I Heart Indies

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why Privacy Matters

In a recent conversation about the Snowden case, a friend opined that NSA surveillance was justified by the threat of nuclear terrorism.  Should we neglect such measures now and, say, Chicago were leveled by a nuclear weapon, the resulting backlash would be a loss of civil liberties far greater than anything we currently face.  In any case, she said, analyzing the metadata of our phone calls and so forth is no cause for worry so long as it is conducted by a government "responsive to the will of the people."

Leaving aside to what extent a government is "responsive to the will of the people" when it conducts surveillance in secret, that phrase, the will of the people, becomes more chilling the more I think of it.  The will of the people, the will of the people.  If only the people weren't so damn willful.   

Think for a moment of all the consequences to those who at one time or another have run afoul of the will of the people: Bridget Bishop hanged for being a witch on the evidence, among other things, that she wore odd costumes not in keeping with Puritan propriety; Marie Equi arrested and sentenced to three years for making a speech opposing America's involvement in World War I.  The speech occurred one month after the armistice with Germany; James Wakasa shot by an army private for attempted escape - he was standing within five feet inside the fence of his internment camp. Wakasa's offense was being a Japanese American after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The private was court-martialed but found "not guilty;" Ring Lardner, a humorist and script writer, sentenced to a year in prison and fined $1000 for refusing to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee about his Communist Sympathies.  Blacklisted thereafter, he moved to England and found work writing under various pseudonyms; in 1958 Richard and Mildred Loving arrested in their bedroom for violating Virginia's anti-miscegenation law.  Their sentence was suspended by a judge on provision they leave Virginia and not return for 25 years.  

Each of these cases was the act of duly appointed or elected government agents and agencies acting in response to the people's will.  There is no telling how many others have suffered under the collective weight of the people's will, lives and careers ruined for being gay, for holding unconventional religious  or political views, or being of the wrong ethnicity.  As I write this, Paula Deen's career is on the line because she admitted in a deposition to having once used "the N-word" in a private conversation.  Her plea should sound a note of caution to us all, saying if there were anyone who'd never said something they'd regretted and wished to take back to "please take a stone and throw it at me as hard at my head so it kills me. "

The will of the people, the will of the people.  Dear Lord, is there anything more tyrannical, fickle, and unpredictable than the will of the people?  Is there any specter more frightening than a government allowed to do anything that the people will?

Do not mistake, I love my fellow humans.  Like Linus of the old Peanuts cartoon, I love mankind; it's only people I can't stand.

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