There are a lot of things you don't realize are unusual until you step outside of them for a while.
The article below is by +Brad Templeton
, and his experience of being questioned by the FBI for taking a photo of the Sun. (His camera was apparently pointed in a direction which could have also caught a Federal building, although the building wasn't marked as such) If you live in the US, you're probably nodding your head and thinking that "yes, that's about what you should expect" – whether your second thought is "and that's horrifying" or "the government has to protect its buildings."
A few years ago, I was in Tel Aviv, and was carrying my camera, having spent some time photographing the city. My cousin (a professor of political science) and I were talking as we went to a meeting she had with some government official she was interviewing at a Ministry of Defense building. When I realized that we were right next to the building, I said "Oh, shit!" and hurriedly put my camera away. She was completely confused; why was I doing this?
It was only when she didn't understand at all that I realized how the behavior that I'm completely used to – that having a camera out in the vicinity of a government building (a military one, at that!) would be taken as such an open provocation that I would be almost certainly detained and the camera seized, if I was lucky – is neither historically normal in the US, nor is it common in the rest of the world. Even in Israel, a country that has good reason to have an extremely alert security posture, it had never occurred to anyone that possession of a camera in the vicinity of a government building should draw an immediate armed response.
The rest of that trip was a similar exercise in noticing small differences. Re-entering the United States was another one; surrounded by signs warning you not to attempt to use a phone or photograph anything, you are moved through passport control, screens playing videos about the various crimes you are warned not to commit. At the end you show papers, and are fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. (This is what they did for citizens; I can't imagine what the non-citizens line was like) All the officials present, from the people inspecting papers to the people moving people about through the line, were overtly hostile; after the INS/DHS merger, USCIS clearly viewed its primary mission as preventing people from entering the country.
Not all of it has to do with "national security;" consider how children are allowed to play. In the US, they need to be monitored 24/7; playing in the front yard, much less going to the park on their own, is a sign of possibly criminal neglect. As a child in the US, I would go all over the neighborhood when playing; in Israel, my friends and I would roam over a good mile's radius, and my mother would routinely send seven-year-old me to the grocery store to pick things up.
When in the US for any length of time, this entire situation seems perfectly normal, and people wonder what I'm complaining about. And that's the thing: it had been feeling perfectly normal to me as well, until being out of the country for a few weeks reminded me that not only do other places not do this, but until recently, the US didn't, either.
Brad Templeton now has a police record, and any future investigations that touch on him will turn up that he was questioned for suspicious photography (and maybe more) of a government building. The fact that he has only this, and wasn't arrested or imprisoned, is largely because he looks like a respectable, white, professor.
I would ask when we started considering this "normal," but we all know the answer to that: after 9/11, when "security" became the watchword which would trump any question of legality or constitutionality. What worries me is that, fifteen years later, we are entering a world where there are adults with no memory of any other world. How do you move a world towards freedoms that nobody remembers, or argue against safety measures that "everybody knows" are required, since they've always been there?