As the usual suspects defend the recently leaked programmes of surveillance–brought to us by the Department of Defense–as legal, one must contemplate what this concept of legality truly constitues. It requires little skill to apologetically assert that the government is within its rights to collect data on various and sundry people in order to protect its citizens from the lurking, amorphous threat that is terrorism because such activities are not expressly prohibited within the law. But, the US Constitution notwithstanding, why is it seemingly assumed that what is legal is unchangeable?
There is an underlying hopelessness demonstrated by both parties to this discussion. Whether the broad wiretapping is legal or illegal seems to have hidden the fact that the concept of legality includes the ability to amend the law by those who are elected to represent the people. That is to say, if Congress were to truly desire to make such activities illegal, it would be quite easy for it to draft and pass a law stating as much. It is sadly common to see the law as a sort of God given, engraved in stone, set of rules that can only be interpreted–one way or the other.
The despondent nature of those who defend the leaks, leakers, and abhor the programmes is illustrated when they attempt to battle the government by means of positing a different interpretation of the law than the government’s, which it currently uses to justify its actions. Why not eschew the thoroughly discredited paradigm of contesting with divergent interpretations and, instead, call for our representatives to explicitly outlaw such governmental activity?
The law is not an inviolable natural code sent to us from on high. The law was written by humans and it can be changed by humans.