The revelations about the scope of National Security Agency surveillance from the documents released to the public by Edward Snowden have been so numerous and so extraordinary that I fear we may be becoming numb to them. That's partly because there's just been so much, one revelation after another to the point where the latest one doesn't surprise us anymore. It's also partly because mixed in with the genuinely distressing surveillance programs are some things that seem almost ridiculous, like the idea of NSA agents trying to unearth terrorist plots in World of Warcraft. But there are some basic facts about this whole affair that should make us all really frightened. We can sum it up as follows:
1. The scope of the NSA's surveillance is far greater than almost anyone imagined.
2. Barack Obama is not only perfectly fine with that surveillance, he was perfectly fine with it being kept secret from the American public.
3. As much discussion and consternation as Snowden's revelations produced, there has been no restraint on those surveillance powers, nor is there likely to be any time soon.
4. As new technologies and techniques of surveillance are developed, the NSA will incorporate them into its arsenal, continually expanding its reach.
5. Before long, there will be a Republican president who will appoint hundreds of other Republicans to high-ranking positions within the intelligence apparatus. Many of these will be former Bush administration officials and/or people who would like nothing more than to expand the NSA's surveillance of both foreigners and Americans as much as is technologically feasible.
We may have no more than three years to do something about it. Or it may be too late already.