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Please begin with an informative title:

These guys would never violate the 4th amendment unless it was to keep us safe right?
In America people like to think of their hero's as being unimpeachable in character and motivations. That these hero's are acting from a center in which the weak are protected, the good guys triumph over evil and the freedoms which are enshrined in our laws are safe guarded. Who could possibly question Captain America, protected by his shield of stars and stripes? Who would believe that Tony Stark, while endlessly self centered is not the epoch of American exceptional-ism in both wealth and intelligence? Hollywood over the years has allowed the prevailing notion that we have to allow our government total information awareness in order to keep us safe. That those who gather this type of information are only doing this in order to protect the greater good of society.

Let's take for example this telling scene in the Avengers Movies that came out last year before the revelations that the NSA and other governmental agencies were sweeping up vast amounts of data, with little or no safe guards, contrary to the 4th amendment of the U.S constitution.

[Nick Fury and Dr. Bruce Banner shake hands]
Nick Fury: Doctor, thank you for coming.
Bruce Banner: Thanks for asking nicely. So, uh... how long am I staying?
Nick Fury: Once we get our hands on the Tesseract, you're in the clear.
Bruce Banner: Where are you with that?
[Nick Fury turns to Agent Coulson to explain, while Natasha Romanoff eyes an image of Clint Barton on a computer screen]
Agent Phil Coulson: We're sweeping every wirelessly accessible camera on the planet. Cell phones, laptops. If it's connected to a satellite, it's eyes and ears for us.
Natasha Romanoff: That's still not gonna find them in time.
Bruce Banner: You have to narrow the field. How many spectrometers do you have access to?
Nick Fury: How many are there?
Bruce Banner: Call every lab you know, tell them to put the spectrometers on the roof and calibrate them for gamma rays. I'll rough out a tracking algorithm based on cluster recognition.
At least we could rule out a few places. Do you have somewhere for me to work?
Nick Fury: Agent Romanoff, would you show Dr. Banner to his laboratory, please.
[Natasha nods and walks off, leading Banner down the hall]
Natasha Romanoff: You're gonna love it, Doc. We got all the toys.
This scene to me stood out within the movie as it argued the ticking bomb scenario and that the violation of constitutionally guaranteed American rights and indeed the entire worlds right to be free from surveillance was an acceptable thing in order to prevent an arch terrorist/criminal/supervillain from carrying out his/her plot. The unaccountable spy network not only had to the right to violate the civil rights of all of earths citizens, but that it was necessary to catch an evildoer.  If you have seen the Avengers, Nick Fury the spy agency master is accountable only to a secret cabal of three white men and a woman who have the power in unleash a nuke at Manhattan in a moments notice without having any democratically elected officials input in the matter.

It is then left up to the hero's of the film to not only drive back the aliens, but push the nuke through the wormhole to destroy the Alien invaders. In the film the government not only retains the right to collectively spy upon the world, but does nothing to try and check the power of the government after the threat is gone. One can assume that these powerful figures, due to the technological advances they have will retain this right to spy on the world, for any justification they deem worthy. What could possibly be abused in this scenario as long as it is the "good guys" wielding this power.

Indeed, the themes in the movie are geared to indoctrinate young people into not only believing that it is the governments right to invade your privacy, but if they wish to blow you up to stop a terrorist then it is acceptable. While fiction, these types of false narratives are continually offered up by Hollywood.

Let's take this a bit further and look at how the release of Batman - The Dark Knight - treated the use of total information awareness.

Clap harder.
If you have seen the Dark Knight then you would know that one of the prevailing themes through out the movie is that the Joker is indeed a terrorist. He believes in sowing chaos throughout Gotham/Manhattan. He murders police, judges, and politicians in order to achieve his uncertain and never fully fleshed out goals of wanting to watch the world burn. He weaves anarchy and destruction with equal disregard for human life.

What is telling about this movie however is the way in which Batman responds to the madness of the Joker. He believes that in order to save lives he has to violate the privacy of all the citizens of Gotham. Acting under a secret government contract he builds an massive domestic spying device. This movie treats the power of unilaterally spying upon America as something that is necessary, but temporary as Batman's co-worker and friend Lucius Fox has grave misgivings about the power this type of machine affords him.

Batman: Beautiful, isn't it?

Lucius Fox: Beautiful... unethical... dangerous. You've turned every cellphone in Gotham into a microphone.

Batman: And a high-frequency generator-receiver.

Lucius Fox: You took my sonar concept and applied it to every phone in the city. With half the city feeding you sonar, you can image all of Gotham. This is wrong.

Batman: I've gotta find this man, Lucius.

Lucius Fox: At what cost?

Batman: The database is null-key encrypted. It can only be accessed by one person.

Lucius Fox: This is too much power for one person.

Batman: That's why I gave it to you. Only you can use it.

Lucius Fox: Spying on 30 million people isn't part of my job description.

Again Hollywood has presented us with another ticking time bomb plot as Batman wishes to use this device only once to catch the Joker. It is worth noting that Batman only resolves to spy upon the citizens when he realizes that torturing (and he does indeed torture the Joker) has no affect on the intelligence he gathered.

When finished he ensures that the machine is destroyed, thus only allowing a temporary breech in our civil liberties in order to keep us safe. The movie thus argues that a temporary breech in our constitutional rights is acceptable so long as they are restored in the end. This plot premise is easier to accept then the Avengers and their light treatment of unilaterally spying on the whole world, but equally as odious and damaging to how Americans interpret what powers the government has.

These are only two examples of how Hollywood has sold the American public the perception that they must give up their liberties and privacy in order to keep society as a whole safe. We can look further into what role shows and movies like 24, The Borne Identity, Threat Matrix, Burn Notice, and the spy genre in general play in advocating for the shredding of our civil liberties, but I would be writing all day.

The next time you have an authoritarian impulse to defend the governments actions in regards to domestic spying, please take a moment and examine why you hold those beliefs. Is it because you have weighed the evidence carefully, read the legal opinions, and formulated your opinion? Or are you regurgitating a narrative you watched in movies about the government needing this ability in order to keep us safe.

In the words of my favorite vocalist Maynard Jame Keenan from Tool:

Think for yourself - Question authority.

Peace and happy musings.


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Originally posted to Tool on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 09:44 AM PDT.

Also republished by The First and The Fourth and Community Spotlight.

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