Thursday, June 13, 2013

Do you surrender?

June 14, 1777 the Second Continental Congress adopted the flag of the United States.  This week marks “Flag Week” and President Obama, like those before him, has issue a proclamation.  It says, in part, “Wherever our American journey has taken us, whether on that unending path to the mountaintop or high above into the reaches of space, Old Glory has followed, reminding us of the rights and responsibilities we share as citizens.”  The President is eloquent as ever – it’s connecting the rhetoric with his actions where there’s an issue.  Given the news out of the capital the past several weeks, I’m ready to wave the white flag.

For years we’ve known that the Government was collecting huge swaths of data.  I’ve written many blogs about the various invasions, the enormous cost, the lack of accountability and the absurd thesis of “giving up freedoms to save freedom.”   The misnamed “Patriot” Act permits the gathering of this information … then some.  The fact Congress passed it and the President signed it makes it legal, but it doesn’t make it right.

Every American’s phone record now exists in a Government database.  Emails, texts are being collected too.  NSA Director James Clapper assured Americans that they have neither the time nor the inclination to be voyeuristically reading people’s emails or listening to their calls.  I actually believe him.  The issue is that they could.
A number of social media posters have correctly pointed out that we leave footprints of our daily activities in a myriad of ways – checking in via Foursquare, updating statuses with locations, using mapping software to get from point a to point b.  We let grocery stores know the brand of toilet tissue we prefer to save a few cents on gas or other items.  It’s part of the culture.
The difference, however, is that those items are voluntary and they’re gathered, collected and used by private industry.  There's a quid-pro-quo - getting discounts or connecting with people in my life in exchange for giving up bits of information.  But I don’t have to post on social media.  I can buy groceries with cash and not use coupons.  It's not so easy to not participate in the PRISM program.  For the government to not track me I have to stop using other private modes of communication like telephone and email? 


Many supporters of the State have gone on the offensive asking anybody who questions the program what they have to hide.  That, of course, is not the point and underscores the fundamental shift society has undergone since 9/11.  There used to be a presumption of innocence in the U.S.  Way back in the good old days of 2000.
William Driver nicknamed the U.S. flag “Old Glory” in the 1830’s.  It seems apt today that the symbol of Jeffersonian Democracy is referred to in the past tense.  Tracking American communications and movements is meant to ‘protect’ Americans.  From what?  If we no longer have the presumption of innocence, the reasonable expectation of privacy or the ability to dissent without being considered a co-conspirator --- what is it all for?  And how does it distinguish us from our "enemies"?

Pew Research found this week (6/10/13) that 54% of Americans say phone tracking is ok.  45% approve of email tracking of U.S. citizens.  It's all for "security."  With phones tracked and emails collected - even with Russian authorities giving the FBI several warnings:  none of that protected Boston from the Tsarnaev brothers.  Americans have given up fundamental rights in the name of safety only to have the entire theory fail.
Tempted as I am to wave the white flag of surrender, I know that the principals of liberty will rise again.

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