In 1755 (Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, Tue, Nov 11, 1755), Benjamin Franklin wrote: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Since 9/11, those of us who live in the United States have seen our constitutional protections dissolve in a frenzy of paranoia. And I want to note here, I am not diminishing the atrocities committed on 9/11, but I am questioning the response to it, particularly the erosion of freedoms experienced, not only by citizens of the United States, but citizens of other freedom-loving countries around the globe as well.
Governments, particularly the government of the United States, has used, for over 12 years now, 9/11 as the basis for all manner of intrusions into our private lives — including our use of the Internet.
The fourth amendment to The Constitution of the United States tells us:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
That’s a straight forward affirmation of our right to privacy. Yet every day, that amendment is being violated when our emails, which may innocently contain key trigger words ( who knows what those are ) are subject to being seized and read by government employees. Our cell phone records are subject to scrutiny, and our Internet usage logged and collated by our ISPs which may be accessed by government officials who, using the ironically named “Patriot Act” who neither have a warrant nor any real probable cause. In fact, in most cases, law enforcement officials can obtain your cell phone records from most providers simply by identifying themselves as a law enforcement official and asking for them. And that is how a couple of months ago, a police officer, with no other probable cause other than he suspected of his girlfriend of cheating on him, was able to obtain his girlfriend’s cell phone records, including a listing all calls she made and all text messages she sent, simply by asking for them.
Are we willing to give up essential liberties for a little temporary safety? Your right to a certain expectation of privacy is being eroded. I’ve seen many people say that they’re not doing anything wrong, so they don’t care. That’s an illogical response to a very visceral issue — one that touches the core of freedom, and the heart of free societies, and affects, directly each one of us, whether we’re doing anything wrong or not.
How many of you would have stood by and casually accepted the fact that all your mail was delivered after having been opened by the U. S. Postal Service? I really don’t think many of you would have. Thirty years ago, the nation would have been up in arms over postal workers opening all our mail and making sure its contents were completely legal.
September 11th, changed the way we live. And it has become, sadly, an flimsy excuse for Draconian and Orwellian government intrusions into many aspects of our private lives. And still, we let it happen. “I’m not doing anything wrong, so what do I care?” is an illogical and sadly telling answer than many people give when asked about all the intrusions, government and non-government, into our private lives.
Sites like Facebook, unintentionally or intentionally, aid and abet the myriad intrusions into our private lives, more than any one thing I can imagine. Facebook may be the best tool governments have for spying on their own citizens. Facebook allows, even encourages people to willingly spy on themselves; and those with Facebook accounts whose account are set to “Private” and allow only “friends” to view their pages are sadly naive. There are dozens of hacker tools which allow access to any Facebook page, private or not, and if such tools exist then you know governments have them — and they’re probably much more sophisticated, since taxpayers provide the government with virtually unlimited funds to develop software far more capable than that which is available to others. And Facebook accounts are very insecure; the weakest point of entry being the passwords of its users.
Now local governments are snapping pictures of your license plate as you drive through town, ostensibly to find stolen cars, but who knows what your license plate information is really being used for? Is recovering ten stolen cars worth the price of the erosion of your privacy? Think long and hard about your answer, because things are only going to get worse. Stop-light cameras which supposedly are there to catch violators, also snap your picture and anyone sitting in the car with you. Having your photo taken without your permission, used to be illegal, unless you were considered a celebrity. Now it happens every day and you’re probably not even aware of it.
Every new intrusion into our private lives erodes our right to privacy a little bit more. And every intrusion seems to have a valid reason: To stop terrorists, to catch criminals, to stop crime, and so on. So, on the surface it seems justified — we all want to stop terrorism; we all want to stop crime; we all when to catch criminals. But at what cost. How much of our privacy and our freedom are we willing to pay for all these things.
The invasion of privacy is snowballing, not only here in the United States, but in other free countries as well. We are having our freedoms breached and the justification always seems valid. But where does it end?
Are babies born in 2030 going to have special identification chips implanted so governments can track the child? You can bet the justification will be for the child’s benefit — to prevent kidnapping, to find lost children, to make sure the child is being cared for — all good intentions, no argument about that. But what’s the price?
You’re not doing anything wrong so you don’t care who’s watching you, tracking you, reading your emails, tracking your cell phone? Really? It’s just that kind of thinking that creates an environment in which totalitarian governments thrive.
And before you make this a political football, this intrusion into our freedoms is not the responsibility of one administration, it spans at least the last two administrations. It’s not a liberal or conservation issue. It’s not a Democratic Party or a Republican Party issue. It’s a human issue. It’s a personal issue. Indeed our privacy and our freedoms are being encroached upon more and more every day. And if we continue to allow it, then we deserve neither the essential freedoms we used to enjoy, nor the temporary safety that curtailing those essential freedoms ultimately promises.
The government of the people, by the people, and for the people, which Abraham Lincoln did not want to see perish from this Earth, is perishing right before our eyes, because we are all asleep; we’re allowing ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security and we’re giving up essential liberties in the process.
Ben Franklin was right — those who give up essential liberties for a little temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security. Maybe we just don’t treasure our freedoms as much as we should. And the price we’re paying for that temporary safety is far too high.