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The issue of domestic surveillance is not principally about safety versus privacy, much as our national security state would like to define it that way. It is about a government that violates the Constitution in secret, then lies about it when challenged. Also remember that the federal government regards the person who revealed its chicanery as a criminal, even a traitor, to be sent to prison for espionage and treason. Government officials who spy on their own masters charge citizens who call attention to their crimes with espionage. These same officials betray their country and its Constitution, then charge those who reveal their crimes with treason.

You cannot reduce this issue to a tradeoff between liberty and security. Valid analysis requires we compare government behavior with standards of behavior prescribed in the Bill of Rights. When we discovered government tortured people in secret in 2005 and 2006, we said, “If government can do that, it can do anything.” It has proven us correct. It has demonstrated that it does not regard constitutional limits on its power as limits at all.

When the president and others in Congress say, “We welcome this debate,” what do they mean? They pretend to value privacy, but the most important question by far is whether our Constitution has any force. If it does not bind government, if it does not actually constrain its behavior, our common life as citizens of a republic has descended to the ant heap.

Government does not undertake its projects in secret for your benefit. It acts in secret for its own benefit, to protect its own power and privileges, and to commit crimes too serious and brazen to commit in the open. It only needs to act in secret because it wants to do things the Constitution and other laws prohibit it from doing at all. When anyone discloses the truth, as Edward Snowden did, criminals go after troublemakers like that with all their might.

Do not trust your government to do the right thing. It does not trust you, and it will not leave you alone.

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