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2013: The Year Privacy Died
Screenshot from film adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 (youtube)

2013: The Year Privacy Died

But wait – I thought the War on Terror was over, and we won it.

One civil rights attorney recently called the NSA phone-gathering activities “beyond Orwellian.”

If privacy were a patient, you could say that in 2013, this sick patient has finally died. Under President Obama, the federal government has seized phone and credit card records and emails, catalogued images of the front and back of mailed letters, gathered information from Internet searches, given IRS records to political opponents, and soon: medical records gathered, managed and interpreted by the helpful and omniscient IRS.

It has gotten so bad, that someday we may see the headline: “government has placed listening devices in everyone’s bedroom,” and such a headline would not be from The Onion.

Not bad for a president who only five years ago proclaimed “as for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our security and our ideals.”

But wait – I thought the War on Terror was over, and we won it.

As Mark Steyn recently pointed out in National Review Online, it is not as if all this snooping is geared towards fighting terrorism.  Just look at the public statements Maj. Hassan made in public for all to see before his jihadist rampage at Ft. Hood, or the suspended immigration controls that allowed free entry and departure for the Tsarnaev brothers before their terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon.

The federal government appears to be accumulating information on citizens for reasons that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. Sometimes the reason is to harass political opponents, like what happened to True The Vote, and prominent Romney donor Frank Vandersloot, or the information given to the groups ProPublica and the Human Rights Campaign on their political opponents. But for other citizens, whatever the reason, it is impossible to imagine the sum total of information the government over the past few years has amassed on all of us, to be used whenever the government deems necessary.

One NSA whistleblower, William Binney, has said that everyone in the United States is under “virtual surveillance” and the NSA has dossiers on nearly every United States citizen.

What if you have nothing to hide, that you have done nothing wrong, as Senator Lindsey Graham recently suggested regarding his own Verizon account. This is a common rebuttal to complaints of loss of privacy. According to the former NSA analyst Binney, “the problem is if [the citizen] thinks they’re not doing anything that is wrong, they don’t get to define that, the central government does.  The central government defines what is right and wrong and whether or not they target you.”

So what if you want to live your life in private?  What if you say “I just won’t mail any letters or go online, use a phone, make any credit card transactions, make any campaign contributions, participate in politics, and just mind my own business on my own land”?  Some people actually think by living without the activities government routinely snoops on, they can “escape” the surveillance and live a life of complete privacy, being “left alone.” Well, think again: government use of domestic drones for spying on American citizens is being considered by county and local governments, including law-enforcement agencies.

General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (NSA), commander of the US Cyber Command and chief of the Central Security Service testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the agency's PRISM program, which tracks web traffic and US citizens' phone records, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 12, 2013.(Credit: AFP/Getty Images)


In addition, hiding in plain sight is the omnipresent, watchful eyes of Google Earth, which will give anyone with a computer a snap-shot of your land. Some local governments have already used Google Earth to detect zoning and permit violations.

It is not so farfetched to envision a day when we could see a government agent approaching you on your land and saying, “we noticed from satellite images of your land that you were planting some vegetables that are high in carbohydrates. This will cause more expenses, longer term, for the government under the Affordable Care Act.”

Same for smoking cigarettes, sunbathing, barbecuing red meat, or any other activity you think you are engaging in in private on your own land.  The government is now a partner in your everyday activities, and it feels it has a right to know … everything.

There really is no escape – no possibility of just being “left alone.”  1984 indeed.


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