During a scene in 2006's Oscar-winning movie The Departed, a police officer played by Martin Sheen points at the government agents who are working with police during a sting operation and remarks, "All cell phone signals are under surveillance due to the courtesy of our federal friends over there." Alec Baldwin's cop character then slaps the back of a fellow officer in glee, exclaiming, "Patriot Act, Patriot Act! I love it, I love it, I love it!"
I always considered this scene to be a liberal Hollywood dig at then-President George W. Bush, whose Patriot Act was considered an assault on civil liberties by the Left. At the time, the two greatest beefs that liberals had with Bush were on the issues of foreign policy and civil liberties, with warrantless wiretapping and government eavesdropping at the top of the anti-Bush hit list. But that was then, this is now. Under a Democratic president, the Left antiwar movement has become a distant memory and their cries about defending civil liberties are silent now that Obama wields the power to spy on citizens, which he does far more than Bush.
Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union reported that there has been a dramatic increase in domestic warrantless electronic surveillance. The report notes that "Justice Department documents released ... by the ACLU reveal that federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans' electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability."
The ACLU reported that between 2009 and 2011 the number of people subjected to telephone wiretapping had doubled in some cases and tripled in others. And when it comes to the government snooping through your e-mail, the ACLU reported that the number of authorizations the Justice Department received increased 361 percent between 2009 and 2011. "Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that cellphone carriers received 1.3 million demands for subscriber information in 2011 alone," the report notes. "And an ACLU public records project revealed that police departments around the country, large and small, engage in cell phone location tracking."
Remember that scene in The Departed where the Feds help the police eavesdrop on private cell phone conversations? That's really happening, and not just to gangsters and criminals, like the one played by Jack Nicholson. It's happening to everyday American citizens at an alarming rate.
But what are the hard numbers, exactly? Unfortunately, that's a secret. We're not allowed to know. These discussions take place in "classified briefings," but as Fox News' Judge Andrew Napolitano explained in a column last month, that number is in the "gazillions." Napolitano adds, "That's the number of times the federal government has spied on Americans since 9/11 through the use of drones, legal search warrants, illegal search warrants, federal agent-written search warrants, and just plain government spying."
The liberal narrative throughout the 2000s of an executive branch assuming dictatorial powers to circumvent the Constitution was an accurate one. After 9/11, President Bush used that tragedy to set an unconstitutional precedent from which this country has yet to recover. But President Barack Obama has not only maintained that precedent, he has greatly expanded it. On the civil liberties issues that infuriated the Left under Bush, Obama has done far more damage. If Bush established indefinite detention for enemy combatants with the Patriot Act, Obama has not only retained this, but he has given us indefinite detention for American citizens with the National Defense Authorization Act. Also, under Obama, the president can even execute an American citizen suspected of terrorist activity without arrest or trial. The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf is correct when he writes: "Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama's kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed."
Then, of course, there is the drastic increase in government spying under Obama. When Barack Obama ran for president he promised to repeal the Patriot Act. He lied. When Obama became president, he not only kept it in place, but he expanded the anti-civil liberties and anti-Constitutional powers of the Executive Branch far beyond anything Bush and Cheney ever dreamed.
Though few will admit it, under Dubya liberals cared less about protecting civil liberties than they did about hating George W. Bush. Where are the angry "criminal" accusations we heard from the Left now that Obama makes his predecessor look like an ACLU lawyer? There are none. Liberals are mute and we are left with partisan silence. Assaulting the Constitution is simply not a crime when their president does it.
Jack Hunter assisted Sen. Jim DeMint with his book, Now or Never: Saving America From Economic Collapse.