Last week, Americans learned that even as the NSA collected information on their telephone and Internet behavior, the FBI was using fictitious companies to secretly operate what the AP called “a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cell phone surveillance technology.”
The news organization reported that surveillance flights may be more than a decade old, and identified “more than 100 flights since late April orbiting both major cities and rural areas.”
The merits of this program will now be debated.
What’s already clear, however, is the anti-democratic nature of keeping it hidden all these years. The U.S. is supposed to be governed by the people. Whether Americans want a federal law-enforcement agency using planes to conduct surveillance on vast swaths of the country is a question properly aired and debated.
It is for Americans to choose.
Instead, an executive branch that has grown alarmingly powerful since the September 11 terrorist attacks, or perhaps even before, imposed its preferred policy in secret. The vast majority of Americans were completely unaware of its choice.
This made voter accountability on the issue impossible.