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The NSA and You

GovernmentPoliticsA buddy of mine at the RNC and I have had a long running disagreement over the NSA domestic spying program. He was actually buying into the “terrorist surveillance” semantics the Administration was pushing. I’m not sure if he still is, given the revelation yesterday that the phone records of tens of millions of Americans are being mined for intelligence. The Washington Post says 63% of Americans think this is acceptable, so I doubt he’s one of the remaining 37%

Let’s assume the Administration is telling the truth and they really are just trying to find patterns that indicate some sort of shady activity. If that’s the case, you have to assume that the vast majority of the “tens of millions” give absolutely no indication of potential terrorist activity after being analyzed.

Let’s also assume that the average American “has nothing to fear because he’s doing nothing wrong”. That’s the reason people generally give when they hear stuff like this. Because I have nothing to fear, it’s ok if you do it to me, and to others.

That means the phone records of average Americans who are doing nothing wrong (guys like my friend Jay who happens to be married to an Iranian woman who calls home occasionally) are being studied. He has nothing to fear, because he’s done nothing wrong, but why should his phone calls be studied (and I imagine, under the other program, they’re being monitored as well) simply because of his wife’s nation of birth? Why should he, because of his individual circumstances, or because of who he chose to marry, be studied as if he were a criminal? Isn’t that an inherent discrimination?

This is still America, right? We are still assumed innocent until “proven” guilty, right? Every American, whether they have something to fear or not, should fear these programs. They are not based on a presumption of innocence. They are based on an assumption of guilt – somebody’s guilt. The fact that we don’t actually have a suspect is ignored by the government. Instead, they’re fishing through the garbage cans outside our homes to try to find evidence of a crime. They’ll cast a net into the innocents and segregate some pool of them until they can prove themselves innocent.

That’s not how government should behave, and as a Republican/libertarian, I fear any government big enough to ignore the constitution and to presume that the potential guilt of one justifies a willful attack on the rights of the many.

If the Democrats, under Clinton, had engaged in these same activities, the GOP would have screamed so loud you would have heard them in Canada. They would have railed aginst the heavy hand of government and decried the presence of big brother in our lives. Yet today, obsessed with controlling the levers of power, convinced of our own moral superiority, and believing some fairy tale that this is ok because “we have nothing to fear”, we are cheerleading the Administration for “making us safer”.

I imagine the citizens of any totalitarian regime that came to power, and instituted the same sorts of clandestine surveillance of it’s people, were met with initial attitudes of “that’s ok, I have nothing to hide.” Only after that government trampled on some right you did hold dear, and you finally felt violation at the hands of the state, did you stand up in opposition to their tactics.

Then you found your life scrutinized using the same tactics you previously advocated. You realized, because you spoke out, that suddenly you did have something to fear – suddenly you were the one being watched.

This scenario has played out in may nations throughout history. And you know what they say about those who fail to learn the lessons of history…

Written by Michael Turk