You may have noticed that a number of countries are angry at the United States. It’s that Edward Snowden thing. Spying has suddenly provided a convenient horse for foreign leaders to ride in venting their simmering frustration at being constantly pushed around by Washington.
Our “exceptionalism” has long stuck in their craw, but the thick web of entanglements that binds the world together until now has kept them from grousing too much about Washington’s heedless actions.
This time it’s different. It’s personal. It is no longer about us deploying drones in countries with which we are not at war to murder people who may or may not be bad guys.
It’s plainly an altogether different thing when we intensively spy on world leaders, even when they’re our allies. It simply falls outside the accepted norm of international behavior.
Snowden’s revelations have loosened the valve on foreign grouchiness that had festered for years. Yes, each ally might do high-tech spying itself if it had the means, but since it appears that at least most of them don’t, they can all take on the role of wounded victim and know they will find support among other nations. Not to mention among their own voters.
What about the rest of us? Our emails are being tapped, our phone messages tracked, our cell phone locations mapped, and our license plates photographed. And it’s not just the NSA. The FBI is in on it, the Department of Homeland Security, the state police, and even some local cops.
Things have gotten so bad that a Bush-appointed judge just declared the whole thing “almost Orwellian.”
“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Richard J. Leon wrote in his 68-page ruling on a case brought by a conservative activist.
Don’t tell Michele Catalano about it. Her Long Island family’s home was invaded by a “Joint Terrorism Task Force” last summer due to their Web searches. She’d used the Internet to research whether buying a pressure cooker would be worth the bother while her husband ordered a backpack — and their son read reports on the Boston bombings.
“This is where we are at,” Catalano said of her ordeal. “Where you have no expectation of privacy. Where trying to learn how to cook some lentils could possibly land you on a watch list. Where you have to watch every little thing you do because someone else is watching every little thing you do.”
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn.