The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

1984 finally arrives

Don’t Tread on Me
 1984 finally arrives
1984 finally arrives

1984 finally arrives

It’s been a good week for Big Brother, which is to say that things are pretty bleak for those of us who still care about civil liberties. We’re not yet at the end of the world. We won’t be waking up tomorrow in a police state. But it does appear that our nation has decided to see just how astute Benjamin Franklin was when he opined that “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

It started last week, with the announcement of the development of a new governmental intelligence system – the Total Information Awareness Program – that the government has proudly proclaimed the most extensive electronic surveillance system in history. The TIA will “data-mine” a vast number of commercial, corporate and governmental databases to create profiles of individuals – similar to the way that companies today data-mine phone, Internet, credit card and subscription databases to determine who to deluge with advertisements.

The government’s TIA will ostensibly be searching for patterns in the data pool that can help federal agents identify would-be terrorists. But, of course, nothing like this has ever been tried before, so who knows if it will work?

And come to think of it, when was the last time you were actually interested in any of those odious sales pitches that deluge your e-mail inbox or interrupt your dinner with a friendly call from a telemarketer?

Exactly. These data-mining systems are shotguns, not sniper rifles. Sure, they may hit one or two people interested in investing in a unique business opportunity in Uganda, but that is rarely the case – which is fine in the business world, where mass-market advertising is the name of most games. But that’s not an acceptable standard when dealing with federal profiles that could be digging deep into information about citizens that is, frankly, none of the government’s business – like what Web pages people browse to, what kind of products they purchase, how often they refuel their car, so on and so forth.

Until a system such as this can be shown to not be a privacy risk to the innocent – until it can be shown that it will be a rifle, not a shotgun – the government has no business planning to deploy such a tool. Nations around the world have been fighting terrorism for generations with success without relying on such liberty and privacy destroying systems. Last weekend’s revelation about the TIA seem to say that our government no longer cares about protecting the rights and liberties entrusted to the people of this nation by the Constitution our leaders have sworn to uphold.

And then just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse on the civil liberties front, Monday rang in the week with the announcement that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review had overturned the unanimous May ruling by a lower court which had denied a request by the Justice Department to expand its power to snoop on American citizens under the vulgar PATRIOT Act.

Which means that now it’s even easier for the government – which is already claiming the power under the PATRIOT Act to hold people without announcing specific charges, to monitor what you buy or borrow in bookstores or libraries, to search your home without informing you – to snoop around your phone line, should you show up on its list of potential evil-doers.

So if a bug in the TIA accidentally swaps your profile with that of Muhammad Atta, don’t be surprised to hear a strange clicking sound on your phone whenever you dial up MovieFone or call Mom to say “hi.” And for God’s sake, don’t ever joke about not liking the government on the phone again – who knows who’s listening anymore!

The ACLU, Libertarian Party and other like-minded organizations greeted these twin announcements with the expected amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth, but they were almost drowned out by the cries of joy at the Justice Department. Attorney General John Ashcroft – you remember him, the guy who thought it was a good idea to have American citizens spy on their neighbors as part of his new “everyone is a suspect” doctrine – invested a lot of political capital in getting the ability to tap damn near any phone line he wanted.

He’s a very happy man today, which is never a good sign. When John Ashcroft smiles, civil liberties die.

What has happened to America? When did cowardice kill our national soul? We’ve sent our sons and fathers to battlefields abroad for generations to fight and die for the very freedoms our own government is now ignoring, now diluting, now destroying. If to protect ourselves from a ragtag bunch of foreign malcontents we smother the very spark that made America great, what was the point of Gettysburg? Of Wake Island? Of Normandy Beach? What was the point of America at all, if we fail to cling to the very freedoms and liberties that made this nation worth defending in the first place?

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