A branch of the government known as the NSA abused the system of laws that protect citizens in America. The excessive surveillance power given to the NSA greatly relates to Locke’s ideas of society and government and how those who enforce the law can become ill natured for power. (Locke Ch.2 Sect.13) The NSA is a government agency that received a lot of media excitement after their contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents showing how they were abusing a law known as section 215 to domestically spy on citizens. According to reporter and comedian John Oliver “section 215 says that the government can ask for any tangible things…for an investigation to protect against international terrorism…which is basically a blank check”. (Oliver 2:17-2:27) Furthermore, the NSA has gone on to “collect and store phone records for every American, the vast majority of whom have no connection to terrorism.” (Oliver 2:45-3:00)
John Locke the English philosopher who wrote the Second Treaties, an essay that depicts the nature of man and society through civil government, has had his work considered to be the fundamental building blocks of today’s western civilizations. Locke proposed a “state of nature” in which man could live without a government, an existence in which no one has authority over each other but retains the ability to execute “the law of nature”. (Locke Ch.2 Sect.6) He went on to explain the flaw in this state being “that self-love will make men partial to themselves” displaying how the law of nature cannot be enforced in such a society without man abusing it for self-interest. (Locke Ch.2 Sect.13) According to Locke, this self-interest among mankind is a problem and a “civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniences of the state of nature”. (Locke Ch.2 Sect.13) Basically, Locke proposed that the establishment of a civil government could solve the problems that existed in the state of nature. If Locke were around to see the civil government, we call the United States of America, I have no doubt that its structure would abide by his theories of nature and execution of laws. However, I do believe that the NSA incident regarding Edward Snowden would draw great criticism from John Locke, as it would greatly relate to his ideas on tyranny and self-interest. John Oliver’s “Government Surveillance” excerpt from HBO greatly examines the NSA incident and relates to Locke’s ideas of tyranny.
Locke defines a tyrant as someone who uses their power for self-interest against the commonwealth, he states “tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to”. (Locke Ch.18 Sect.201 Sect.199) In these terms the NSA could be considered a tyranny in the structure of the civil government because of their abuse of the section 215 laws. Locke even states that not all tyrants have to be individuals, that “other forms of government are liable” as well. (Locke Ch.18 Sect.201) The fact remains that the NSA has a “blank check” in which they can practically request any information they want, to enforce the laws on citizens.
According to John Oliver, thanks to Edward Snowden “we have this information now, we no longer have the luxury of pleading ignorance”. (Oliver 6:58) However, even through his sacrifices Snowden was unable to get a vast majority of individuals to understand this complicated matter. Oliver stated “a recent pew report showed that 46% of Americans descried themselves as not very concerned or not at all concerned…and I’m not sure that’s an informed opinion” (Oliver 7:22) Oliver states this because even after they were exposed, the civil government of America still had the power to prevent large scale exposure. Oliver goes on to state that in 2011 the patriot act encompassing section 215 was passed for a 4-year extension and the only news coverage given was just thrown at the end of a news report with little context. (Oliver 4:00) Then a year ago a congresswoman was discussing the problems with section 215 and was immediately cut mid-way in her conversation to air a live broadcast of Justin Bieber getting arrested. (Oliver 12:24)
These examples contest to Locke’s point that a tyrant will have to keep the majority of people from getting aggravated, that the people should have faith in a government regardless of mishaps. (Locke Ch.18 Sect.209) Locke argues that indent’s like Snowden are “the most dangerous state which” a government, “can possibly put themselves in”, and if they really intend to uphold the law then the citizens should not “see and feel it, as it is for the father of a family, not to let his children see he loves, and takes care of them”. (Locke Ch.18 Sect.209) However, Locke understands that this is wrong but the only way in which a civil government can continue is to rule the citizens. I personally believe that if Locke were able to witness the NSA event, he would also consider it a tyranny as well as an abuse of power against the citizens. Between the abuse of power and the constant care to upkeep section 215 as a priority it becomes evident that John Oliver’s coverage of Edward Snowden’s NSA scandal clearly represents Locke’s idea of tyranny.