“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?
I have operated under the (apparently mistaken) impression that the Constitution of the United States prohibits the random, warrantless surveillance of ordinary citizens. In fact, I’m certain it’s written down somewhere… oh, yes, it’s the Fourth Amendment.
It specifically states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
So what am I missing?
Since Sept. 11, our government has acted as if security and privacy were an either/or proposition. In other words, an increase in one causes a decrease in the other. Like a seesaw, if one side goes up, the other side must go down.
As federal security consultant Ed Giorgio stated several years ago in a widely quoted New Yorker article, “Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.” Apparently, in order to be more “secure,” we must accept less “privacy.” That includes allowing increased warrantless surveillance and scrutiny by the government.
So is the government’s argument sound?
Before we can know whether it is sound, let’s define some terms. In particular, “security” and “privacy.”
Security is generally defined as “freedom from danger, fear, or anxiety.” And privacy is defined as “freedom from undesired outside influence or intrusion.”
But are those the right definitions?
Is “freedom from danger, fear, or anxiety” really the opposite of “freedom from undesired outside influence or intrusion”? In particular, are they mutually exclusive?
On the contrary, these limited definitions are not appropriate in this scenario. Security comprises more than a feeling that one is safe. In a broader sense, it represents tools and methods that you could potentially use to ensure your privacy.
Privacy, on the other hand, is different. It’s something you would want to make secure. Something you want to protect, like your car or home. That sounds a lot more like property to me. Embedded in this notion of property is the idea of ownership. In fact, an owner is defined as someone with “the right to exclusive use, use, or control of property.”
So can privacy, like property, be owned? If so, who controls it?
Current norms do not designate “privacy” as something you possess, but prior to 1890, privacy was not separated from your property.
In the Supreme Court decision Boyd v. United States, the court ruled that constitutional guarantees securing people in their persons, houses, papers, and effects transcend the concrete case. It goes on to say that it “appl[ies] to all invasions on the part of government and its employees of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life. It is not the breaking of his doors and the rummaging in his drawers that constitutes the essence of the offense; but it is the invasion of his indefeasible right of personal security, personal liberty, and private property.”
If we accept the government’s initial argument, we are really giving up control of our privacy to others, and who then decides how much of it we deserve.
Under this assumption, privacy is meaningless. It holds that someone other than you decides what is or is not private to you.
As security expert Bruce Schneier would say, the debate is not really between security and privacy, but between control and liberty.
The government’s argument does not stand up to even the simplest logical examination. They argue that security and privacy are mutually exclusive without any proof and believe that statements like “Privacy and security are a zero-sum game” are true by default.
The government’s argument takes for granted acceptance of the government’s initial definitions. This implies that surveillance that reduces privacy automatically enhances security. It also takes for granted a complete lack of familiarity with history and our shared common beliefs that are implicit in the telling of that history.
The tension between control and liberty was without a doubt the fundamental concern faced by the Founding Fathers. They established the Constitution as the law to limit government interference in citizens’ affairs.
Recall John Adams’ sentiments on “a government of laws and not of men.” The Founding Fathers established the Constitution with a series of processes and a system of checks and balances. This was meant to restrain and replace the people in power because they feared the human tendency to seek and control one another.
Today, we share their deep-seated belief in limited government.
Although the government promises increased security, its tools of invasive surveillance and cavalier dismissal of rights protected by the Constitution are not in keeping with our common notions or our law. Accordingly, their argument fails on this count too.
The defense the government uses to justify more surveillance is twofold. First, they argue that unlimited observation provides the watchers with the opportunity to step in and prevent dangerous actions and events. (Of course, danger to whom does not appear to be relevant in their reasoning.)
Second, because of the potential for this intervention, individuals’ fear and anxiety about dangerous actions and events should be reduced. Because of this, actual encounters with such events will be reduced.
In support of this, the government regularly informs the media about how its increased surveillance has led to the discovery and neutralization of “terrorist” threats. This confirms its belief that security and privacy are mutually exclusive concepts.
However, unlimited surveillance is by definition incompatible with limited government. According to many security experts, it is also incompatible with enhanced security.
In today’s world, information can be misused or stolen more easily every day. Placing more and more information into gigantic government databases merely means that stealing or abusing information will become easier over time.
Creation of such data platforms merely creates another “one-stop shopping” experience so common in today’s convenience-driven world. And it’s ripe for exploitation. The possibilities for “insecurity” due to this are endless.
Although our grandparents kept their private information in their desks “with their important papers,” today, those records are a cornucopia of data about each of us. And they reside in computer servers and “in the cloud,” available to others without their knowledge or permission.
So how does subjecting yourself to such scrutiny make you safer or more secure?
A real-world example is in order here. Subsequent to the tragic event in Connecticut last year where an individual entered an elementary school and murdered students and teachers, The Journal News published an interactive map showing the names and addresses of all handgun permit holders in New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties.
According to Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, “Publishing gun owners’ names makes them targets for theft or public ridicule. It is journalistic arrogance to abuse public record privilege, just as it is to air 911 calls for no reason or to publish the home addresses of police or judges without cause.”
Exposure to theft of one’s firearm through disclosure most certainly would not “enhance” their security.
The privacy-versus-security dichotomy fostered by government presumes that the government will maintain control of your private information, thereby increasing the government’s security potentially. In that light, the revelations about the NSA’s trillion-dollar expenditures to spy on us make sense.
In the end, it’s really all just a question of whom they are protecting.