The government is watching you. In fact, the government may very well be watching you read this review.

To be fair, in his new book author John Whitehead isn’t quite so extreme in describing the threat to liberty posed by overreaching authorities. But he comes close.

A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State
by John Whitehead
Select Books 2013

Of course, if Whitehead seems alarmist at times, that’s because as an attorney and civil rights advocate it’s his job. And considering the trends he outlines in A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, there is plenty to be alarmed about.

Indeed, Whitehead builds his case with a compelling litany of outrageous incidents and practices that have already been perpetrated by officials at various levels of government.

These include:

• The militarizing of some local police forces through the purchase of armored vehicles and the acquisition special forces-style weaponry.

• A minimizing of the right to be secure in one’s person and property through the increased employment of no-knock warrants, random pat-down searches, the locking away of competent individuals in mental wards, and the rising use of harsh submission techniques against unarmed citizens.

• Spying on an unprecedented scale.

In fact, it is this last trend that is so worrisome, given the way burgeoning technology only seems to enable suspicious officials in their intent to pry.

Consider, as Whitehead does, how the rise of cell phones and the internet have also created vast amounts of data which the federal government has already begun capturing and storing.

The particularly egregious aspect of the policy is that government agents have not limited themselves to acquiring cell phone records when and if they suspect individuals of wrongdoing. Instead they have indiscriminately captured the records of vast numbers of cell phone users—innocent or otherwise—with the idea that sometime in the future they may need to troll through this immense archive in order to identify criminals.

Add to this disturbing precedent the fact, as Whitehead points out, that cell phones and global positioning systems also produce data about individuals’ whereabouts, and suddenly we’re presented with very real possibility of a government tracking us wherever we go.

By definition, a government that watches our movements and records our conversations is a police state.

Which is not to say the United States is there yet, though in his book Whitehead does like to make comparisons between recent governments and well-known dystopias from fiction.

I wish instead that Whitehead had spent more of his book discussing philosophies behind the current encroachment upon civil rights. He does mention the rise of counterterrorism efforts after the September 11 attacks in 2001. However, it would have been instructive to read what Whitehead thinks about how to balance federal government’s obligation to “provide for the common defense” while taking care not to abridge the freedom of speech or infringe upon privacy.

Ultimately, though, Whitehead writes the way he does because he sees himself as a gadfly, a prophet warning of doom if citizens refuse to rally against government overreach.

And he is right. The trend currently is for those in power to disregard God-given rights, discard the rule of law and to govern instead by fiat and intimidation. And as technology has made it easier for the agents of these would-be tyrants to identify those they consider a threat, it is to their own detriment that the spied upon remain complacent.

And if you own a cell phone, use the internet, or drive with a GPS, this means you.


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