“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” – Sir Walter Scott
The NSA’s recently-revealed program to scour through and analyze the phone records of millions of normal and innocent Americans is apparently seen by my many of us to be perfectly okay. A Washington Post/ABC poll conducted on Friday, the day after the revelations, concluded the following:
The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.
I was shocked by this report. 63 percent? Do these people have any idea what it is they are approving of?
Maybe not. Let’s look at the actual question asked in the poll:
“It’s been reported that the National Security Agency has been collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans. It then analyzes calling patterns in an effort to identify possible terrorism suspects, without listening to or recording the conversations. Would you consider this an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?”
Gee, the way they describe it here it sounds perfectly safe. They’re not actually listening to the calls. They’re only “analyzing patterns”. Sounds pretty sophisticated and yet respectful of privacy rights, doesn’t it? Some news sources even made a point of saying that the information was “anonymous” — that there were no names or addresses associated with these records.
Don’t believe oversimplified reports.
But it’s just not as simple as that. And upon even a superficial analysis, it’s easy to see that many of these “safety” measures are at best fig leafs bordering on lies. Thankfully more and more of us are starting to realize this, too: After the story lingered in America’s consciousness over the past few days, after most journalists, analysts, politicians, and even the American people have had some time to start to get a dim inkling of what this program really means, our initial blind approval is fading away. By Saturday, Newsweek showed only 41% of American’s approving of the program.
But that’s still not low enough. This is a serious threat, but I don’t think most of us quite understand why or how. To me it’s simple.
If you think you have any reason to distrust or feel threatened by the government at all, then you have a very good reason to fear this program.
If, on the other hand, you think that the government is now, has always been, and always will be perfect and trustworthy, well, then you are an idiot.
Don’t be a coward, either.
“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin
One of the things that the Bush Administration is counting on is that we Americans will be so afraid of the terror boogieman that we’ll think that losing our liberties is okay. He is basically appealing to our cowardice. It is this cowardice Ben Franklin was speaking of 250 years ago. But Trent Lott, apparently speaking for millions of other cowardly Americans, said in 2005 “I don’t agree with the libertarians. I want my security first. I’ll deal with all the details after that.”
This is not what the Founding Fathers were hoping for.
[NOTE: I have never, ever been a paranoid type or a conspiracy theorist, but the recent barrage of revelations about the Bush Administration’s domestic spying programs has finally pushed me over the edge. So this post is the first of a short but rapid series of articles about what exactly is wrong with this program, in the hopes that it will help people explain to each other why this program, and this Administration, must be stopped.]