Sunday, November 11, 2007

Now the government wants to define privacy for us

This is certainly indicative of where we are going in this society, a November 11 story, "It's Time to Rethink Privacy, Official Says,":

A top intelligence official says it is time people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguards people's private communications and financial information.

One of the more heavy-handed ironies of the war on terror is that the government's mandate to protect us all from external enemies has now been extended (by that same government) into a mandate that all other rights and privileges guaranteed under the Constitution shall now be sacrificed to "homeland" security.

This now includes a not-so-subtle shift in emphasis: instead of being an entity from which we want our privacy protected, the government becomes the entity that both guarantees and defines the amount of privacy we will be allowed to have.

Big Brother is not only watching you, he's doing it for your own good.

I thought about this before I saw this story, actually. I was returning from New Mexico this weekend, and making the usual pilgrimmage through the security checkpoint, when I become more than unusually ticked off about removing my shoes and testifying that I wasn't attempting to carry deadly shampoo onto a plane.

(By the way, for an engineer's explanation of just why the liquid ban on airplanes is another "Feel Good" overreaction by officials who either don't know chemistry or don't care, see Psy in the Sky by noted science fiction writer James P. Hogan.)

There is an almost universal consensus that September 11 represented a "watershed" in American history equivalent to Pearl Harbor or Hiroshima. The problem with that understanding, from an historian's viewpoint, is that there are two underlying dynamics generally at work in any society: continuity and change. When we declare an event to be a watershed, almost all interpretations and understanding center on what's changed, not what has remained the same.

Those forces within our society who alwasy value collective security over individual liberty did not suddenly spring into existence in 2001 and write the Patriot Act. Aside from being a Christmas shopping list for intrusive law enforcement, the Patriot Act and subsequent moves to weaken personal privacy evolved out of a group of pre-neo-con analysts and scholars working between the original Gulf War and GW Bush's election. They argued that the RMA ("Revolution in Military Affairs") that allowed us to destroy the Iraqi Army in the Gulf had made all earlier forms of "low-tech" war irrelevant, and that our greatest threat in the 21st Century would not come from conventional military forces but "rogue states" with nuclear weapons. Viewing this through the prism of "homeland defense" (where did you think the name "homeland security" came from, anyway), they emphasized that traditional American ideas of privacy would have to be sacrificed to preserve our country, because otherwise our intelligence-gathering process would be hindered.

To these people, in a bizarre way, 9/11 represented a vindication of their argument, and an opportunity to craft a complete change in the relationship of the US government to privacy and its own citizens.

Try googling "homeland defense" and time-limiting your responses to before 2001.

What you'll find is, to say the least, interesting.

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