The Big Think

June 15, 2013

Privacy Isn’t All We’re Losing

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:29 am

“The purpose of the surveillance is enhanced security, a necessary goal to say the least. The price is a now formal and agreed-upon acceptance of the end of the last vestiges of Americans’ sense of individual distance and privacy from the government. The price too is a knowledge, based on human experience and held by all but fools and children, that the gleanings of the surveillance state will eventually be used by the mischievous, the malicious and the ignorant in ways the creators of the system did not intend.”


And that’s really the big point, isn’t it? In spite of the assurances (some public ones that I have my doubts about, and some private ones that I have strong reasons to believe) that there are myriad checks and balances to the security state, the real issue is not only what is happening behind the curtain right now, but what will happen a few years from now once the inner power balance of leaders– both elected and appointed– shifts from a “we will do no harm” to “this harm is necessary for a greater goal. This end justifies the means”. Remember how Google’s motto was Don’t Be Evil, eventually followed by Don’t Be Evil… unless we have to do business in China? Or how the IRS wasn’t ever supposed to be used as a weapon of partisan destruction? Once upon a time if you raised an alarm or brought up the slippery slope argument about creeping authoritarianism you were mocked and disregarded. Bring up that same argument about Google or the IRS now and you get a shrug. Whaddayagonnado?

The current arguments against NSA, IRS, and Federal overreach may look to partisans as the ravings of the overly paranoid, but history shows over and over and over and over again that today’s overreach is tomorrow’s baseline behavior. At some point we must be willing to say this far and no farther and then deal with the consequences. Or we should be willing to give up what once made America great. At the very least, should not the ultimate owners of a free nation have a say in the decision? But that requires a cultural foresight that I fear has been bred, educated, and distracted out of our current citizenry. What do we do to get it back?

I feel that almost everyone who talks about America for a living—politicians and journalists and even historians—is missing a huge and essential story: that too many things are happening that are making a lot of Americans feel a new distance from, a frayed affiliation with, the country they have loved for half a century and more, the country they loved without every having to think about it, so natural was it.

This isn’t the kind of thing that can be quantified in polls—it’s barely the kind of thing people admit to themselves. But talk to older Americans—they feel they barely know this country anymore. In governance its crucial to stay within parameters, it’s important not to strain ties, push too far, be extreme. And if you think this does not carry implications for down the road, for our healthy continuance as a nation, you are mistaken. Love keeps great nations going.


“Patrick Henry didn’t say, ‘Give me absolute safety or give me death’.”

John Stossel

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