Ever since the story broke this week, the discourse shaping up around the NSA PRISM domestic spying program has been equal parts funny and outrageous. There has been selective pockets of uproar over the news this week that NSA, with the cooperation of many major media companies, is data mining one's social media interactions. The program's code name is PRISM. Predictably, the ACLU came out very strongly against the program. ACLU's Anthony Romero screamed, "a pox on all three houses of government" for being complicit in the program. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a libertarian, also called the program "appalling" and an assault on the constitution. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also voiced outrage. But those voices of opposition to the program are predictable.
What was dismaying was the number of bipartisan voices were apologists for the program. Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Chambliss (R-GA) issued a joint statement saying the program was legal and necessary. They were joined recently by many Members of Congress including Lindsay Graham (R-SC). But it turned out that Members of Congress did not need to make individual statements in support or against because as President Obama stated, bipartisan groups of Congress were not only briefed on these policies, but had voted over and over since 2006 to renew these programs:
"The programs are secret in the sense that they are classified. They are not secret, in that every member of Congress has been briefed," he said during a speech in San Jose, Calif. "These are programs that have been authored by large bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006...Your duly elected representatives have consistently been informed."
With friends like these in Congress so diligently rubber stamping the President watching over their constituents privacy, who needs enemies?
Then there is the unlikely duo of Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), not exactly household names or flashy, but who had consistently in cryptic language tried to sound the alarm about these programs on which they had been briefed (but also gagged from talking about outright).
Meanwhile, not only have the tech companies who have been "partners" in PRISM been issuing either categorical denials that they are handing over information, but some have even refused comment on their participation altogether.
Perhaps what is most distressing to me is the public resignation and ultimate tolerance of such invasions of privacy. Even though it is the age of social media, it is still shocking how many people willingly and uncritically accept the government's justifications for all kinds of invasions of privacy with or without warrants in the name of an unending war against terror. That is one of the most lasting and damaging legacies of the 9/11 attack, a much higher threshold of public acceptance of a curtailment of civil liberties and a creation of a generation so willing to believe anything the government throws out as "necessary" for keeping the country safe.
Even as officials defend the data mining program and say it has foiled at least one terror attack, no one can provide details of this alleged success because that too, is classified. "Trust us," they tell the citizens.