Benjamin Franklin Was Right

By | August 15, 2013
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franklinIn 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.


9 thoughts on “Benjamin Franklin Was Right

  1. Larry Hubble

    Very well-written article. I couldn’t tell you the countless times I have heard the phrase “I have nothing to hide”, so people come blase about these intrusions, and, in fact, some see them as necessary. There are those who would see nothing wrong in people being strip-searched at airports if they thought it would prevent one terrorist incident. But then, again, these are the same people who are afraid of their own shadows, so I’m afraid for these folks, no amount of “security” will ever be enough, and these people help hold the rest of us back. This is a good article that should be required reading for everyone, and puts in all in perspective. Sometimes we need a jolt like this article to make us really think.

  2. Deanna Baugh

    I totally agree with everything you said in this article….but what in the world can a person do about it? Absolutely nothing!
    Vote? I do? Did it make any difference in the last election? No! Tried my best to talk with Obama lovers…they do not have ears…most voted for him because of one issue, I was unable to get them to see the big picture for our country! Sad! Hope they are happy, the gays that can now wed their mates and get benefits! The woman that can have an abortion, they could before, the freebies they get, they will run out of other peoples money one day…etc. as the full time jobs sink into part time jobs, layoffs, and the families suffer because of our weakened economy and Obama care takes everyone, people and companies, to their knees! It’s hard to watch for me! Can I do anything about it? No! Can I do anything about losing freedoms? No! Wished I could!

  3. Donna Smith

    I agree completely. And so do many others. But what can be done about it? Nobody seems interested in rewriting the Patriot Act.
    As it is,the law is ambiguous enough that it can be used in almost any way the Government desires. The president released a “white paper” giving reasons why mass collection of telephone numbers and similar data is necessary. The FISA court (composed of 11 judges from scattered districts, who do not always meet regularly), is supposed to decide what information can be examined and upon whom. But in reality, both the government and the courts seem content to operate on blanket requests from the government. There are far too many cases for FISA to investigate each individually.

    The non-profit organization EPIC, Electronic Privacy Information Center, has brought their case against mass investigation of telephone and email accounts before the Supreme Court, which may or may not elect to hear it.
    (Besides which, some legal experts believe that SCOTUS is
    not even legally authorized to decide the matter.)

    But otherwise, who is interested in revising or overturning the “Patriot Act”? Not the House (they narrowly defeated a bill to withhold funding for it).. Not the Senate. Certainly not the president. So distressing as this hyper-surveillance may be, there is almost no action to be taken by ordinary citizens, except to be aware of the possible lack of privacy on their phone and be very cautious about their use of the internet.

  4. Don Bone

    I’m 83 and I’m seeing my beloved country destroyed before my eyes, politically and morally.

  5. Ray Dobson

    An excellent article and so very true. Here in New Zealand our Prime Minister, John Key, is so keen to get into the good books of your country that he will agreed to any restrictions the US cares to impose on our privacy and freedom.

    1. John Hatchard

      Prime Minister John ‘Faust’ Key sold his soul to Wall Street many years ago. If he tries to be a good Kiwi and defend and maintain the feisty spirit of NZ as demonstrated by the great David Lange who declared NZ nuclear free, much to the annoyance of the USA, he risks reaping the whirlwind of US vengeance. I believe he has been warned against upsetting his masters on Wall Street and in the corporate world by not doing what they want to bring NZ firmly under their wing.
      But everyday there is more evidence that his game has been rumbled. NZ wasn’t liberated from the British Empire to be swallowed up by the US Empire.

  6. A_Hippy_Hillbillie

    Pray tell, what is the solution to the myriad morass

    that has happened to us?

    I truly do not believe that our founding Father’s had

    envisioned the mire we are in now!

  7. Melanie Wood

    The credit card thing will come back to haunt us I’m sure. Now that is where a lotta info is stored about Consumers which is what we Americans should be re-dubbed. I was a fraud investigator during the Real Estate/Mortgage sleight of hand. Part of my job was to make sure our clients names show up on the Patriots Act list,& make them explain it “for the bank’s protection” – which now is even funnier. LOL: anyone with the name of Jackson, Kennedy, Smith, Jones, Perez,Rodriguez,Hernandez, Lopez, etc. showed up.

    Yes: even “Uncle” Teddy Kennedy was on the list!

    Somebody got paid a lotta bucks for creating a list for The Government and all one had to do is go to the local state prison and scan the common names. My guess the job would be assigned to someone near and dear to a member of Congress, yes? We really should be collecting info on them and their lobbyists. Hmm. I wonder if I could work myself into a job investigating congress and their factotems?


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