Nothing Sacred, Nothing Secret

Turn your calendars back -- 1984 has arrived in America.

Your DNA is being filed away in a national data base, and your phone calls -- within and outside the U.S. -- are being tapped and stored by your government.

There is one thread linking these two stories: our government's frightful and fanatical intrusion into our personal lives.

Leave it to a foreign newspaper, the Guardian, to break the telephone story. Their reporter, Glenn Greenwald, revealed that under a top-secret court order, issued in April, the National Security Agency has been "legally" collecting phone records from millions of Verizon users. The administration's usual defense -- that it is all in the service of security and counter-terrorism -- is feeble and despicable. At the very least, it is admitting that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are incompetent, and that every American must be put under surveillance. The Fourth Amendment -- the right to privacy -- be damned.

The Verizon program may be only the tip of the iceberg. The government is building a vast storage center to contain all these purloined phone calls, and any other kinds of communications that the government may eventually steal: emails? SMS'?

The Supreme Court decision this week to allow the police to take DNA samples of everyone brought into custody is another appalling example of America's rapidly growing police-state mentality.

The three women on the bench -- Justices Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor -- all dissented; they were joined by only one man, Antonin Scalia, who said the ruling was "vast" and "scary." Those four were trying to defend the Constitution, but five male colleagues trashed it. Collecting DNA without a warrant is again trampling on the Fourth Amendment. Twenty-eight states already allow this; now it will be the law of the land. Bottom line: your home cannot be searched without a warrant, but your body may be scanned with impunity.

Imagine being arrested for a traffic offense, being hauled into police headquarters, and being finger-printed, photographed... and swabbed for DNA. What misdemeanors in your past might eventually turn up? Smoking pot in a public place? Participating in an anti-war demo? Defaulting on alimony payments? Who knows what major or minor transgressions might be exposed? You will only be assumed innocent until something questionable appears. This ruling will instill fear and loathing of the police. Who would dare to call the cops for help, when your DNA swab might toss you into prison? (Joining the two and a half million already there.)

At best, this is a program of personal intrusiveness; at worst, it could morph into a weapon of mass incarceration. Let's not pretend that DNA scanning will merely protect us from criminals: it has the potential to criminalize nearly every one of us.

And let's not assume that tapping our phones is going to make us safer: it will be creating an invisible web of fear and intimidation that will lead, inevitably, to more surveillance and repression. Unless there's a popular outcry, it may already be too late to stop the process.