SAN DIEGO, June 20, 2013 — In his novel 1984, George Orwell predicted a time when people would have no more privacy. He also foresaw a society that would invert word meanings to conceal the truth: “War is peace.”
Today, the word “security” is tied to both sides of Orwell’s vision. “Security from terrorists” is an excuse to strip away privacy. The NSA’s vast storehouse of private data is not an invasion of privacy, but rather a means to protect privacy and liberty, along with security.
Privacy is in short supply these days. While the Fourth Amendment should flash like a neon light, such modern illumination did not exist in the time of our founding fathers. Those who view the Constitution as a “living breathing document” love to remind us that electricity in those days was mostly associated with Ben Franklin’s kite. Therefore, according to the spin, newer technology warrants an upgraded interpretation of our beloved legal document and its stubborn amendments.
One such modern invention is the telephone. While America’s NSA justifies obtaining phone records as a necessary means of tracking terrorists, we must keep in mind that the phone is no longer a single device.
Those who grew up in the 20th century became accustomed to a wide variety of necessities and luxuries. In addition to phones, they had typewriters (which gave way to computer word processors) radios, television sets, still photo cameras, home movie cameras, home movie projectors, record players, (which became CD players) VCRs and GPS devices for cars.
Today, every one of those functions is available through a single invention. It may be called a “smartphone,” but it’s an entire complex of smart machines reduced to one small device that fits in the palm of your hand. This snappy looking gadget also allows us to do less exercise. Trips to the post office are replaced with e-mail, banking can be done online, and travel agents have been replaced with a screen that responds to a few pushes of the finger.
Smartphones do not yet toast our bread, but nothing would be a surprise anymore.
New technology is astounding and it certainly offers a lot of conveniences. Unfortunately, it also funnels almost everything we do through a single electronic gateway, making our daily work and recreational habits much easier to monitor.
While technology is itself neutral, we must pay attention to exactly who is using or exploiting the tool. A hammer is harmless when it nails wood together. In the wrong hands, a hammer can kill a person with one swift blow.
In a rare display of bipartisanship, conservatives and liberals are joining ranks, finding strange bedfellows on both sides of the isle. Some liberals who objected to wire tapping under Bush try to remain consistent by denouncing Obama when he does the same thing. Conversely, a fair number of conservatives who defended Bush find themselves in the uncomfortable position of supporting their current president.
It is tempting to conclude that thoughtful “bi-partisan” Americans are faced with only two options: the defeat of terrorism or less privacy.
Actually, there is a third alternative. We can accept that the war with militant Islam is real and fight as much as possible, all the while avoiding self destruction. America must not battle for freedom and suppress freedom at the same time.
Perhaps a dictatorial police state can stop every potential act of terror and cry victory, but a free society settles for the silver medal, a significant reduction of terrorism. Face facts; a limited government (as called for in the Constitution) cannot monitor every single public institution 24 hours a day.
Less surveillance need not translate into less resistance. When terrorists are apprehended, they should be met with swift, severe punishment. This would be a refreshing alternative to further restrictions for the innocent majority.
Instead of snooping through e-mails or asking old ladies to take off their shoes at airports, why not make matters painfully inconvenient for the terrorist himself?
Maybe when a terrorist confesses his actions and brags about his holy mission for Allah, we can try him as a military combatant instead of providing a civilian trial with an open forum where he pontificates at the tax payer’s expense.
If the military were to hang him before he gave his speech and let the entire world watch, courtesy of cable and satellite television, other potential terrorists might just think twice. This will never happen under the Obama administration and it is unlikely to happen under any future president. But the spirit of the idea still holds: America should be harsh with her enemies, not her citizens.
Preventative measures should also be taken, within reason. Supposedly, we heard some of those reasons a few days ago. While testifying before the House Standing Committee, National Security Agency (NSA) Director General Keith Alexander commented on PRISM and other NSA programs which have recently gone under the microscope for obtaining information from the likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft and Verizon. Alexander defended the actions as “limited, focused and subject to rigorous oversight.”
He also said, “These programs have protected our country and allies … over 50 times since 9/11.”
That sounds great. What sane person can honestly object to terrorist suspects being spied upon and subsequently stopped? There’s no reason to doubt Alexander’s word. Certainly some terrorist plots have been thwarted. But a bigger question remains: Is this where the surveillance will stop?
On paper, the government can obtain phone records, e-mail records, etc., but they are not allowed to examine any private details without first obtaining a warrant.
Supposedly we should trust that the Obama administration will not go beyond its legal boundaries. With this proposed trust, we arrive at the core of our dilemma. After all, Obama and the law have made interesting sparring partners during the past few years.
Under Obama’s watch, ICE has often refused to enforce the law with illegal immigrants.
Law-abiding American citizens seem to concern our president far more. Obama has spoken out against Fox News, conservative talk radio, and others who dare to challenge his helpful ideas for transforming America.
Speaking of media, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder was caught in a lie about putting preasure on news outlets such as Fox and The Associated Press. Obama still refuses to remove Holder from office. Perhaps he figures that if people have forgotten Fast and Furious, they’ll let this one go as well.
And how much fun has the IRS been during the Obama Administration? They put up impossible demands for tax exempt applicants who were sympathetic to the tea party, pro-life causes, or even the nation of Israel. In some cases, applicants were asked to supply a list of all donors and a complete record of Facebook conversations.
Mosques, on the other hand, are not being investigated.
According to Investors Business Daily, “Since October 2011, mosques have been off-limits to FBI agents. No more surveillance or undercover string operations without high-level approval from a special oversight body at the Justice Department dubbed the Sensitive Operations Review Committee.”
Easing up on mosques should come as no surprise. Obama has more or less declared the war on terror as over: “We must define our effort not as a boundless ‘Global War on Terror,’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”
Who are these extremists that keep Obama up at night? His concern seems rather fleeting where Egypt is concerned. Obama has warm relations with President Morsi, who claims Jews are “descendents of apes and pigs.” Morsi also represents the Muslim Brotherhood. If they aren’t a terrorist organization, the word “terrorist” should be removed from the dictionary.
Meanwhile, matters seemed pretty extreme on the anniversary of 9/11. Al-Qaeda itself attacked the Benghazi consulate. Nevertheless, between the White House and the State Department, somebody was responsible for ordering a planned rescue operation to stand down.
In the days that followed, a lie was circulated to make the attack look less like terrorism and more like a spontaneous response to an anti-Mohammad video. Ambassador Susan Rice was not the only one floating this story. The noses of Obama and Secretary of State Clinton were also growing.
And who can forget Fort Hood? That was somewhat of an extreme incident. Nidal Malik Hasan, an army psychologist, shot and killed 13 people. God forbid the Obama Administration should ever call this an act of terror. Instead, it was labeled “domestic violence.” Never mind that Hasan was crying “Allah Akbar” while shooting his fellow soldiers. Never mind that long before the shooting, Hasan gave a power point presentation to Army soldiers where he said “We love death more than you love life.”
Now in jail awaiting trial, Hasan is still receiving Army pay while his victims do not even qualify for the Purple Heart.
Should American citizens trust the Obama administration with phone and e-mail records? Should Obama get away with talking out of both sides of his mouth by using the war on terror as an excuse to invade privacy, even though the war is supposedly over? Does he really seem concerned about foreign invaders, or have most of his efforts been aimed at domestic critics?
If your analytical mind can’t come up with an answer, perhaps you should Google the questions from your smartphone.
This is Bob Siegel, making the obvious, obvious.
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his program can be found at www.bobsiegel.net.
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