During today’s news conference, President Obama described those who “complain about Big Brother” when it comes to the National Security Agency’s mass gathering of communication data on American citizens as a form of “abstract” thinking, but when you add up everything that’s been going on lately, it seems a little foolhardy not to be at least a bit skeptical.
Granted, President Bush engaged in some form of data mining in an effort to thwart future terrorist attacks during his administration. Back when he was a candidate for president, Obama attacked Bush for this practice (and everything else Bush did) and essentially vowed to stop it. Now that he’s president, Obama says that we can all feel much better because he’s actually had an opportunity to review the program himself (along with his “team” which probably means Valerie Jarrett) and that he believes the program actually strikes the “right balance” between thwarting terrorism and protecting privacy.
It’s a complex issue, but it’s made even more complicated by recent events.
For example, didn’t President Obama recently tell the world that the War on Terror is essentially over (or at least as far as the United States is concerned)? If that’s the case, why do we need to continue engaging in practices put in place for the purpose of defending ourselves in that war?
Also, examples of abuses of power by government officials are being announced on almost a daily basis. Yet, President Obama asks us to trust that the government will make every effort to protect citizens’ privacy rights as it gathers massive amounts of data on those citizens.
James Madison wrote a few observations about government authority that I think are relevant to issues today.
On the subject of possible government encroachment of liberty, he wrote, “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”
Today, we endure various forms of public humiliation to fly in an airplane in order to ensure public safety, and we even tolerate to some degree having the government know who we’re calling and at what hours of the day and night we make those calls since we trust that by submitting to these practices we are protecting ourselves from an established enemy. As a nation, we’ve relinquished some of our freedoms for this assurance.
As noted previously, President Obama wants us to believe the War on Terror is over yet he wants us to relinquish some of our rights in order to protect ourselves from terror. Which is it? Are we really at war or is this the “guise” Madison wrote about?
Madison also wrote, “I believe there are more instances of abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
Until the last few days, most Americans either didn’t know or didn’t give much thought to the degree to which our right of privacy is being encroached. Now that we know, it is imperative that we heed Madison’s warnings and remain diligent in ensuring that those rights continue to remain paramount so that we can truly remain a free people.
Otherwise, I think it’s fair to say the “Big Brother” analogy currently being drawn is more than just “abstract” thinking.