WASHINGTON -- Welcome to the new normal, the U.S. national security state thats grown like mad since the 9/11 terrorist attacks nearly a dozen years ago.
Personal privacy has shrunk. Government secrecy has grown. Law enforcement intrusions are commonplace, both overt and covert.
And while airport security lines hint at how life changed following Sept. 11, 2001, the full scope and apparent irrevocability of the changes nearly defy description. Street cameras track your movements. Strangers can read your emails. Police can spy on your political gatherings.
And its all become so commonplace that most of the time, like the proverbial frog in a pot of warming water, we take it for granted.
Some of the impacts have been obscured, Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, said Friday. One could say that personal privacy has been compromised for years, but we are only now becoming aware of it.
But even in this new normal, a shock or two can awaken the complacent. Thats what happened this week, in a one-two punch.
On Wednesday, Britains Guardian newspaper revealed that the National Security Agency is collecting telephone records of tens of millions of Verizon customers. On Friday, the Guardian and the Washington Post reported that the NSA is tapping directly into the central servers of nine companies including Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google and Facebook.
The ensuing uproar provoked President Barack Obama to offer a defense.
I think its important for everybody to understand . . . that there are some tradeoffs involved, Obama said Friday in San Jose, Calif. You cant have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, were going to have to make some choices as a society.
In his first remarks on the pair of surveillance program disclosures, Obama said he welcomes a debate but insisted that the nation must strike an appropriate balance between security and civil liberties.
Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, said she hopes this weeks revelations serve as a wakeup call for Americans. But, she said, while she welcomes Obamas desire for a debate, she noted that its difficult when the programs have already started.
Its also a difficult debate when federal officials dont show all their cards.
In 2011, the federal government spent $11.3 billion on security classification matters, according to the annual Information Security Oversight Office report. This was about three times the $3.7 billion spent on security classification matters in 1999.
The secret-keeping complicates the publics ability to figure things out.
Consider for instance, how the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., strongly defended the telephonic record-gathering.
Within the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States, Rogers said Thursday. We know that. Its important.
But Rogers, a former FBI special agent, provided no specifics about the allegedly thwarted terrorist attack, though news agency accounts say it involved a much-publicized alleged plan to bomb the New York subway system by a man living in Denver. Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-born U.S. resident, pleaded guilty to the plot in 2010.