On his show Tuesday night, MSNBC host Chris Hayes provided a brief overview of government surveillance of American citizens during the Cold War.
The history lesson was meant to highlight why it was troublesome to provide the government with broad and unchecked power to spy on its own citizens. Though the Cold War-era surveillance was carried out under the name of national security, it was used against innocent civilians.
At the time, authorities feared that communists were using the civil rights movement to undermine the United States government. Fearing the influence of communists and Soviets, the FBI spied on prominent civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“They stalked his every move, broke into and bugged his office, they bugged his hotel rooms and they wiretapped his phones,” Hayes explained.
Despite America’s sordid history regarding surveillance, Hayes observed that recent polls had found a majority of Americans supported the National Security Agency’s ability to access the telephone records of millions of Americans. Hayes said the public’s acceptance of the expansive surveillance program was understandable, since it targeted terrorists.
“But there’s a pretty major sticking point, and that is the as long as it’s not abused part, because history tells us that is not actually a thing. A nonabused massive government surveillance apparatus. That is not what Dr. Martin Luther King tells us.”
“When you construct a massive surveillance apparatus, history tells us that it will be brought to bear not just on ‘the enemy,’ but on the people who threaten society’s power structure,” he added, “on whoever exists at the political margins, whether it’s Martin Luther King Jr. or some Occupy Boston protesters. It’s not some Orwellian abstraction. It’s America’s history and America’s recent history.”
Watch video, courtesy of MSNBC, below: