In the new normal, political debate can be one-sided.
In a similar vein, secret courts make key decisions behind closed doors and say very little about them.
In 2000, before 9/11, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved 1,003 applications for secret wiretaps and physical searches, according to the courts sparse annual report. Last year, the secretive court approved 1,789 applications for electronic surveillance and an additional 212 applications for secret access to business records a 99.5 percent increase.
The details of the courts actions are, of course, secret.
So are the national security letters issued by the FBI to compel production of financial and other records. Under provisions of the Patriot Act, recipients of the letters are prohibited from telling anyone about them. In an important but little seen decision issued in March, U.S. District Judge Susan Ilston in California ruled that the national security letters non-disclosure requirement violated the Constitution.
The NSL non-disclosure provisions significantly infringe on speech regarding controversial government powers, Ilston wrote in a case brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.
In 2000, the FBI employed roughly 10,000 special agents. Now, reinforced by bigger budgets, the FBI employs about 13,000 special agents. The nature of their work has changed, as well.
Since the events of September 11, 2001, the FBI has transformed from a law enforcement agency to a national security and law enforcement agency, the bureau stated in its annual budget justification.
Overseas spying by the United States, too, has increased dramatically, and with it has come all kinds of budgetary and policy consequences. The total civilian intelligence budget, which was $27 billion in 1998, has jumped to about $54 billion, according to the Director of National Intelligence.
Note the name: the Director of National Intelligence was a position that didnt even exist prior to 9/11. Neither did the now-sprawling Department of Homeland Security or its Transportation Security Administration.
The TSAs airport screeners have been the primary reminder for many Americans of how the airplane-hijacking terrorists of 9/11 tilted U.S. behavior.
Consider what happens at the airport. Travelers remove shoes, exposing their socks. They remove belts, exposing their bellies. They empty pockets, exposing their private change. They stand, obediently, in a scanner that shows their body image, or they submit to being patted and touched by a uniformed stranger.
The enhanced pat-down procedure, if done non-consensually, would amount to sexual assault in most jurisdictions, and the intrusion of peering under his clothes would be similarly illegal, Harvard Law School students Jeffrey H. Redfern and Anant N. Pradhan declared in a 2010 lawsuit.
An appeals court heard arguments in the case in April, with the Obama administration noting that the backscatter X-ray scanner that the law students found objectionable has since been phased out. In the meantime, though, facial recognition software and similar tools proliferate, even as questions are raised about their accuracy.
The governments National Institute of Standards and Technology, for example, found false-negative rates for face-recognition verification of 43 percent using photos of subjects taken just 18 months earlier, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.