Before 1967, the Fourth Amendment didn't require police to get a warrant to tap conversations occurring over phone company lines. But that year, in two key decisions (including the Katz case), the Supreme Court made clear that eavesdropping — bugging private conversations or wiretapping phone lines — counted as a search that required a warrant.
Well I've thought about it. And I think it's fair to say the USG has never respected the 4th amendment less than it does today.
The current official policy, which has spanned at least two and possibly three presidential administrations, is to use a huge network of government employees and private sector labor working together to spy on virtually every single person in the country, continuously, for years. And this time, it's been sort of an open secret, endorsed and defended as legal from the highest levels, and known to Senators and rank-and-file FBI agents alike. We, the ordinary citizens, were the last to know.
I think it's much more accurate to describe the current surveillance as an activity of "the government," and I think the scale, the audacity, the hubris involved makes it clear that an awful lot of "the government" views the fourth amendment as an outdated relic that must be stamped out or revised away into meaninglessness.
I think the difference between the two examples is extreme and obvious. They are actually more different than they are alike.
Istanbul has been in the grips of a military crackdown of a peaceful protest about a park. In Syria, something like 90,000 people have died fighting an authoritarian regime, with no end in sight. In Iran, people won't even vote in the election (where voting is compulsory) because they know that the elections are rigged. On the other side of the coin, in the UK, you're subject to government surveillance in every public space. It's a trade-off, and the choices aren't as clear as you might believe if you limited your knowledge to what you read on Reddit and HN.
My point is that you have to be pretty cynical to suggest that the USA -- where we let the Occupy protesters linger in front of federal buildings until they were nothing but de facto homeless encampments -- has been on an endlessly downward slippery slope. We live in one of the most free and privileged countries on earth, and it's important to keep a sense of perspective on these things.
I don't necessarily like that the NSA is tracking phone calls, but I'm also keenly aware of the fact that they aren't dragging people out of their homes in the middle of the night, and that we don't have cars exploding daily in New York City. All things considered, we have it pretty damned well.
There's not a monotonically nondecreasing level of freedom, though.
It's like 100 98 98 97 96 130 (ITAR limited) 125 120 120 119 90 (Patriot) 89 88 140 (default to HTTPS) 135 135 133 etc.
Well, if we do nothing but maintain the current level of freedom, we're doing pretty well, historically speaking.
That said, I don't think we're on a downward slope at all -- that's just techno-nerd catastrophic thinking. The problem is that technology races forward and allows new forms of communication, our sense of entitlement increases, as does the power of anyone (governmental or private) to be intrusive. It's a constant battle against change itself, not necessarily against the surveillance state.
For example, the supreme court said that phone call metadata was collectable without a warrant in the 70s. The fact that Reddit just became aware of this fact is not a fundamental change in reality, or an example of things getting worse -- it's just an indication of how technology has changed this generation's expectations of what "privacy" means.
While ssh replacing rsh, SSL-by-default, no crypto export restrictions for (almost all) commercial software, certain legal decisions (mainly in the 9th), etc. were steps forward. This is all independent of what reddit/hn people generally know about the situation.
"auto-updating" client software and the cloud have advantages and disadvantages at the same time.
I can't? Most of those things don't affect US citizens. Drone warfare arguably saves lives (you'd rather that we send soliders to do the same things?). The other things present vague, hypothetical risks (when they present risks at all), and tangible, quantifiable benefits.
Look, I'm not saying that I agree with everything that's in the Patriot Act, or that I think that the US government should have a blank check to bomb citizens via remote-controlled helicopter. But when you look at the actual risks to citizens, you find that they're pretty theoretical. The people who are objecting the loudest usually have the least reason to object (which is, ironically, part of the problem -- organizations like the ACLU have traditionally had a very tough time proving harms to citizens, and as a result, their lawsuits keep getting tossed).
But if you're going to push me to be the devil's advocate, I can quite comfortably go to the argument I made before: we don't have cars blowing up (or people walking into cafes with bombs strapped to their chests) in our cities on a regular basis, and we manage to achieve that level of safety without needing the intrusiveness of the security state of even a "reasonable", western democracy like Israel. Empirically, then, we're doing OK. A lot of the teeth-gnashing going on here is breathless exaggeration from people who have such peaceful lives that they have literally nothing better to worry about.
There are short-term benefits that you're talking about, but long-term costs that you seem to be ignoring as well.
Wake up and smell the coffee. The slippery slope is real, and there are clear patterns here that you'd be wrong to ignore.
It is, in fact, a logical fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_slope.
And the fact is that there the arc of freedom in this country has been bending towards more freedom. You are more free today, more insulated from arbitrary government action, than you were in say 1970 (Kent State shootings), 1950 (McCarthyism), 1942 (Japanese internment), 1862 (civil war), or 1800 (post-revolution paranoia).
It might be a slippery slope, but it's a slipper slope on a hill we're slowly climbing up.
Sidebar: It's not.
That said, this White House petition makes me nervous since we still don't know the extent of what Snowden leaked.
But here we are, over 10 years after 9/11, and an enemy who simply does not pose any existential threat to the U.S. And yet no limits have been passed on Patriot act powers.
Wait, what? Even if you meant to say Khrushchev, that's extremely one-sided..
After provocative political moves and the failed US attempt to overthrow the Cuban regime (Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose), in May 1962 Nikita Khrushchev proposed the idea of placing Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt.
and from the section "Responses considered":
The Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that the missiles would seriously alter the military balance, but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara disagreed. He was convinced that the missiles would not affect the strategic balance at all. An extra forty, he reasoned, would make little difference to the overall strategic balance. The US already had approximately 5,000 strategic warheads, while the Soviet Union had only 300. He concluded that the Soviets having 340 would not therefore substantially alter the strategic balance. In 1990, he reiterated that "it made no difference ... The military balance wasn't changed. I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now."
But yes, if you consider that in a way it was a rather benign thing done to defend an ally, and compare that with the panic and hypocritical indignation about it, then the paranoia was understandable indeed; I can understand how and why it was engineered, that is.