Between the NSA, War on Noun, White Supremacists, Gay Rights, and Whatever. This is not our first dance with a government or agencies working for the government, have overreached their bounds. Lincoln had expanded the powers of the office of president; which I'm sure nobody really really will argue with since at the time there was a war going on. Not a 'War on Noun' just to drive up fear but an actual literal people are dying kind of war. So at least to me he gets something of a pass for having a small freakout.
Everyone, at least those that seem to agree the 'War on Terror' is bad thing equates the time we're living in with the 50's Mcarthy era witch hunts. For those that don't know McCarthy basically used 'I have a list of people working in government that are Communist sympathizers' as a way of getting enough support to get reelected. He wouldn't show this list but he'd club anyone over the head that would oppose him with insinuations that they wren't american or patriotic and go back home to Russia. No actually more often he'd use this as a weapon to axe anyone he thought was a danger to himself and it just kept on going til somebody stood up and made him stop because distracting and meaningless.
I brought up Lincoln because unlike McCarthy he is currently a well thought of historical figure and in my view an example of one of the few times someone reached for power for a real threat rather than just to use a situation to accumulate More for themselves. Yes we were all scared because 9/11, and yes the thought of somebody who had gassed his own people in the 80's having stockpiles of more he might use against us (or more likely sell to other people that would) was also scary... even if it turned out to be false.
Odd thing is even Lincoln wasn't the first time a president had expanded their authority. For that we'd have to go all the way back to John Adams and the time of the French Revolution. At the time we weren't technically at war with France (mostly because at the time we were a little to nothing brand new nation and France is the reason we got independence from England in the first place.
This act was purely political. Sure in theory we had to worry about French Nationals, but Adams and the Federalists were more worried about Jefferson and keeping the party backing him.
Personally when I first heard about this in high school it all sounded like Adams was thin skinned and didn't want to hear personal criticism so used his office like a club to try railroading bills through but later found out there was more to it than that and it all boils down to people wanting to exclude and harass other people because group b was a possible threat to group a's power. End of story.
Sadly this was also the name of a WW1 era law that also dealt with anti-patriotism. Sure it was aimed at people disrupting the war effort (why do we need to pass a separate law for people doing things already considered illegal? Because Reasons I guess.) Are we seeing a pattern yet? War and or threats of war leads to people making a grab for Power.
I'm not one of those people that think 9/11 was an inside job or anything silly like that. I just think people in charge acted rashly and decided they needed to be seen as doing something Right Now and either didn't spare a thought for how these laws might get misused or didn't particularly care. Sad that the Patriot Act has survived twelve years and not just the election of a president that campaigned on the fact government was going too far, and not just his re-election, but also a congress that for a short time could have repealed this without any meaningful opposition.
None of this deals with the current problem of the NSA does it? The NSA isn't a President or even in one of the three branches of government. Their sucking up information though is an even greater threat because, even if the rumored 90% layoff of contractors is true you're still going to have leaks, people who want to use that data for their own ends (ex-spouse, friend of a friend needing some dirt on somebody, outright selling to somebody else to make a few thousand or so on the side.)
I think we, as in America, need intelligence agencies to tell us about things we need to know. Knowing is important so we don't have more 9/11's or other worse incidents. Unfortunately when an agency who's oversight body, the FISA court in this case, hasn't refused a request since at least 2005 making any theoretical limit to the NSA's spying does not exist.
This is very problematic especially since I use Google's services and, actively aiding or unwilling partner, Google has been 'outed' as helping hoover up data to be mined at a latter point. This is not news for anyone that's heard anything about PRISM. My blog is publicly searchable and attached to my name so if I were a suspect for something then I'm sort of up a creek if it's contents are frowned on.
What about someone who talks to someone who I occasionally happen to share a forum with that's being looked at for something? I'm suddenly in a list of interesting persons pool because of a couple degrees of association. Think of how many people you interact with on a daily basis. Now try envisioning how many people those people interact with. You have that many chances of being given a few thousand negative watts of spook eye over something you might not ever know about til you're on a no-fly list or your boss calls you in because some scary agency is calling him about your records and activity.
Wars shrink our freedoms. That's what I'm getting at here. Wars scare people and people are panicky and usually willing to follow someone that looks like they know what they're doing because way back when that was the best way to survive.
I maintain these people are not inherently evil like you find in bond movies or cheese ball b-list stuff. Stupidity is at work here. Massive amounts of stupidity and self-interest. The President has and still lies about all of this because he is a very public figure and if he starts coming clean the fringe that's already annoyed turns into the mass public getting annoyed which gets him and a lot of other people that are accountable into trouble... or at least it has them scrambling to deal with this rather than something else.