“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search and seizure, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…” —The Fourth Amendment
Mass government surveillance is plainly a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights.
We didn’t vote for the NSA. But we haven’t expressed a lot of public outrage about it, either. A troubling truth about people is that we will usually choose to give away our liberties in exchange for the promise of a little more safety.
If Washington respected our rights and our privacy, Federal Agents would have to obtain a warrant every time they spied on a citizen. And these Warrants would be very rare because spying on others is objectively wrong.
“Do Unto Others …” Since nobody wants to be spied on in their private conversations, surveillance is always wrong. It’s not only bad for the person being spied on, but it may be even worse for the spy, because his job is to ruin lives.
The primary victims of our Mass Surveillance state are the spies themselves. They are apt to suffer from guilt and paranoia.
“The Conversation” is not Francis Ford Coppola’s best film. But it may be his most important and insightful. The lead character is a surveillance expert who is losing his sanity and his soul.
Famous overactor Gene Hackman gives an understated performance as miserable loner Harry Caul.
Harry is the most innovative surveillance professional in San Francisco. When we meet him, Harry and his team are secretly recording the private conversation of a scared young couple in the park.
When he gets back to his lab, Harry uses cutting edge technology to splice together the best of all the recordings while filtering out background noise. He creates a perfectly clear tape to give his client: the director of a major corporation (Robert Duvall).
But while all the words are clear, the meaning of the conversation is not. A problem with spying is that you can hear every syllable of an exchange but not genuinely understand what they are talking about. Worse yet, you are likely to project your own meaning and jump to completely false conclusions.
That is what Harry does. He is convinced that his surveillance is going to result in the murder of this sweet young couple. And the guilt is tearing him apart.
He tries to find solace with his girlfriend, but he can’t be open with her. He goes to Confession but he can’t even be honest with the Priest. Harry built his career on subterfuge and now the truth is like a foreign language to him.
Paranoia is his new native tongue. When we meet him, Harry already has three locks on his door and an alarm system. Now he becomes convinced that the corporate director and his sinister assistant (Harrison Ford) are spying on him.
In the darkly funny climax, Harry literally tears his apartment apart looking for a bug that probably isn’t there. The drywall, the floorboards … everything. The last stone unturned is a little statue of the Virgin Mary. Harry looks at it for a minute. Then he rips it apart, too.
Mr. Coppola has made his point. A career spying on others has robbed Harry of his happiness, his trust, his sanity, and his morality. Spying is wrong. Surveillance is wrong. The FBI is wrong. The NSA is wrong.
Blessed are those who mind their own business.