After the revelations of NSA surveillance my concern, along with others such as Daniel Ellsberg, was not that we were already in an Orwellian totalitarian state, but that the infrastructure for a police state was being developed. In 2013 Ellsberg warned:
Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.
Civil libertarians now fear another development which risks the progression to a police state–the election of Donald Trump. Even those who trusted Obama with these powers recognize the dangers of abuse under Trump. Politico reports:
Tech and civil liberties advocates are imploring the Obama administration to rein in the government’s massive surveillance apparatus before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, fearful he will carry out his campaign promises to register Muslims, spy on mosques and punish companies that offer Americans unbreakable encryption.
But many national security experts and former administration officials say the effort is almost certainly doomed to fail. “I don’t know how you tie the king’s hands in just the weeks going out,” said Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama.
And some civil libertarians blame Democrats for being too content to allow President Barack Obama to wield the sweeping, post-Sept. 11 surveillance powers he inherited from George W. Bush, rather than rolling them back so that no future president could use them.
“We shouldn’t be relying on the benevolence of the leaders put in power after an election to ensure that people’s privacy and civil liberties are protected,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.
“You have a situation where the executive branch has control of a surveillance apparatus that is unparalleled in history,” said Trevor Timm, a surveillance critic and head of the activist group Freedom of the Press Foundation. “And because the Obama administration either retained the right to use a lot of these unprecedented powers, or expanded them, they are now in the hands of somebody who many people consider to be a madman.”
…Hoping to head Trump off, civil liberties, digital rights and watchdog groups are pleading with Obama to take a series of actions to weaken the surveillance state. Those include releasing classified inspector general reports and the secret legal rationales behind the government’s spying efforts, which could help advocates challenge Trump in court. Some also urged Obama’s team to purge the NSA’s databases of some of the information they hoover up, wiping out reams of data that are focused on foreigners but incidentally drag in details on an unknown number of Americans.
Thirty advocacy groups banded together this week in a letter telling Obama to take action, writing: “No less than our shared legacy of a vibrant democratic government is at stake.”
…Obama came into office vowing to “revisit” many of these powers, but privacy advocates believe he has largely failed to do so. While the president has regularly spoken about the need for greater checks and public oversight of the system, he has defended the powers themselves.
“This may go down in history as President Obama’s most consequential mistake,” Timm said.
Civil libertarians have been concerned about the danger of abuses under Donald Trump, but the degree of government surveillance placed civil liberties at risk regardless of whether Trump was elected. Other than for Trump’s xenophobia, Hillary Clinton’s views on civil liberties and the surveillance state are not all that different from those of Donald Trump.
There is one benefit to Trump as opposed to Clinton winning–Democrats will be far more likely to protest abuses under Trump than they would protest abuses from Clinton. Many partisan Democrats have been whitewashing her record and excusing her extremely conservative views on First Amendment rights. Those of us who protested the growth of the surveillance state under both Bush and Obama were often ignored by Democrats when Obama was president and they thought he would be succeeded by Clinton. The election of Donald Trump is opening more eyes to the danger of such powers in the hands of the president.