When H.G. Wells wrote the book "1984" during the developing cold war in 1948, the main character, "Big Brother", was the surrogate for Stalin and the Soviet Union. The book's premise that an all-powerful state could monitor every move a citizen made and hear every word a citizen might utter was chosen to draw a hard line between democracy (freedom) and tyranny (slavery). Those for whom the cold war was a real "war" viewed this tyrannical image with alarm.
It was with some psychic relief that the year 1984 came and went with there being little chance of the book's plot line ever becoming reality. Unfortunately, recent events (i.e. politics and legislation since 9/11) have brought back the possibility of a similar but less intrusive government. Non-citizens can be jailed indefinitely with little legal recourse, citizens can be declared enemy combatants and be jailed indefinitely with even less (no) legal recourse.
Recent actions allow unlimited wiretapping and other invasive acts with little need for legal justification. The government can now acquire a list of any library books you might check out (the librarians are prohibited by law from even telling you if you ask). And finally, the Dept. of Defense (DOD) is researching ways to obtain and manipulate data in a universal manner. This data could include not only each credit card purchase and phone contact but also all banking and other financial activities. It's called Data Mining.
This of course is for the purpose of deterring terrorism and apprehending terrorists. But our intelligence agencies are no longer prohibited from sharing such information with law enforcement agencies. It obviously won't be long before sharing data will be the norm and not the exception.
If it's noticed that your bank deposits exceed your paycheck or you've checked out a book about off shore banking, how long will it be before DOD decides to share that with the IRS? Or if you've checked out a book on marijuana growing, how long before this information is passed on to either the Drug Enforcement Agency or local police officials?
You would, of course, have rational explanations for whatever situation arises, but wouldn't it bug you that you were even suspect?
I'm occupying Paranoia Central right now wondering just how many ways our government could use these powers to become like Big Brother. If I don't trust government, I trust Mr. Ashcroft even less. Are environmental activists potential terrorists that need watching? What about these "Right to assisted suicide" groups and any donors to or supporters of legalizing medical marijuana?
Once Global Positioning Systems (GPS) become a standard feature in cell phones (as is currently required by law) would you mind being tracked based on somebody's suspicion of you?
Add in digital face recognition and states being required to standardize their driver licensing documents and you have what equals a national ID. We used to use the requirement for such a document in Russia to show how oppressive the Russian government was. How will we feel about ours.
Imagine a spy thriller where a government agency can and does all this. Imagine an agency whose employees are kept loyal by lifetime confidentiality agreements and the knowledge they can be jailed for whistle blowing. Imagine the public and even its elected officials being unaware of this. If you can imagine this you'll have no trouble imagining what a new Dept. of Homeland Security could become.
This may not come about very soon, but in a short number of years it could be reality. The scary scary part is that we might not even know when it happens.