The national security letter strikes me as an inherently bad thing. As they exist today, they can compel people and institutions to hand over information, much like a warrant, except that they don’t require a judge’s oversight. A judge is only required to review an NSL if someone challenges the NSL. But here’s the really tricky thing: when you get one, you can’t talk about it. It comes with a built-in gag order. So good luck asking anyone if you have any grounds to challenge it, sucker. For most folks, your only realistic options are to comply or to get arrested. In effect, they force the recipient to become a spy; they must hand over whatever secret information their superiors want, but they cannot reveal their actions to anyone. Brewster Kahle got one, and his experience was not a pleasant one. I don’t want to see that sort of thing happen to anyone.
And how many people does this sort of thing happen to? Well, if we go by 2013 alone… 19,212. That’s how many NSLs were sent out in just one year. Nineteen thousand secret warrants. Nineteen thousand forced acts of spying. And if you think that’s bad, apparently it used to be worse: this article says that between 2003 and 2006, the FBI issued about 200,000 NSLs. That comes out to about 180 secret gag warrants being sent out every single day.
Some folks call modern America a “police state”, but I don’t think that’s quite the right term. It conjures up images of massive overt oppression, when what’s really happening is much more insidious. I propose, instead, that we call our current state a “spy state”. You can’t see who’s watching you, but you know they’re there, seeing everything you do. And life goes on and everything seems normal, until the day they decide they need you, in which case you’d better cooperate, or you’ll just disappear. There is no resisting the spy draft.