By Glenn Harlan Reynolds
"How ironic is that? We wanted a president that listens to all Americans -- now we have one." That was Jay Leno's take on the Obama administration's expanding NSA spying scandal, which has gone beyond Verizon phone records to include Google, Facebook, Yahoo and just about all the other major tech companies except, apparently, for Twitter.
The NSA spying scandal goes deep, and the Obama administration's only upside is that the furor over its poking into Americans' private business on a wholesale basis will distract people from the furor over the use of the IRS and other federal agencies to target political enemies -- and even donors to Republican causes -- and the furor over the Benghazi screwup and subsequent lies (scapegoated filmmaker Nakoula is still in jail), the furor over the "Fast And Furious" gunrunning scandal that left literally scores of Mexicans dead, the scandal over the DOJ's poking into phone records of journalists (and their parents), HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' shakedown of companies she regulates for "donations" to pay for ObamaCare implementation that Congress has refused to fund, the Pigford scandal where the Treasury Department's "Judgment Fund" appears to have been raided for political purposes -- well, it's getting to where you need a scorecard to keep up.
But, in fact, there's a common theme in all of these scandals: Abuse of power. And, what's more, that abuse-of-power theme is what makes the NSA snooping story bigger than it otherwise would be. It all comes down to trust.
The justification for giving the government a lot of snooping power hangs on two key arguments: That snooping will make us safer and that the snooping power won't be abused.
Has it made us safer? Anonymous government sources quoted in news reports say yes, but we know that all that snooping didn't catch the Tsarnaev brothers before they bombed the Boston Marathon -- even though they made extensive use of email and the Internet, and even though Russian security officials had warned us that they were a threat. The snooping didn't catch Major Nidal Hasan before he perpetrated the Fort Hood Massacre, though he should have been spotted easily enough. It didn't, apparently, warn us of the Benghazi attacks -- though perhaps it explains how administration flacks were able to find and scapegoat a YouTube filmmaker so quickly . But in terms of keeping us safe, the snooping doesn't look so great.
As for abuse, well, is it plausible to believe that a government that would abuse the powers of the IRS to attack political enemies, go after journalists who publish unflattering material or scapegoat a filmmaker in the hopes of providing political cover to an election-season claim that al-Qaeda was finished would have any qualms about misusing the massive power of government-run snooping and Big Data? What we've seen here is a pattern of abuse. There's little reason to think that pattern will change, absent a change of administration -- and, quite possibly, not even then. Sooner or later, power granted tends to become power abused. Then there's the risk that information gathered might leak, of course, as recent events demonstrate.
Most Americans generally think that politicians are untrustworthy. So why trust them with so much power? The evidence to date strongly suggests that they aren't worthy of it.