"It's funny. You would never suspect that everyone at this school is a professional dancer."
For those not familiar with that quote, it comes from the movie, "Not Another Teen Movie", which was a spoof on all those teen movies that came out in the late '90s as well as films by John Hughes. At this point you're probably wondering what a movie quote has to do with privacy. Let me rephrase it and you'll see.
"It's funny. You would never suspect that everyone in the White House is worried about people's privacy."
Does that make more sense?
A quote from George Bush caught my attention when I read an article about the sorry state of affairs of the White House email system. When asked by newspaper editors why he doesn't use email, Bush replied:
"I don't want you reading my personal stuff."
How nice. George Bush doesn't use email because he doesn't want people reading his personal stuff. If he has nothing to hide, why is he so worried about people reading his personal stuff? After all, only criminals and terrorists would not want you to read their email, right?
If the logic of "If you have nothing to hide. . ." falls on deaf ears, it's not surprising. Since day one of this administration, any pretense of respecting people's privacy and adhering to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution1 has been thrown out the window. Warrantless wiretaps of people's phones, federal agents able to enter your home without you being notified,2 the wholesale vacuuming of all email communication and the soon-to-be implemented National ID card are just icing on the cake to remove any pretense that you should have privacy.
There are those among us who will state that privacy is an illusion, that everything you do is tracked. Whether you walk into a store and buy something on credit (leaving aside your already indebted nature), sign into your computer everyday at work or use a cashless payment system such as EZ Pass, you are being tracked.
The key point to understand about all the above mentioned incidents is that those are things done not in the privacy of ones home, but in the public arena. When you walk into a store, you are in a public space in a private environment. Public in that anyone can see you and private in that the store is not a government entity. A store, for security and theft-deterrent purposes, is free to record your movements and what you purchased. This is different than you sending an email and the government reading it when they have no inclination you have committed a crime or are in the process of committing a crime.
One of the key reasons behind the Fourth Amendment was because of the abuse of power by the Crown towards the citizens of the realm. At any time, officers of the court could waltz into someone's home and root through their belongings trying to find whatever they could that might show a crime had been committed. The Founding Fathers wanted to prevent this from happening and so specifically stated that a warrant must be issued if the authorities want to search for evidence of a crime.
Yet now, the idea that a warrant is needed is becoming a quaint tradition. All one need do is use the bugaboo of terrorism and adhering to the Constitution is put aside, all in the name of protecting us from them, where them is whoever the authorities want them to be. James Madison may have said it best when he stated:
If tyranny and oppression comes to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.
While we are certainly not at a true state of tyranny and oppression, we are slowly, inexorably moving towards that condition. Every day, more and more of ones privacy is being taken away to the point where one day, we will find that nothing we do is not being tracked, monitored, recorded and, most importantly, used against us. Don't believe me? How about this; the government is forcing states to produce a National ID card which you will be required to present to board a plane, enter a government building (courthouse, IRS office, etc) and which will be tied into a national database to track where you are going and where you have been.
Does that sound like it came from someone who wears a tinfoil hat to keep out the mind-control rays the government uses? If you said yes, you'd be wrong because that is precisely what the National ID card is going to be used for. Eventually, mission creep will kick in and the card will be required to be presented whenever you just about anything, thus insuring that Big Brother will be able to keep tabs on its citizens.
Still don't believe me? Would you believe me if I told you that you may be required to present your ID card to purchase cold medicine? No? Sorry, you're two-for-two in the wrong department. That is exactly what Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker told a gathering at the Heritage Foundation in January, 2008.3 The reason for this mission creep? To attempt to slow the production of methamphetamine which uses pseudoephedrine, an ingredient found in some cold medicines. But this begs the question: what exactly does the production of methamphetamine have to do with national security? It doesn't but let's not quibble over such nuances when this nation is under attack from the hordes of methamphetamine addicts and producers who want to do away with our system of government and enslave us all.
Then of course we have the warrantless wiretaps of people's phone lines and the reading of email by the government. Ostensibly, the use of warrantless wiretaps was in response to the September 11th attacks (isn't everything related to 9/11?). The reason behind not getting a warrant was supposedly because things were moving so fast, that the government didn't have time to to go to an already existing court, the FISA court,4 to get a warrant on someone's phone. As such, the government, as authorized by President Bush and his Attorney General, all but forced phone companies to provide the government with unrestricted access to all phone calls passing the phone companies lines, without the need for the government to show cause or provide proof for why the wiretaps were needed.
It should be noted that the FISA Court, in operation since 1978, has almost never has denied a warrant from a government agency. As indicated in the FISA Court Wiki page, as of the end of 2004, 18,761 warrants had been granted with only four or five outright rejected. In other words, rather than use the existing laws and procedures to obtain warrants for people suspected of being terrorists or supporting terrorist organizations, the government chose to ignore the Fourth Amendment requirement to get a warrant and bullied phone companies into breaking the law.
As a side note, the same people who violated the Constitution and forced companies to break the law are now pushing to provide retroactive immunity to the phone companies who have had several lawsuits filed against them for breaking the law regarding wiretaps. Put another way, "Yes, we know we violated the Constitution and forced phone companies to break the law, but they shouldn't be punished for what we told them to do." An "I was just following orders" type scenario if you will.
Which brings us back to George Bush not wanting them, the press, reading his personal stuff. For an administration which doesn't seem to care one wit about eveyone else's privcacy, it sure is suprising to see how concerned they are about their own privacy. This administration has seen fit to invoke Executive Privilege at every opportunity when requested by Congress to produce documents on a whole host of subjects. Even people who have been ordered to appear before Congressional committees to discuss their roles in the firing of attorneys from the Justice Department to the outing of a CIA agent by someone in the White House, no opportunity is missed to claim that all that information is private and protected and not to be disclosed to the public.
Let me leave you with another quote from James Madison which should put things in perspective:
Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.
1Amendments to the U.S. Constitution