The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

June 27, 2013

Bill Jones | What are we willing to surrender for security?

— What are liberty and freedom worth to you? Are they worth more than a false sense of security we may get from knowing we are being watched constantly? Are we willing to surrender our privacy in order to be safe.

To those who answered “yes,” welcome to 1984, the totalitarian society described by George Orwell in his much-read and often-quoted book of the same title. In it, the government under “Big Brother” holds absolute sway over the people, who live in constant fear of the Thought Police.

More than 20 years ago, I stirred dissension when I suggested that our greatest enemy is our own government. Those who heard me ridiculed my words. Yet, look how much has come to pass.

The disclosure that our own government is collecting and storing evidence of all our telephone calls and our Internet messages, no matter whether they are threatening, silly or just communications between friends or family members, is an eye-opener.

It is hard for me to imagine any country treating its own citizens in such a manner, and still calling itself free.

Certainly we all want to be safe and secure in our lives, but how much are we willing to surrender for that feeling of safety? And how safe are we really if our intelligence community spends so much of its time and effort spying on its own citizens?

The government has built a massive structure in Utah in which it can store all this data. A structure containing more than 1 million square feet and using supercomputers that can process billions of bits of information every second.

Then there are the drones, unmanned aircraft that can fly at great altitudes, unseen, and spy on individuals even in their own homes. They also would be capable of destroying any target, as they do in other lands.

There are other examples of our government treating us as though we are all convicted criminals. The machines at airports that see through the clothing of air travelers is, in effect, a strip search. It is true that the Supreme Court has ruled that police may conduct a strip search with any criminal arrest, but air travelers are not criminals under arrest.

The Fourth Amendment of our Constitution says: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has been trampled by our government along with much of the remainder of our Constitution. It was never intended to be a document that could be interpreted one way today and another way tomorrow, according to what is popular at the time.

Even most members of Congress who claim to be constitutionalists – and there are few who really are – have helped create the problem rather than the solution. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11, members of Congress raced to pass thoughtless legislation that began stripping away liberties long accepted as belonging to American citizens.

It was a case of legislators wanting to show the folks back home that they were concerned and were ready to do something about it. What they did was not as carefully thought out as it should have been.

The ultimate result has been that the terrorists of 9/11 have scored a much bigger victory over the United States than was evidenced by the damage done by a few confiscated aircraft. They have caused the United States government to strip Americans of their inalienable rights, including the right to be secure in their persons.

Then there is the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. Among other things, it has provisions that permit the indefinite detention of American citizens and the suspension of habeas corpus. This is in direct violation of the Sixth Amendment.

Whether because of fear or greed, the United States is fast becoming a police state. Those who predicted that we will be destroyed from within are appearing more and more like they knew what they were talking about.

Realizing how the government is spying on us, even recording our phone calls and Internet messages, I had to laugh (without mirth) at a sign displayed at a pharmacy counter. It said: “Because of privacy laws, all customers must stand back at least four feet until their turn.”

In Orwell’s book, the leader is often referred to as “B.B.” for Big Brother. I would say we could refer to our leader as “B.B.B.” for Big Brother Barack, but the assault on our liberties started before his first term in office.

He has just shown a distinct ability to take a bad situation and make it worse.

Do you feel better knowing some of the things our government has been doing to us behind our backs? Does it cause you to wonder how much more there is that we haven’t learned about yet?

Bill Jones is a retired senior writer for The Tribune-Democrat.

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