Verizon, Security, and Privacy

Watch this one, folks. Our government, if this report by The Guardian is accurate, is indiscriminately confiscating the phone records of all (yes, all) Verizon’s customers. Something tells me that Verizon is not the only carrier required to turn over their records. Call me paranoid.

The National Security Agency (NSA) was originally formed to conduct foreign intelligence. Under the Bush Administration, it began collecting domestic phone data, a fact not publicly known until 2006, when the practice erupted in controversy. Three things make this latest revelation more than just your regular bad news:

1) No one can pretend now that Barack Obama is even remotely a defender of civil liberties. If the Left wants to stay in bed with this pathetic excuse for a President, it’s going to catch something awful.

2) Verizon was not only required to comply by a secret court, but also prohibited from saying so per a gag order issued by the court. Even a Democratic Senator was reduced to hinting (after this news broke) that something was afoul. This is not your usual controversy–something particularly nasty is going on and we deserve to know what.

3) There is no longer any pretense that an individual must be under suspicion of a crime to justify this kind of intrusion. The data collection includes every single one of Verizon’s American customers, me included. And I ain’t happy that they now know about all the 900 numbers I call to hear underemployed females breathe heavily. I may be a pervert, but I am no national security threat.

Nixon enemies list

At one time, there was a small part of me that trusted our government to carry out secret projects that were in the nation’s security interests. I did not like it, but I could live with it. Now I find myself asking whether any national secret justifies the broad kinds of surveillance we are seeing today. What kind of danger to us all could justify this?

I am all for stopping terrorist plots, repelling foreign invaders, and catching criminals. Somehow, though, I think that we have imagined that any price is worth feeling safer. Amputation is a cure for poison ivy, but is it worth it? Searching every home would increase the number of criminals caught, but is it right? Amassing monstrous databases of citizens’ phone calls will probably turn up some nut cases ready to blow up a bridge, but does it rate this?

No, it does not. The power to spy must be limited, extremely limited, else it becomes justified as a tool to forward every agenda that can artfully be described as in the public interest. For this administration, that appears to include pretty much anything that does not fit smoothly into the liberal project of making government bigger and more intrusive. Those who resist are the “enemy” (Obama’s words) and we do a hell of a lot of things to enemies that we don’t do to people who merely disagree with us.

I have scores of liberal friends. I disagree with them, often energetically, but they are doing exactly what I do–advocating their points of view. Not a single one of them would qualify as an enemy unless they were to make me watch a Michael Moore film at gunpoint. I may get disgusted, I may get angry, I may even think there is a measure of evil in what they advocate, but their freedom to express their repugnant points of view is the same freedom that allows me to air opinions they find repugnant.

Of course I am right and of course the world would be better off if I were in charge. So says the arrogant, tyrannical part of me when I am in a foul, impatient mood. I tire of having to endure people whose heads are buried in the sand or inserted firmly elsewhere. Fortunately the rational part of me rules and I know that neither I nor anyone else is qualified to run the lives of others. So, while it would please me to no end to bypass the long, frustrating process of convincing others of my views, I know that there is no shortcut.

And this, really, is the heart of the matter. Barack Obama may not be responsible for every violation of civil liberties or every illegal use of government agencies to intimidate opponents, but his attitude and tone implicitly support a culture of arrogance and condescension toward political “enemies.” The fact that Barack Obama has even been mentioned in the same sentence as Richard Nixon is troubling. That a number of Democrats are quietly acknowledging that the comparison is apt should scare liberals witless.

Lord knows I hate to help the liberal cause in any way, shape, or form, but here’s some helpful advice: Get rid of this guy. Stop supporting him in any way on anything until he shows clear evidence of having learned what liberty is all about. If you choose to win with the methods Barack Obama implicitly endorses, the world is going to look very unfriendly when you are the “enemy.”

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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