof played new mind games on Truman every day. For audience pleasure, Christof would stoke fears and stir emotions just to keep Truman in the positions needed for the show. The greater goal was the ratings and the endorsements. 


Truman was likeable but sorrowful. A man who had no say in the events of his life. A man who had absolutely no privacy and a rightful sense that he was watched. Every corner of his life had a hidden camera. If he whispered to his girlfriend, the world knew it. If he dreamed of a vacation, a script was written to convince him he couldn’t go. If he sang in the shower, read a book, or drank a soda, it was all about product placement for the sponsors. 


Everyone had an angle. Everyone was a manipulator. Everyone stood to gain from Truman, except Truman. Truman was duped, but not a dupe himself. Suspicions set in as characters were accidentally caught out of character and he began to see through the façade. 


Like Truman, our world is experiencing a complete loss of anonymity. Criminals can walk past people in the grocery store and scan data off a smartphone. Credit cards can be co-opted by holding a device close to your wallet on a crowded subway. Criminals can track your movement by slipping an air pod in a gym bag. 


But we don’t expect to see that kind of thing from our government. It starts with simple things like red light cameras, insidious devices that take a picture of you as you drive by and then fine you by mail months later. Forget your Sixth Amendment right to face your accuser, this is just a moneymaker for the local municipality. 


Covid brought proof of medical vaccination data to eat in a restaurant. It’s a very slippery slope when we must display our private lives in order to do public things. 

Then there’s the farming of social media. It’s in the public domain, right? Until you realize it’s the government’s intent to deal with your “misinformation” because it conflicts with the government’s narrative. 


One of the hallmarks of a free and open democracy is the ability to converse with our elected officials. We have access because they are truly our “representatives” in the halls of government … until the surveillance state decides that may be a problem. 

In 2022, Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) revealed that Capital Police had illegally entered his office dressed as construction workers, asserting they had copied legislative papers and grilled his staff about certain meetings. If true, this is a heinous violation of the Speech and Debate Clause of Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution. 


The plot thickened when 34 House Republicans sent a letter to former Speaker Pelosi calling for an investigation into alleged surveillance abuses by the Capital Police. The letter raised concerns the Capitol Police were surveilling members of Congress, congressional staff, and their Capitol visitors. 


Some would claim that this level of police state action is necessary for security. After all, “insurrection” is still a buzzword for many in the Capitol! We must be safe! We must know your business, privacy be danged! The greater good demands it! 


But it also puts a chilling effect on the ability of congressional members to hold meetings with concerned constituents, business interests, or to just grill out with friends when home from D.C. Without probable cause, no member of Congress or their constituencies should expect to be surveilled. 


I’ll add fuel to the fire by pointing out that Rep. Nehls is also a staunch Trump supporter who wore a t-shirt with Trump’s mugshot on it to Biden’s 2024 State of the Union address. Immediately thereafter, a report was filed against him causing a House Ethics investigation into his campaign finances. Nothing to see here. Move along, please. 

We deserve better than this. Citizens of this great nation deserve to know that their rights to speak freely, confront their accusers, remain free from unlawful search and seizure, or meet with duly elected officials will be preserved. 


Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” Ben Franklin famously said. If we continue down this path, we will become a society of Trumans with the government serving as Director Christof. 


Keep your eyes open and smile for the camera, y’all.


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