A lot of people look at this and say, well, it's not good, but it's not bad as it hasn't happened to me or to anyone I know. That's just blatantly wrong. The executive branch has developed these new powers during the course of a decades-long drift towards secrecy and authoritarianism. The abuses will get worse.
If you have been watching the Wikileaks case closely, you will probably have noticed that the US government has been putting pressure on other governments and corporations to restrict or attack the whistleblower website. Glenn Greenwald summarizes these developments:
Just look at what the U.S. Government and its friends are willing to do and capable of doing to someone who challenges or defies them -- all without any charges being filed or a shred of legal authority. They've blocked access to their assets, tried to remove them from the Internet, bullied most everyone out of doing any business with them, froze the funds marked for Assange's legal defense at exactly the time that they prepare a strange international arrest warrant to be executed, repeatedly threatened him with murder, had their Australian vassals openly threaten to revoke his passport, and declared them "Terrorists" even though -- unlike the authorities who are doing all of these things -- neither Assange nor WikiLeaks ever engaged in violence, advocated violence, or caused the slaughter of civilians.
This is all grounded in the toxic mindset expressed yesterday on Meet the Press (without challenge, naturally) by GOP Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said of Assange: "I think the man is a high-tech terrorist. He’s done an enormous damage to our country, and I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And if that becomes a problem, we need to change the law." As usual, when wielded by American authorities, the term "terrorist" means nothing more than: "those who impede or defy the will of the U.S. Government with any degree of efficacy."
So when does this start coming home to roost? Right now, argues Greenwald:
All the oppressive, lawless policies of the last decade -- lawless detention, Guantanamo, disappearing people to CIA black sites, rendition, the torture regime, denial of habeas corpus, drones, assassinations, private mercenary forces, etc. -- were designed, first and foremost, to instill exactly this fear, to deter any challenge. Many of these policies continue, and that climate of fear thus endures...
These policies, in short, aren't really targeted at terrorists, but at ordinary people who might otherwise choose to speak out or act up. By constructing a "climate of fear" around anything related to "national security", the US government has already succeeded in restricting people's rights. Think of airports. You go into those having already lost your rights to privacy and free speech - for fear, basically, that if you say the wrong thing, or have a word misheard or a joke misconstrued, you'll be arrested. By instilling paranoia about the ways in which we exercise our rights, they remove our capability to exercise them.
I can already hear you saying that I'm being too alarmist, or that naming American practices as authoritarian or antidemocratic is self-evidently inaccurate.