Giving up liberty for security isn’t in our national interest

Oct. 28, 2013 @ 12:05 PM

Before the age of cellphones, most teenagers were paranoid a parent — mom or dad — may pick up another extension in the house and listen in on their calls.

Turns out, their paranoia may have been well-placed. Although the culprit on the other end wasn’t a parent, it was a snooping sibling. Big Brother.

As the U.S. continues to backpedal politically in the global court of public opinion with the latest disclosures of eavesdropping on world leaders, it’s really the domestic spying that Americans should focus their anger on.

Back in the summer, it was revealed in a secret Capital Hill meeting that thousands of analysts can listen to domestic phone calls.

CNET.com, a leader in technology reporting, said that authorization appeared to extend to electronic communication such as e-mail and text messages as well.

That came on the heels of an earlier revelation, from a report in the UK-based newspaper The Guardian, that Verizon had been on a top secret order since April to supply millions of US customers’ records on “ongoing, daily basis.”

The natural reaction for many is, “If I’m not doing anything wrong, it doesn’t matter.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s an erosion of liberty, and — essentially — a violation of the Fourth Amendment. It’s not new in America, but it’s certainly not getting any better.

If anything it’s getting worse.

The right to privacy is an incredibly undervalued right. And it’s something we often give away voluntarily, one little chip at a time.

Four years ago Harvard Magazine published an article on the slow erosion of privacy — years before the extent of the invasive government spying was known.

It argued that we were willingly giving away much of our privacy.

“The ambivalence we sometimes feel about new technologies that reveal identifiable personal information balances threats to privacy against incremental advantages,” Jonathan Shaw said in the Sept.-Oct. 2009 issue.

“The trends toward miniaturization and mass-market deployment of cameras, recording devices, low-power sensors, and medical monitors of all kinds — when combined with the ability to digitally collect, store, retrieve, classify, and sort very large amounts of information—offer many benefits, but also threaten civil liberties and expectations of personal privacy,” Shaw wrote.

Done largely in the name of security, much of what’s being done is trampling our liberty — a God-given right, according to the Declaration of Independence.

The battle between security versus liberty has been been raging for a while. It appears the fight for security is winning.

But, as Ben Franklin’s often been quoted as saying, “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither ...”

It’s a slippery slope we’ve been barreling down for a while.

Stopping the ride is the hardest part.