NOW that we sense the magnitude of our government’s effort to track Americans’ telephone and Internet transactions, the issue finally and fully before us is not how we balance personal privacy with police efficiency.
We have long since surrendered a record of our curiosities and fantasies to Google. We have broadcast our tastes and addictions for the convenience of one-button Amazon shopping. We have published our health and financial histories in exchange for better and faster hospital and bank services. We have bellowed our angers and frustrations for all to overhear while we walk the streets or ride a bus. Privacy is a currency that we all now routinely spend to purchase convenience.
But Google and Amazon do not indict, prosecute and jail the people they track and bug. The issue raised by the National Security Agency’s data vacuuming is how to protect our civil liberty against the anxious pursuit of civic security. Our rights must not be so casually bartered as our Facebook chatter. Remember “inalienable”?
I envy the commentators who, after a few days of vague discussion, think they have heard enough to strike the balance between liberty and security. Many seem confident that the government is doing nothing more than relieving Verizon and AT&T and Facebook of their storage problems, so that government agents can, on occasion, sift through years of phone and Internet records if they need to find a contact with a suspicious foreigner. Many Americans accept assurances that specific conversations are only rarely exhumed and only if the oddly named Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allows it. Such sifting and warrants — in unexplained combination with more conventional intelligence efforts — are now said, by President Obama and his team, to have prevented several dozen potential terrorist attacks, with elliptical references to threats against New York City’s subways and stock exchange.
Read the full article here.