Saturday, May 13, 2006

Further Considerations on Government Spying

This is the third in a series of posts concerned with the warrantless wiretapping and phone database that the Bush Administration has engaged in.

First, I presented the basic argument as to why one would be against this type of program.

Second, I drew an analogy between those who would support these types of government action and those who would have either refused to serve or deserted the Continental Army of 1776.

Here, I want to look at some of the claims that are commonly made by those who support these types of government operations.

Issues included in this essay are:

Scope of Use: Why use this power only against terrorists?

The Slippery Slope: Why it is not a fallacy.

Nothing to Hide: If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about>

Cameras: Why not cameras in every home?

The Third Amendment to the Constitution

Scope of Use

This first issue I want to talk about does not address a specific comment that supporters of this program use, but an unwritten assumption that can be found in many of their statements. They assume that the database is only being used to keep us safe from suspected terrorists.

First, what is a ‘suspected terrorist’? Are protestors who picket army recruiters on college campuses potential terrorists? They are clearly interfering with the military’s attempt to acquire recruits. Should we not apply the title ‘suspected terrorist’ to anybody who speaks favorably of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton – people who took up arms against their own government?

Second, if it is okay to use this database to keep us safe from terrorists, then why is it not okay to use it to keep us safe from other threats? For example, since we are tracking down terrorists, why not use it to track down drug dealers and their customers?

While we are at it, we can use it to keep track of pornographers, prostitutes, and gang members and find out who they are talking to, when, and for how long. War protesters are also a threat to our national security. It would certainly be worth while to find out who an avid war critic has been talking to.

Also, we can track the conversations of extreme environmentalists (after all, we already have the term ‘eco-terrorist’ to describe some of them).

Better yet, many people who are a danger to others will seek to acquire a weapon of some type. So, spying on gun-owners and gun-sellers would be a useful way of keeping us safe, would it not?

Finally, Democrats have been called ‘traitors’ and ‘a threat to national security’ since 9-11. The Republican strategy throughout the 2004 Presidential campaign and, it appears, the 2006 mid-term elections is to fill people with the fear that, if the Democrats gain power, WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!

The Slippery Slope

I have read some arguments from people responding to the idea that we are on a slippery slope towards a totalitarian state that monitors our entire lives. “There are some discrete steps we have to go through to get from where we are to such a state.”

It is true that a slippery slope is not a sound deductive argument, but it addresses a genuine concern – one of risk.

Assume that you discovered that an acquaintance of yours, with several small children, had a habit of keeping a loaded gun in an unlocked drawer next to the living room couch. This friend also likes to have large parties where he invites just about anybody over, and he is in the habit of showing them his gun. One day, you are with this acquaintance when his sister shows up. His sister tells him that he should lock the gun up – unloaded – and lock the ammunition in a separate location. Otherwise, one of his friends might take the gun or one of his kids (or one of his kids’ friends) might accidentally shoot somebody.

Your acquaintance response, “You idiot! Don’t you realize that the slippery slope argument is a fallacy. A lot of discrete steps have to be followed before having a loaded gun in drawer in the living room becomes a situation where the gun creates a corpse laying on the floor.”

Bush’s warrantless wiretaps and phone database are loaded guns waiting to be misused. We are setting things up for the day when somebody will abuse these weapons, and our freedoms will be a corpse laying on the floor. Warrants and court orders are the locks that we need to keep these weapons out of the hands of those who would do real harm with them.

Nothing to Hide

“If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear from government spying.”

Anybody who utters this statement has illustrated the full height of his stupidity.

The problem is, the common citizen does not always get to decide whether he has something to hide. Sometimes, somebody else makes those decisions for him.

In Nazi Germany, “having something to hide” meant being a Jew, homosexual, gypsy, or even willing to work for regime change in the country. Imagine how much easier Hitler’s job would have been if the government already had a practice of wiretapping phones without a warrant and a database of every phone call that had ever been made by anybody in the country.

In America, in the 1950s, ‘having something to hide’ meant how you would answer the question, ‘have you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party.’ Imagine the situation in this country if, instead of asking people to name names, McCarthy simply needed to access a database of who had been calling whom in order to get his list of suspects.

In the 1960s, “having something to hide” meant being a part of the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King was viewed as a threat. Many people in government would have loved to have been able to plug his phone number into a database and get a list of everybody he had called as well as when and how long they talked.

In the 1970s, Nixon had an official “political enemies project” which involved a program of using government tools such as IRS audits and legal harassment against those who dared to speak out against him. I suspect that, if this database had existed while he was President, he would have made use of it.

Other times in which Americans had “something to hide” included being Japanese American in 1940, or German American in the 1910s. It included being an escaped slave or being somebody who aided in the Underground Railroad in 1850. In the 1770s, it included anybody and everybody who was fighting for independence from England.

Internationally, anybody opposed to the Kremlin throughout most of the 1900s had something to hide. The British government would have probably made good use of a phone list to find out who Ghandi had been working with in India in an attempt to preserve British rule in that country.

Also, it needs to be said, since atheists are the least trusted group in America according to two recent surveys – such that many people would not allow their child to marry one, would not vote for one, and would not hire one because they consider atheists to lack moral principles – atheists “have something to hide” in this country. President Bush stated that he will only appoint people who believe that our rights come from God as judges. Given the cheers of support he got from this, we may assume that he is not the only employer who takes discriminates against atheists when deciding who to hire or who to promote.

Homosexuals, environmentalists, labor union organizers, mormons, war protesters, and political activists on both sides of the political spectrum may discover that they “have something to hide.” It all depends on who ultimately gets their hands on this database.

These paragraphs only consider how the database can be officially misused. It does not consider criminal misuse of the data. On Friday, FBI agents searched the house of the third highest ranking member of the CIA. He has been tied to a bribery and corruption scandal involving a childhood friend who became a defense contractor. I can imagine that there would be a great many people willing to pay good money to get information off of this database.

This database is a loaded gun in the living room drawer simply inviting misuse.

Unfortunately, at this point it would be foolish for us to assume that this is the only loaded gun that the Bush Administration has laying around. There are almost certainly others that we do not yet know about.


Bush himself is claiming that he is not spying on Americans and that the government is going to great pains to protect our privacy.

If you buy this argument, I have a new plan for this war on terror.

We will only store video information – we will not use microphones. As a result, we can have President Bush stand in front of the American people and say, with a straight face (as straight as his face ever gets), “We are not prying into the private lives of the American people. We are not monitoring your conversations. We are simply going to use this information to keep you safe.”

Why should anybody protest? After all, “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.”

The Third Amendment

Many people are not familiar with the 3rd Amendment to the Constitution, because its principles seldom come up. It says:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Why does this amendment exist?

It exists because England had a habit of controlling Americans by quartering troops in their houses. Not only were the Americans required to feed and care for those troops (an unfair tax burden), but the troops could then monitor the people they were staying with. They could report on when the owner was home, when he was gone, who came to visit, and who his friends were.

The Bush Administration is attempting to do what the British soldiers would do – monitor who we speak to, when, and for how long – and collect it all in a massive database for instant government use.


Hume's Ghost said...

That is an astute point you make regarding the 3rd Amendment.

Anonymous said...

Atheism a threat to the xian nation, according to some.