Ever since we found out the extent of the NSA snooping in our lives, I haven’t been able to get a 2006 German movie off my mind. “The Lives of Others” follows an agent of the communist East German secret police as he carries out surveillance on a playwright.
The playwright was actually a good communist, so the state started out having nothing to fear from him. But someone in power wanted something the playwright had, so he used the “security service” for his own personal needs — and the state managed to turn the good communist playwright against itself. The details of the story are complicated, and various lives are changed over the course of the film.
I’m not going to tell more of the plot, because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. If you’d like to know more, though, you can read the detailed plot summary here. And I’m posting the film’s trailer below.
It’s not the specific plot of “The Lives of Others” that the NSA snooping brings to mind. It’s more the creeping feeling that some politicians and bureaucrats here are working hard to build a modern version of the police state that the communist East used to be. For those of us who lived through those days and understood that the difference between the East and West was that we were free and they were not, it’s a chilling thought.
Are we slowly becoming more like our former communist adversaries?
We have a government which is ignoring the clear limitations of power in its own Constitution and laws, just as the communist regimes ignored the freedoms that were written into their laws. We have a government that tells us to trust it, because it knows better than we do what our needs are and how we can best be made safe — just as the communist regimes did with their own people. We have widespread government propaganda that teaches people to blindly obey and put country ahead of individual needs and wants — just as the communists regimes did.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we’ve reached the point of East Germany in the ’70s or ’80s, because we clearly have far more freedom than they did.
But the trend scares me. An all-powerful government claims the right to look into pretty much anything about our lives that it chooses — emails, phone calls, bank records. You name it, and they claim it. Today, the government doesn’t have to send a team into our homes to install listening devices, because we’re all connected in ways that send details of our lives through computer servers that the government is tapped into. Anyone who says that doesn’t violate the intent of the Fourth Amendment isn’t being honest or reasonable.
Watch “The Lives of Others” for yourself. You can stream it on iTunes or buy a DVD from Amazon or get a copy wherever you get movies. I think you’ll enjoy a very strong German movie (with subtitles, of course), but as you watch and as you process it afterwards, ask yourself if you think we’re drifting in that direction.
There was a day when I wasn’t worried about saying or doing anything I wanted, because I knew I didn’t have any bad intentions and I wasn’t doing anything against the law. But I’m feeling a tinge of fear lately — that someone in some dark corner of the NSA or some other alphabet soup agency might scoop me up for some innocent slight.
When we reach the point that even those without a conspiratorial bent are nervous about this, things have already gone too far. I don’t like admitting it, but I don’t have the confidence that I used to have about my safety from my government. I used to just worry about the government taking too much of my money. Now I’m worried about a different kind of mistreatment.
I hate to say it, but I’m scared. Something has to change.