The Chilling Effect of Domestic Spying

Editor’s note: I have had the privilege of working closely with Mark Lerner and his Constitutional Alliance for many years. He is one of the nation’s leading experts sounding the alarm against the growing American surveillance state. – Tom DeWeese 

The good news is now that the Snowden revelations have revealed to a large degree the domestic surveillance taking place, the public knows more about what OUR government is doing. The bad news is the chilling effect creating a surveillance state has on a representative form of government.

The chilling effect can be simply defined as the way in which people alter or modify their behavior to conform to political and social norms as a result of knowing or believing they are being observed. The observation can be from physical surveillance, telephone meta data being collected, emails being intercepted and read, search engine requests being maintained, text messages being read and stored, financial transactions being monitored and much more. This paper will examine the chilling effect and provide some empirical data (links within this article) to show the chilling effect is real.

Denial is no longer an option. For years, even decades it has been reported by people inside and outside our government that agencies and departments within our federal government have been spying on citizens and further collecting data (Personal Identifiable Information) associated with the domestic spying taking place. Many of us who discussed the spying taking place were called conspiracy theorists, tin foil hat wearers, or black helicopter paranoid people: Today we are called realists.

The Snowden revelations are unique because of the depth and scope of the revelations and because Snowden had the official documents to back up his assertions. Previously people including former NSA analysts such as William Binney, Thomas Drake, Russell Tice and Kirk Wiebe had come forward asserting that our government was spying on citizens.

Too many in the government, the media, and the public dismissed the allegations of these men because it was “easy” to do so rather than believe the worst about our government, or actually having to do something about domestic spying. To be fair the NSA has not been the only ones accused of domestic spying. The FBI, DHS, and the CIA have also been proven to having done their own domestic spying; in the case of the FBI going back over seventy years.

I support the need for our intelligence community, law enforcement, and our military. Unfortunately in much the same way the “Stockholm Syndrome” results in a person who has been kidnapped falling victim to the goals and aspirations of the kidnappers, the “rank and file” of those responsible for protecting us and our freedom have fallen victim to corrupt leadership in our intelligence and law enforcement communities. The culture of corruption is just as infectious as any chemical or biological weapon of mass destruction.

Congress has its share of the blame for the domestic spying that has and even to this day is taking place. After all it is congress that has the responsibility of oversight over agencies and departments of the federal government. All too often congress has failed to do what it has been tasked with doing; performing oversight. In fact, not too long ago congress gave retroactive immunity to telecom companies for the roles telecom companies played in illegally collecting information for the NSA at the request of former President Bush. When it comes down to it, there is plenty of “blame” to go around. Some are guilty: All are responsible including the public for not demanding better of our elected and appointed officials.

Whether a Democrat or Republican occupied the White House or regardless of which party controlled the Senate and/or the House of Representatives, domestic spying took place and is still taking place. Domestic spying is not a “Right” or “Left” issue. Domestic spying is an equal opportunity offender.

Typically I would provide dozens of links in an article to substantiate what I am writing. In the case of the chilling effect I am only going to provide three links. The three links provide undeniable evidence that the chilling effect is real and how the chilling effect is affecting our country prism-darkly-fear-of-nsa-surveillance-is- having-a-chilling-effect-on-the-open-web/ and headline/2013/11/12-5 and finally http:// abstract_id=2412564

The bottom line is the chilling effect is not some psycho mumble jumble. The chilling effect is quantifiable based on empirical data. People were polled and research has been done. The public including lawmakers, young people, journalists and other “writers” have all too various degrees become subject to the chilling effect. Political scientists, attorneys, law professors, psychologists, sociologists have all weighed in on the chilling effect. I have read dozens of papers and other material accounting for thousands of pages about the “Chilling Effect”.

Depending on who is doing the research and the writing, it is fair and reasonable to assert that as much as 50% of people or more alter their behavior to conform to political and social norms as a direct result of the surveillance state that has been created in the United States. Up to 33% of journalists and other writers have admitted to changing what they write or say, or seriously considered changing what they write or say because they believe they are being “watched”.

What does all this mean to “activists” who are attempting to get the “general public” engaged in a whole host of issues from Common Core, Real ID, smart meters, immigration, national debt, healthcare, foreign policy and yes, even including domestic surveillance among other issues? What it means is the chilling effect will make it much more difficult to engage the general public much less educate and motivate the general public to “take a stand” and have their voices heard.

In addition to the surveillance state we must not forget that state and federal government has said domestic terrorism is the biggest threat to our country. Veterans, anti-abortion advocates, anti-war activists, third party supporters, environmentalists, 2nd Amendment supporters, states’ rights proponents, and many other groups of people have all been named as “potential domestic terrorists” by state and federal government agencies and departments. Once again it is not a “Left/Right” issue. People and groups on both sides of the political spectrum are “suspects.” The presumption of innocence is no longer a consideration. This broad profiling of people and groups only exasperates the “Chilling Effect” domestic spying has.

We live in a country where CCTV (Closed Circuit Television cameras), Automatic License Plate Readers, RBI (Remote Biometric Identification – primarily using facial recognition software), drones over U.S. airspace, and many other “tools” are being used to further the surveillance state. Agencies and departments of the federal government, states and even local law enforcement have admitted to lying to the court, prosecutors and defense attorneys about how evidence was obtained in the prosecution of defendants.

The Director of National Intelligence lied to congress and the people about domestic spying taking place. It is not me saying he lied; he admitted it himself. A baseball player who lied to congress about using steroids has gone to jail. Ask yourself where is the accountability of appointed and elected leaders who lie to the public and/or congress? There is none which is why the surveillance state and the chilling effect are alive and well.

Often I am accused of being soft on Christians because of my religious beliefs, which by the way I have made no secret of. The truth is, it is Christians, not Jewish people, Muslims, or people of no faith that have been the ones primarily responsible for the surveillance state we now have in the United States. I have often said that a surveillance state and a free society cannot be reconciled. Never in history has a surveillance state and a representative form of government existed side by side.

In my next article titled “Are You a Christian First” I examine just how Christians have failed to apply biblical principles and values to political policy and actions. Church leaders have failed to discuss the surveillance state and how it is consistent with biblical prophecy, especially Revelation 13:14- 18. Sometimes it is pride, at other times it is because Church leaders are not comfortable speaking about laws and technology, or these same leaders simply have lost their way falling victim to “spiritual blindness.”

Biometrics (e.g. facial recognition technology, iris scans, fingerprints, voice recognition, DNA) is the linchpin of a surveillance state. Proponents of biometrics including law enforcement and political officials will tell you that using biometrics will control welfare fraud, illegal immigration, voting fraud, crime in general, terrorism, and just about everything else under the sun. Proponents will also tell you that facial recognition technology, handheld biometric devices, CCTV, drones, and smart phones will be the savior for each of us stopping or greatly reducing all types of crimes and terrorism.

Biometrics allow for you to be identified (truth is biometrics do not identify you – documents such as birth certificates do) and tracked in public. We had the biometrics of eleven Russian spies arrested in our country a few years ago and had no idea of who most of these people really were.

For Christians there is only one Savior and that is Jesus Christ; not biometrics. In fact, in a sad form of irony biometrics is much like the Anti-Christ; the false answer to all the problems of man.

The surveillance state is the reason for the chilling effect; it stands to reason we should all be resisting and opposing mandatory global biometric enrollment that directly links a person’s body to their ability to buy, sell, travel, and work (Comprehensive Immigration Reform – S744).

We can agree or disagree on a myriad of issues but we must all agree that a surveillance state and the chilling effect that is a byproduct of the surveillance state are not in the best interest of any citizens regardless of their political ideology.

We must each reach deep down inside ourselves to find the courage, strength and wisdom to stand up to and oppose a surveillance state.

Think, think, and then think some more about how the chilling effect impacts our right to free speech, freedom to associate with others, right to seek redress, and right to peacefully assemble. The chilling effect created as a result of the surveillance state is a perfect example of the cure being worse than the disease. Just as taking the oxygen out of the air we breathe would kill each of us, the chilling effect of a surveillance state smothers the freedom so important to the survival of our constitutional republic.

Mark Lerner leads The Constitutional Alliance, It is a valuable and credible source of information on the use of biometrics as tools for spying on American citizens. Mark frequently is an expert witness to start and federal hearings on the subject. And he works with groups, state lawmakers, members of congress and their staffs and private citizens. Contact Mark at

Mark Lerner