Posted on May 9, 2013, 9:44 p.m.
I’ve been reading a lot (as I’m sure most people have) about the PRISM leak and the semi-related Verizon leak. While the philosopher and studier of American constitutionalism in me screams that everything being released is so inherently against the heart of what America was built upon, I can’t help but think with my rational mind of today that we’ve done this to ourselves; which is to say explicitly that the government is not to blame for what they’ve been doing. Governments' extreme reaction to terrorism isn't unexpected: extreme action provokes extreme response. They’re no more responsible for they’re spying than the naive chilled finger painting on the walls for they are a much larger canvas than his paper.
Allow me a paragraph or two to flesh out some ideas.
Extreme belief in anything be it religion, politics or something else entirely is a dangerous thing. We can witness the building of such terrible things in our political system and in our religions simply by speaking to someone about something they don't subscribe to themselves. Ask a pro-lifer about their thoughts on abortion or the inverse. Ask an atheist about God or, again, the inverse. Or, for a particularly fun reverse spot light for a "nation under God", juxtapose the time periods of Christianity and Islam— current Islam extremism happens at nearly the identical point in its development as the Crusades did in Christianity.
“Law abiding citizens have nothing to fear...” (a quote so aptly spoke by William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, and one thrown around by some US politicians with some regularity). And that’s true, if you have not done any wrong, then you don’t have anything to fear. However, people here and in the UK aren’t concerned about being caught doing something, it’s that (it seems) without probable cause the government is checking up to ensure they in fact are law abiding citizens.
Privacy does not exists in 2013. We needn’t worry about the government spying on us when we’ve laid all of our private matters out on the table of Zuckerberg and put the scraps in the nest of the big bird. One might oppose this line of thinking because he doesn’t post his phone records on Facebook or Twitter. However, I’d wager that what he does put on Facebook or Twitter is significantly more private than the numbers or names who he spoke to on any given day. With the most insignificant amount of effort, the government or other nefarious individual, could easily paint a picture of you and your activities. For instance, let’s say I want to raid your house (be that robbing you or raiding for whatever purpose). Earlier today you posted nine things from the same location—we guess you’re sitting in your undies munching Cheetos and reading Reddit. Then, you post that you’re at such-and-such for lunch with so-and-so (who we know you spend a lot of time doing stuff with because of the 9,000 other posts you have together). You have two other nuggets of gold that help us figure out where you live—a website registered to you without privacy—and your phone number, both of which make it incredibly easy to track down your house/apartment/trailer/whatever. If all the information you share with the world (and think nothing of doing so) were Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the hypothetical above would not be more than a few dots. For the record, there are roughly 6.4 million dots of color in the painting.
Groups with extreme ideas who perform extreme acts against those with different ideas necessarily provoke extreme opposite reactions. The US actions are so defensive they're offensive (both in terms of their palitablity to the public and militaristically). And yes, while the “Law abiding citizens...” business is certainly nothing to be taken lightly, the fare more weighty point is that what one knowingly posts onto the web—especially in the current extreme action/extreme reaction—makes that (or virtually any privacy matter) a moot point. The spy’s are on high alert and, for better or worse, you've done their job already.
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Maybe that shouldn’t be our model or litmus test for when the government has reached over some arbitrary line or what we, as citizens, ought to be comfortable with occurring. I’m not sure anyone feels safer (inherently anyhow), by knowing the government (or the world’s governments) are spying on their citizens or visitors to their respective countries. However, in light of the revelations, I think it is of paramount importance to open a truly transparent debate about what our government is doing and what we truly consider private in todays over-sharing world.