“Western leaders appear to have lost their compass. They have delegated the safety of the nation to a newly empowered class of internal security and intelligence professionals,” says William W. Keller in his book Democracy Betrayed: The Rise of the Surveillance Security State.
Life is full of trade-offs. We trade off free time or family time for money by going off to jobs that sometimes feel rewarding and sometimes just feel boring. Keller asks us how much freedom we are willing to give up for security, not even real security, but, for the most part, false security. The part of our freedom we pay with for this false sense of security is a loss of our privacy. We have not lost enough privacy that we live in a police state – yet. But we have lost control of our private data and not just to hackers but to our own National Security apparatus, which has grown enormously since 9/11. Our government now uses (as Edward Snowden made us aware) a giant sieve to catch a few tadpoles. Often it is not even necessary to get a court order to collect whatever the government wishes to see.
The author calls this “Secure Democracy”, which he tries to prove to us, is not really democracy at all. The new name states have invented for this is “illiberal democracy” which sounds an awful lot like Orwellian double speak.
The book is academic, with plenty of documented research, carefully noted in the end notes. However, the author does not bury his points in academic language. It’s very readable, although it may not keep you on the edge of your seat. But it really should keep our adrenalin pumping. Every modern President has done little to curtail foreign surveillance in the hopes of learning in advance about terrorist attacks. Even though data shows that very little useful intelligence has come from massive data collection, the spy apparatus grows. Perhaps the assumption is that we are just not collecting enough data and more will be the ticket into the minds of bad actors. Perhaps the security people are just getting a little giddy on ones and zeroes.
And it is not just foreign data collection. Domestic spying and data collection shows the same acceleration. I don’t believe, and neither does the author, that we know how to stop the secret intelligence “state” from growing. But we do know that a democratic government with an insatiable appetite for data about its citizens is an anomaly. A government that wants to scoop up data without a specific purpose or a court order should have our mental alarms going off like crazy. It seems that even a few terrorist events make us feel very vulnerable and afraid so we acquiesce to the surveillance state, something we were determined never to do. Keller’s evidence about the scope and reach of our surveillance state is compelling.
I always tell myself that someone would be bored to death tracking my communications and my online activities, but I do keep a blog about politics. It’s a fairly easy leap, especially right now, to imagine someone knocking at my door and frog-marching me off to jail. It is fairly easy to imagine being incarcerated without due process. This has not happened but it is only a baby step away, it seems, in a 21st century when we expected to enjoy more freedom, more global freedom, than ever.
Keller calls our current surveillance state the Security Industrial Complex. The internet, which makes the world seem so small, also makes itself a tempting target for a surveillance state eager to mine all that data. Why should businesses get to use the data and not the government?
Now that the intelligence community seems to have gone rogue we are surprisingly complacent about it. Keller does not offer much advice about how to keep our government out of our business, or how to protect our constitutional right to privacy (4th Amendment) but he knows that knowledge is power. I know, I know, who wants to read about something like this. What a downer. However, this is a book that everyone should read, downer or not.