Another long dismissed conspiracy theory is the notion that the National Security Administration (NSA) illegally eavesdrops on its citizens. While this particular theory has a long history, it gained new life after the events of 9/11 and a push by government agencies to monitor all communication to prevent terrorist acts. As the Director of National Intelligence recently revealed, the surveillance state is incredibly robust. As the Snowden documents also show, multiple programs, institutions, and companies constantly monitor cell phone, email, and other communication records. The scope of government surveillance is now far beyond the wildest dreams of most conspiracy theorists.
However, constant data collection does not have clear benefits. In 2014, The Washington Postreported that almost 90% of data collected by NSA surveillance was unrelated to terrorism. At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit claiming that this surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment right to privacy and First Amendment rights to free speech and association. Furthermore, collecting every possible piece of data is basically self-defeating. Not only are financial costs hefty, but, even when information like Syria’s use of chemical weapons comes to light, the U.S.A. cannot necessarily intervene. The greatest cost, though, is the loss of privacy, freedom, liberty, and mutual respect that should hold a society together.
These are not isolated instances of government abuse. Much like the Tuskegee Experiment, prisoners, soldiers, and mental health patients in Guatemala were deliberately infected with syphilis by their government in order to test antibiotic treatments. At base, the government is made up of imperfect and fallible human beings like any social institution. We must hold them to clear standards and regular evaluations to prevent injustice from occurring. At the same time, be careful what you dismiss. The next time that you hear a seemingly delusional conspiracy theory, take the time to investigate before you decide that it’s too impossible to be true. Otherwise, you might regret it.