So, I’ve been living for about six months within the shadow of the Capitol dome. I leave next month, but my impression of America is forever changed.
It’s a decent neighborhood, but more than a little odd for a guy coming from the Northwest. There are parked, black cars on every other corner, engines running, sunglassed drivers at the wheel. There are cops everywhere. We are told they can and do listen to our phone conversations and are likely watching us walk our dogs. It’s enough to make somebody paranoid. I’ve watched too much television.
Still, none of that bothers me, to be honest. I’ve got nothing to hide. Anybody who listens to my phone conversations is going to get bored. And will likely wonder why I don’t just make a shopping list.
But maybe the bourgeoning surveillance state should bother me.
The whole NSA spying thing didn’t bother me until those who were for it started touting the fact that spying on American citizens might stop a terrorist attack. To me, that felt like manipulation.
Certainly, stopping terrorism is serious business. And it would be great to stop an attack. So far, reports are mixed on whether the sort of spying made known recently has helped.
Could they stop a nuclear attack by spying on us? Certainly. But collecting internet data is a small part of that operation. There are other ways to catch potential terrorists. I don’t like it when government press releases frame this is though it’s their only option. We can’t kill freedom to protect freedom.
But here’s my problem. It’s getting a bit tiring to hear “stopping terrorism” as an excuse for just about anything. We spend billions of dollars, put thousands of soldiers in harms way and sustain thousands of casualties all to stop terrorism. Has this saved lives? Yes, it likely has. And yet at the expense of what? People are killed in robberies and car jackings and mass shootings, too. Why aren’t we spending billions to stop that?
There’s one reason: Stopping crime isn’t a political issue and terrorism is. No administration wants a terrorist attack to happen on their watch. The “war on terror” may be more political than patriotic.
And administrations, both Republican and Democratic, will justify spying on their own citizens to save their own political bacon.
But are we really okay with that?
If your local police force could stop domestic violence by putting cameras in everybody’s home, would you be for it? How much privacy are you willing to give up to stop crime? How much of your life are you willing to concede to the government?
I think we should be willing to give up some, but allowing the government to seize internet records or tap phone lines without having to report what they’re doing is too far to be justified by using the “stopping terrorism” ace card.
I don’t support Edward Snowden. Governments has the right to have and keep secrets. The ends don’t justify the means, but in this case the ends made us all aware of an overreach of power. It’s a paradox, I know, but one that is easily parsed. I’m glad word is out about what the NSA has been doing. And I’d like it to stop, or, at the very least, be justified publicly.
What we are saying when we allow the government to spy on us is that we trust them not to use information against us for their own ambitions. But what human being longing for power isn’t going to abuse the information that flows across their desk? Nixon couldn’t resist. Are we saying there’s nobody else out there wired like Nixon?
I really liked our old Checks and Balances idea. I’d like for us to return to that. And I’d also like for us to understand that Freedom has consequences, including crime and potential terrorism. I prefer those consequences to the consequences of government overreach.
What do you think? Does it strike you as wrong or are you okay with the government reading your email?