Responding the other day to the revelation that the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans, President Obama referenced a speech he’d given a couple weeks ago about the need “to shift out of a perpetual war mind-set” and debate how we strike a balance “between the need to keep the American people safe and our concerns about privacy, because there are some tradeoffs involved.”
He said having this debate was healthy for our democracy and a sign of maturity “because probably five or six years ago we might not have been having this debate.” He followed this observation by saying he thought it interesting “that there are some people on the left, but also some folks on the right, who are now worried about it, who weren’t very worried about it when it was a Republican president” in charge.
But the inconvenient, contrapuntal fact is libertarians have always taken a dim view of governmental encroachment on the privacy rights of citizens. As well did the New York Times worry, to the point of being obsessed, about this sort of thing during the Bush years. In fact, the left was almost universally in a tizzy at the time over the revelation that the NSA was monitoring incoming calls to this country from known terrorists and their affiliates.
What is currently different is that the NSA has broadened its purview and is now keeping tabs on Americans communicating with other Americans in America, irrespective of any known terrorist association. In other words, it is conducting a fishing expedition at the behest of the government, in direct breach of its charter. By law, the NSA’s intelligence-gathering capabilities are supposed to be restricted to foreign communications. Instead, it is now gathering information — the so-called metadata — on Americans’ phone calls, tweets, text messages, Internet searches and Facebook postings, not to mention emails.
The potential for abuse is real, especially so since this administration has found the temptation to use its capabilities for questionable — possibly illicit — purposes nearly irresistible, having already subverted the power of the IRS for political advantage while also using its information-gathering abilities to pry into the official phone communications of AP reporters and the private emails of Fox News reporter Jay Rosen and his parents.
In order to spy on Mr. Rosen, Attorney General Eric Holder had to sign an affidavit naming him as a criminal co-conspirator. After the fact, it was claimed this maneuver was merely a minor technicality, and no one ever had any intention of prosecuting Mr. Rosen, despite the (false) allegation of his criminality.
But if the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, where do bad ones lead?
Read Kafka, read Solzhenitsyn, read Orwell if you are of a mind to know. Read “The Road to Serfdom” if you are really inquisitive. Otherwise, bury your head in the sand and continue to believe in Hope and Change and the most transparent administration in history.
An oft-cited quotation states, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” And yet, it seems we are rapidly entering an age where even were we to remember the lessons of the past we should be afraid to repeat them to others or make critical commentary on the present, for fear of governmental censure or retribution.
The president glibly talks about shifting “out of a perpetual war mind-set,” while at the same time arguing for the necessity of monitoring Americans and invading their privacy in order to “keep the American people safe.”
That is, to my mind, a dangerous avenue to go down. Perhaps it is already too late to turn back. But if so, we should quake to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin, warning, as the left was all too eager to remind us only a few short years ago: “Those who would trade essential liberty for some temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
(Mr. Fancher lives in Wiscoy, Allegany County.)