Re: What are the legal ramifications of this:
It is true indeed that in the late 1940s to the early 1960s we had a moral panic over Communists in various parts of the government and the movie industry, and that those who were compelled to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and the House Committee on Unamerican Activities were punished severely for exercising their Constitutional right to decline to give self-incriminating testimony. Except for government employees who generally would already have lost any security clearance the punishment was not by the government, but by their private sector employers who were worried about their business. Although done on a larger scale, this was not fundamentally different from the moral panic over Satanism and child abuse in the 1980s which I think had a counterpart in the UK and possibly other countries. It also was similar to the early 2000s panic over terrorism, which still is playing out, and the present moral panic about private and especially government agency surveillance.
In each case, the damage was seen to be far greater than the evidence supported. There were, in fact, Soviet spies in the Manhattan program, State Department, and other agencies, and there were Communists in the movie industry, although I think most of the latter had changed their opinion of the USSR well before they were called to testify. There almost certainly were isolated instances of child molestation (but those involving Catholic and other clergy seem to have been overlooked until much later) but Satanic ritual abuse seems to have been entirely a product of sick minds that somehow resonated with generalized fears. There is no doubt that there were terrorists in 2001, 2004, and 2005, and the aggregate number of dead and wounded was substantial. Yet public understanding of the risk, as many have observed, was quite excessive. And so it seems, too, with the present surveillance panic. There surely have been surveillance related abuses, and a number of victims have suffered, some of them severely. However, the evidence largely is lacking that surveillance data has been used in various of the ways which we have been told we need to fear.
We should keep watch to be sure that does not change, and worry, for example, about requests for significant increases to law enforcement staffing that seem out of whack with what we actually see in the way of what reasonably can be considered crime. A matter for concern in the US, for example, would be excessive government involvement in "cybercrime", one of the new initiatives. The authorities have been trying to whip this one up for a while now, and the boundaries, while not entirely clear, could be taken to be pretty far reaching.