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What if Government Steals Liberty and Fails to Deliver Safety?
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What if the government doesn’t really deliver for us? What if its failures to protect our lives, liberties and property are glaring? What if nothing changes after these failures?

What if the National Security Agency — the federal government’s domestic spying apparatus — has convinced Congress that it needs to cut constitutional corners in order to spy on as many people in America as possible? What if Congress has bought that argument and passed a statute that put a secret court between the NSA and its appetite for all electronically transmitted data in America? What if that secret court — called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — is supposed to protect personal liberty but instead has become a wall behind which the NSA hides?

What if the Constitution only permits warrants for searches and seizures that are based on probable cause of crime? What if the Constitution requires that all warrants for searches and seizures specifically describe the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized? What if the courts have ruled that electronic surveillance constitutes a search and seizure within the meaning of the Constitution?

What if the FISC issues warrants based on a lesser standard than probable cause of crime? What if its standard is probable cause of speaking with or knowing someone who has spoken with a foreign person? What if this is such an absurd and loose standard that it violates the Constitution and ends up protecting no one except the spies who pretend to employ it?

What if the FISC is a facade? What if the NSA spies on all people all the time while hiding behind FISC-issued warrants? What if the stated purpose of spying on everyone all the time is to keep us safe from terrorist acts by trading liberty for security? What if that trade has never worked?

What if the NSA has convinced President Donald Trump and his immediate two predecessors that it needs to spy on everyone in America to keep us safe, no matter what the Constitution says? What if those three presidents have bought that argument?

What if NSA spying is really done without any warrants? What if this spying captures in real time every keystroke on every computer and hand-held device — as well as the content of every email, text message, telephone call and fiber-optic cable transmission — in the United States 24/7?

What if NSA computers have direct and unimpeded access to all mainframe computers of all telecoms and computer service providers in the U.S.? What if the acquisition of all this data is known in the intelligence community as bulk surveillance?

What if the Constitution is the supreme law of the land? What if the Constitution, with its requirement of warrants based on probable cause and specifically identifying targets, expressly prohibits bulk surveillance? What if bulk surveillance is not only unconstitutional but also useless because it produces information overload — too much data to sift through in a timely manner?

What if President Trump and his immediate two predecessors have unleashed the NSA to acquire all communications data about everyone in America even though it’s obvious that the NSA cannot possibly sift through it all in a timely enough manner to keep us safe?


What if the Islamic State-inspired extremist who drove a rental truck on a New York City bicycle and pedestrian path and killed eight people last week did a dry run of his killing plans the week before? What if one of his own cellphones recorded portions of the dry run? What if the NSA had that recording but did not notice it until after the attack?

What if the same killer who drove the rental truck stored 90 video clips of other Islamic State-inspired killings on a cellphone? What if the NSA had those videos but did not notice them until after the attack?

What if the same killer who drove that rental truck also stored nearly 4,000 photos of Islamic State atrocities on a cellphone and the NSA, which has had the repellant photos since the killer first stored them, did not notice them until after the attack?

What if liberty is our birthright and cannot be taken away by government without a jury trial? What if the NSA’s allies in government wrongly and foolishly think that the surrender of privacy to America’s 60,000 domestic spies somehow keeps us safe?

What if the genius of the Constitution — if followed — is not only its protection of privacy but also its requirement that the government focus its searches and seizures on people who it has reason to suspect are engaged in criminal activity and about whom judges have ratified the evidence to support those suspicions? What if the Constitution requires the government to leave the rest of us alone?

What if the government stinks at keeping us safe but is very good at invading our privacy?

What if this bulk surveillance is about power and control and not about safety? What if the NSA has selectively leaked what it knows about some folks for political purposes? What if President Trump himself and his former national security adviser have been victims of those leaks?

What if the use of intelligence data for political purposes and not for safety is a profound danger to democracy? What if government can’t keep us safe? What if we falsely think that it does keep us safe? What if that delusion makes us less safe?

What if government’s bulk acquisition of private data makes us less free? What if government works not for us but for itself? What do we do about it?

Copyright 2017 Andrew P. Napolitano. Distributed by

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  1. After realizing how the NSA has surveillance powers that Hitler, Stalin or Mao could only dream of, I must say, thank goodness we have the 2nd amendment here in America.

    Does anyone think Americans in the future will ever have to fight against their own tyrannical government? I hope that never happens, but it wouldn’t be surprising in the next 50 years if this nation continues on a progressive trajectory.

  2. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I would like to see Mr. Napolitano address another aspect of wholesale government surveillance:


    What if communications between a lawyer and her clients, including about matters adverse to the government, are gathered up?


    To my knowledge neither the American Bar Association nor any other organization that one might reasonably expect to do so has even mentioned this threat to the lawyer/client privilege of confidentiality. Do lawyers defending, say, people charged with tax fraud now counsel and advise clients only in lead-lined conference rooms?

  3. What if the various agencies of the Intel apparatus spy first and foremost for inside information to enrich their friends and paymasters and, secondarily, to root out any dissenters to this state of affairs as “enemies of the state” to be dealt with accordingly to keep the party going?

  4. Dan Hayes says:

    The late Sam Francis provided a succinct and wise appellation for this essay: “Anarcho-Tyranny”.

  5. Old Tom says:

    Then maybe Thomas Jefferson might give us some advice.

    “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence”

    — US Declaration of Independence

  6. Eagle Eye says:

    thank goodness we have the 2nd amendment here in America.

    Now you know why THEY are desperate to limit and eliminate the Second Amendment.

    The point of comprehensive, universal, 24/7 surveillance of Americans (but not of foreign residents) is gradual intimidation of voters/consumers, as well as case-by-case blackmail in special situations.

    NSA eavesdropping data like the images and videos outlined above (as well as related “traffic analysis”) is used for criminal investigations only in very high-level cases, e.g. where a senior politician or her family are victims, and the perpetrator does NOT have political protection.

    The “Pizzagate” Podestas and others sharing their special predilections have nothing to fear from the NSA.

  7. @whyamihere

    it will never get to that point. mass surveillance alone will not push the easily fooled masses to rise up. maybe when usa starts a 3rd world war. but just maybe, not a certainty.

  8. eah says:

    They cannot possibly “deliver safety” — all but the most daft, the wilfully ignorant, and the complicit see that — and “steals liberty” means consolidate power.

  9. What if the Islamic State-inspired extremist who drove a rental truck on a New York City bicycle and pedestrian path and blah blah blah…

    What if Islam had nothing to do with the guy whatsoever?

    What if IS is another state sponsored (guess which one(s)) bogeyman; your tax dollars at work. Again.

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