Imagine this scene from a Jason Bourne movie: the chancellor of Europe’s strongest economy receives intelligence that the United States is monitoring her personal cell phone. She calls the American president to tell him that she “unequivocally disapproves of such practices and sees them as completely unacceptable.”
She then adds that “between close friends and partners there should be no such monitoring of the communication of a head of government. That would be a grave breach of trust.” The American president assures the chancellor that “the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor [her] communications.” When reporters later ask if her calls had been tracked in the past, the president’s spokesman says he does not have an answer to that question.
In the movie, what comes next?
In real life, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s German government may suspend a financial data-sharing program that targets suspected terrorists. Efforts to create a major U.S.-European Union trade deal might be damaged as well. The French government is similarly outraged at reports that America’s National Security Agency accessed the phone records of over 70 million French citizens over a 30-day period. (U.S. officials call the report “inaccurate and misleading.”)
Reports also indicate that U.S. electronic surveillance has extended to Mexico’s top officials. The Mexican Foreign Ministry issued a statement reproaching the U.S.: “This practice is unacceptable, illegal and against Mexican and international law.” And the NSA has reportedly been collecting data on Americans to examine our social connections, locations, and traveling companions.
There are four ways to look at these reports. One: the National Security Administration is fulfilling its name by keeping Americans safe. If electronic surveillance can prevent another 9/11, we should all be grateful. Two: America is only doing what other countries do or would do if they had the same technology. Three: if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear. Four: eavesdropping on people who have broken no law violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and our foundational commitment to personal liberty. Benjamin Franklin famously noted, “he who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”
Jesus told us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). The challenge comes when we must be both. What do you think America’s surveillance policies should be? Please share your thoughts in our comments. And remember that you’re under surveillance this moment by the One who has named the stars in the sky (Psalm 147:4) and numbered the hairs of your head (Matthew 10:30). He asks, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” (Jeremiah 23:24).
How is his omniscience relevant to your attitudes and actions today?