We put curtains and drapes over windows and doors to keep people from looking in our houses. It doesn’t matter that we’re doing absolutely nothing wrong. We don’t want people watching us.
Yet some Americans apparently have no problem with government – which is controlled by people – watching us.
“Thank you for data-mining” is the headline on last Friday’s lead editorial in The Wall Street Journal, an editorial that is neither ironic nor sarcastic. This from a newspaper that has justifiably blasted the Internal Revenue Service for seeking all sorts of information – a relatively crude and transparent form of data-mining – on politically conservative groups that had applied for tax exemptions. The Wall Street Journal regularly proclaims its opposition to Leviathan government when it trammels business, but now it defends a government that has been shown to have closer surveillance on the people it supposedly represents than Hitler, Stalin, or Mao had on the people who lived in fear in their totalitarian regimes.
“What is the difference between this and the Soviet dictatorship many of us fled in hope of coming to a free country?” is the rhetorical question asked by Tibor Machan, emeritus professor of philosophy at Chapman University, who, as a teenager, defected from Soviet-controlled Hungary in 1953.
“Our Constitution is openly and brazenly violated, and it reminds me of how Russians, Chinese, Cubans, and many, many others lost their freedom and paid dearly with tens of millions of innocent lives,” said economist and historian Yuri Maltsev of Carthage College, who grew up in Soviet Russia and defected to the United States in 1989.
It should tell us something that men who grew up in totalitarian regimes – highly educated and thoughtful men – see totalitarianism being marshaled here.
This news of massive electronic data-mining does not come in isolation. The U.S. Supreme Court has just declared that police may make government property of the DNA of persons who have been convicted of nothing.
We’ve recently seen the Boston metropolitan area put under martial law and entire families dragged out of their homes at gunpoint by men dressed in military garb and backed up by armored vehicles and helicopters.
We’ve seen the IRS target groups out of favor in the White House, spying on Associated Press reporters and editors, and the threat of espionage charges against a Fox News reporter who did what reporters have been doing since there have been newspapers.
We see millions of travelers subjected to virtual strip searches and physical groin gropes just to board a plane.
Left-wing Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and right-wing Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina don’t agree on much, but they do agree that it’s great the American government they help run has, in Maltsev’s words, “openly and brazenly violated” the Constitution they have sworn to uphold.
The government has dispensed with the Fourth Amendment, which reads, “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.”
The pathetic apologists for the data-mining say the government is not listening to phone conversations or reading emails and such. It’s obtaining “metadata” such as the phone numbers involved in a call, duration of the call, where the call was made, etc., so the government does not know who was talking or what was said. But if call data and other electronic information can be used to stop terrorist plots and to convict persons of crimes, doesn’t that indicate the government can determine the identities of callers and other important information?
“It would only require a phone book to map most people’s phone numbers to their identities,” Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
We’ve learned the mass collection of electronic communications has been going on for at least seven years.
It should tell us something about the nature of powerful central government that left-wing President Barack Obama has expanded the surveillance practices of his immediate right-wing predecessor, George W. Bush.
It should tell us something about left-wing “liberals” and right-wing “conservatives” that, when it comes to powerful central government “security,” they think as one.
The left and right wings of the political class support the same government bird of prey. A bird of prey hunts. We have become its quarry.
• Steve Stanek of McHenry is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute in Chicago. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.