Hello folks…have you met the USA PATRIOT Act? You may recall it as the sweeping piece of legislation passed about a month after the attacks on 9/11. The Act is so voluminous that it is said no legislator read it in its entirety before it was passed with virtually no discussion or debate. It all happened while the country was still reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It gave the government virtually unlimited power to gather private data and detain folks indefinitely as part of the national security mission (among many other things).
Most folks paid no mind to the Act when it was first passed. I think we tend as a society to think that such laws are designed to capture bad guys…they don’t affect normal folks. And even if they do, most folks’ perceptions of the relative infringement on their privacy is that it is minimal and therefore acceptable because of the greater good achieved by the law – protecting the country from those who seek to harm it and its citizens. The message is – we are all in this together – we are collectively going to do what it takes to ferret out those evildoers who may be hiding amongst us.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Information Sharing site has a page that lists laws affecting privacy and civil liberties if you want to learn more about the powers that have been bestowed upon the Federal government by U.S. legislators. A word of caution before you click away – the powers that have been, and continue to be, afforded to subvert your privacy and interfere with your protections under the constitution are readily displayed in these laws. If you are a person who has been happily suffering under the delusion that this is America – the land of the free…the land where primacy is placed on protecting individuals’ constitutional rights – save yourself the rude awakening.
Many folks are a bit more tuned into this discussion today because it has become public knowledge that Verizon telephone records are being collected daily by the National Security Agency. Not specific phone records of folks viewed as national security threats – all phone records – yours, mine, the senior citizens next door, the creepy guy that lives down the street, the teenager who got a phone for her birthday, etc. All of our records – every single day. Suddenly, the whole Orwellian notion of Big Brother seems all too real for “regular folks” who never paid much mind to the government’s access to what they deem “private” information.
I think most folks have no appreciation of how much the USA PATRIOT Act eroded their privacy and constitutional protections. I also think they kid themselves about the amount of privacy they have willingly given away over the past couple of decades. So much data is collected about individuals and households by retailers, insurance providers, and other businesses with the knowledge and consent of consumers that complete profiles of what you eat, where you visit – both in person and online, listen to on your iPod, go for vacation, shop, and a hundred other daily activities - are all easily assembled. When you add the extent of information that is regularly shared via social networking, I would argue that privacy has become a fallacy rooted in outdated realities.
But the real concern here is not the privacy gaps individuals create for themselves – it is the fact that the government is viewed as overreaching. It really doesn’t matter what political ideology you subscribe to – it is the U.S. citizen in all of us that balks a bit and says – wait a minute, this is America – you can’t do that here. Welcome to the new America – the country whose legislators sold off citizens’ rights in order to protect against bad guys. And the salt in this wound – a number of recent reports have called out national security efforts since 9/11 and concluded they have not accomplished what they should have and we are not safer. Perhaps all the Verizon customers in America should call one of their legislators each day at 9:11 AM and ask them to rescind the USA PATRIOT Act. If nothing else, all those calls to legislators will give the National Security Agency some exciting telephone usage patterns to ponder. And don’t you worry one bit about that wasting government dollars on a futile mission – this country has gotten damn good at that.
Day one thousand four hundred and twenty-nine of the new forty – obla di obla da