Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger says that the surveillance capacities of the National Security Agency are such that if this power falls into the hands of a tyrant, we face a civil-liberties Armageddon:

Speaking in the wake of a series of revelations in the Guardian about the extent of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, Rusbridger said: “Orwell could never have imagined anything as complete as this, this concept of scooping up everything all the time.

“This is something potentially astonishing about how life could be lived and the limitations on human freedom,” he said.

Rusbridger said the NSA stories were “clearly” not a story about totalitarianism, but that an infrastructure had been created that could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.

“Obama is a nice guy. David Cameron is a nice social Democrat. About three hours from London in Greece there are some very nasty political parties. What there is is the infrastructure for total surveillance. In history, all the precedents are unhappy,” said Rusbridger, speaking at the Advertising Week conference.

He said that whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked the documents, had been saying: “Look, wake up. You are building something that is potentially quite alarming.”

I’m not worried about Obama. I’m not worried about the president that will follow Obama. I’m worried about the man or woman we don’t see coming. And I see no more chance that we will limit or dismantle this technology than that we would do the same thing with our nuclear arsenal. I hope I’m wrong.

UPDATE: From a reader who is a lawyer:

Worry now. It may be a matter of time before the NSA’s data is shared with law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. They are reportedly clamoring for that data now, to assist in current or potential prosecutions.

The risk is that your friend, brother-in-law, spouse or client is mixed up in something. The feds indict you to put pressure (a) on the target, to encourage him to plead guilty and save you; or (b) on you, to save your own skin by saying whatever the hell they want you to say. This happens with lots of the high-profile white-collar criminal prosecutions in my area.

At some point, you’ve probably unwittingly committed some technical violation of a law that you don’t know exists. Now the local federal prosecutor, who wants your brother-in-law’s pelt on his wall, will get the NSA’s data on you.

We are approaching the day when everyone’s an accidental felon (google “three felonies a day”), and it’s just a matter of whether you piss off the wrong person, or are too close to the wrong person, and they decide to go after you.