Among a free people, rights can not easily be oppressed in large form or short order. They are lost on the periphery with a slow curtailing based on reasonable and even well-intentioned initiatives. The result is less freedom, fewer rights and a decreased ability to legally fight back. The following losses are only steps, but they are large steps on a path that leads to a far worse country then we have ever known.
The Right to Privacy
First by a whistleblower, then by the media and eventually admitted to, it was revealed that the Obama administration is spying on more Americans than any other President. A few try to dismiss this by saying “it is mostly just metadata” that is being kept forever, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) correctly states that this metadata is a tool used to uncover your sexual orientation, private beliefs, religion, political leanings and everything that free people have the right to choose whether or not is public knowledge. No other entity has legal access to all of this information, This is a unique power the President is using that strips Americans of a fundamental right to privacy. The ACLU’s strong opposition to the Obama administration explains:
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study a few years back found that reviewing people’s social networking contacts alone was sufficient to determine their sexual orientation. Consider, metadata from email communications was sufficient to identify the mistress of then-CIA Director David Petraeus and then drive him out of office.
The “who,” “when” and “how frequently” of communications are often more revealing than what is said or written. Calls between a reporter and a government whistleblower, for example, may reveal a relationship that can be incriminating all on its own.
Repeated calls to Alcoholics Anonymous, hotlines for gay teens, abortion clinics or a gambling bookie may tell you all you need to know about a person’s problems. If a politician were revealed to have repeatedly called a phone sex hotline after 2:00 a.m., no one would need to know what was said on the call before drawing conclusions. In addition sophisticated data-mining technologies have compounded the privacy implications by allowing the government to analyze terabytes of metadata and reveal far more details about a person’s life than ever before.
To further underscore the point, a nice piece by Kurt Opsahl outlines:
What [government officials] are trying to say is that disclosure of metadata—the details about phone calls, without the actual voice—isn’t a big deal, not something for Americans to get upset about if the government knows. Let’s take a closer look at what they are saying:
They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.
They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour. But they don’t know what was discussed.
They know you received a call from the local NRA office while it was having a campaign against gun legislation, and then called your senators and congressional representatives immediately after. But the content of those calls remains safe from government intrusion.
They know you called a gynecologist, spoke for a half hour, and then called the local Planned Parenthood‘s number later that day. But nobody knows what you spoke about.
Should you make any of the above calls, would you want any of this information about you or you child to be kept by strangers forever and, potentially, made public or used against you? There are many ways people working within any administration can use this very private detail in personally, professionally or legally damaging ways. If you don’t care, consider this: With this access to metadata, the British would have been able to single out the major players in the American Revolution before the revolution began. This is well detailed by Duke Professor Kieran Healy . With this knowledge, the weight of a large government could have been used to harass, impede or in some way crush these leaders before the revolution began. The ripple effect of democracy, liberty and even human rights extending from the American Revolution would all be ripped away from us due to the simple use of metadata. In the same way, those working toward the Civil Rights bill could have been identified and had the weight of government brought down on them. The movement could have been suffocated early.
Healy uses very basic points of association and still was able to reveal people leading a fight for freedom. The much larger and more specific amount of metadata that Obama’s domestic spying program keeps, plus modern sophisticated data analysis, enables any administration to find and target any group they want – all in secrecy. This is chilling. Even if you trust Barack Obama, there will be another George W or even a Trump in office at some point that you will hate and fear. Do you really trust every president with that power? I do not and I pray you do not.
It needs to be noted and remembered that the government purposely tried to keep this invasion of your privacy a secret from you and would have continued to keep it a secret from you were it not for the self-sacrifice of Edward Snowden who exposed the program.
On the subject of your right to privacy being suppressed, a smaller, but still significant, new intrusion into your privacy by this administration is that the government is now tracking your activity and can put files on your computer when you access government websites. This is a reversal of the long-standing policy of forbidding any such action. The ACLU rightfully explains that these new tools “can be used to track an Internet user’s every click and are often linked across multiple websites; they frequently identify particular people.”
This change happened suddenly and without debate of any sort. The ACLU’s Christopher Calabrese sums up the privacy infringement like this:
“No American should have to sacrifice privacy or risk surveillance in order to access free government information. No policy change should be adopted without wide ranging debate including information on the restrictions and uses of cookies as well as impact on privacy.”
Also published on Medium.