Slightly more than 10 years ago, a moderately-received Will Smith movie came to cinema screens. “Enemy of the State” was set in the real world — our world — about whether the government should cross the lines of civil rights and ethics when it comes to national security.
After you’ve watched the movie, it’s clear that its creators leaned towards being the ‘good guys.’ After all, Will Smith’s character survives in the end. But perhaps no one, not even the conservatives or the civil rights activists could predict that three years after the movie aired, national security (or the lack of it) came into intense question with the events of 9/11.
Accompanied by a moving and melancholic soundtrack, Enemy of the State is about Robert Dean (Smith) caught in political shenanigans. Dean had inadvertently come into pocession of highly important video evidence — the murder of Congressman Phil Hammersly by National Security Agency (NSA) executive Thomas Reynolds. Hammersly was working against a new bill that would give the federal government carte blanche to survey the private lives of Americans. For the sake of national security, Reynolds has Hammersly killed in a cover-up.
Smith is classic Smith in this movie, the same him you may still love now. The wry and slick humor provides some comedy in an otherwise serious film. But the kicker is not in one man, but in the arsenal deployed by many. NSA’s complete infiltration into Dean’s life through wireless tracking devices, background checks, credit card and bank records, and even satellite surveillance elaborate clearly what intelligence agencies are carrying out every day. The leap across the ethical line comes when NSA freely and secretly bugs and monitors Dean’s home.
It may be a movie, but the idea behind it is very real. NSA is widely believed to operate on a different level from the CIA and FBI. While the CIA has agents operating on foreign soil, and the FBI on domestic, the NSA specializes in communications surveillance and intelligence. Their urban legend Echelon system may be a misnomer for something else, but its purpose is very real, sifting through global communications for any bits and bytes of intelligence it can gather. Private conversations hardly exist anymore.
Before September 11, Americans would vehemently oppose any correction to the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment (which forbids unlawful searches), but after the press and the public tore apart the intelligence community for failing to prevent 9/11, the world is a different place now. In October 2001, the Patriot Act was passed, giving agencies more freedom to pursue intelligence data, even on American citizens.
As of today, the Bill still exists but with lesser liberties when it comes to privacy invasion. We live in different times now. After 9/11, security takes top spot and air travel will always carry the burden of being the vehicle for a historic tragedy. Whether on the airplane, or even in your home, don’t expect complete privacy. Because it’s really not paranoia when they’re after you.