Stumbling Toward Totalitarianism – Big Data, Secrecy, and the Slippery Slope Toward Constitutional Deconstruction

Posted: June 9, 2013 in My moral code, Politics
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I love the United States of America. I love our freedom, our concept of personal liberty, and the ability we have to freely write blogs like mine. This is the only country I want to live in. That’s why I’m here. That’s also why I feel like I  need to speak out when I have concerns. That is why I want to share some highlights from an article that well expresses my fears and why I want to share some personal thoughts on it. So, here goes…

Two days ago, The Atlantic Monthly published a piece by Connor Friedersdorf that says exactly what I wish I had said, only much better than I could have said it. I want to thank Mark London Williams my cousin and dear friend for directing me to the piece. Friedersdorf begins with an extremely opened minded potential assumption that says:

Let’s assume that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, their staffers, and every member of Congress for the last dozen years has always acted with pure motives in the realm of national security. Say they’ve used the power they’ve claimed, the technology they’ve developed, and the precedents they’ve established exclusively to fight al-Qaeda terrorists intent on killing us, that they’ve succeeded in disrupting what would’ve been successful attacks, and that Americans are lucky to have had men and women so moral, prudent, and incorruptible in charge.

He then goes on to remind us that our government is biennially and quadrennially in flux by reminding us that:

The American people have no idea who the president will be in 2017. Nor do we know who’ll sit on key Senate oversight committees, who will head the various national-security agencies, or whether the moral character of the people doing so, individually or in aggregate, will more closely resemble George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, John Yoo, or Vladimir Putin.

He continues by expressing a concern that I have held, and continue to hold. He says this:

What we know is that the people in charge will possess the capacity to be tyrants — to use power oppressively and unjustly — to a degree that Americans in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000 could’ve scarcely imagined.

This conclusion, which he again states better than could I, is:

Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after. 

This, Friedersdorf says, is because we have taken the our fear of terrorism and converted it into a simple mechanism that allows our leaders to forsake accountability in the name of safety. Consider this:

…we’re allowing ourselves to become a nation of men, not laws. Illegal spying? Torture? Violating the War Powers Resolution and the convention that mandates investigating past torture?

No matter. Just intone that your priority is keeping America safe. Don’t like the law? Just get someone in the Office of Legal Counsel to secretly interpret it in a way that twists its words and betrays its spirit.

You’ll never be held accountable.

And, why do we let these guys do this? Friedersdorf:

…we’re so risk-averse — not that we’re actually minimizing risk — that we’re “balancing” the very rights in our Constitution against a threat with an infinitesimal chance of killing any one of us…

In other words, by allowing the federal government to use secret, virtually unconditional, minimally constrained surveillance to implement a “big data” project whose target is American citizens, we  undermine the foundational premises of America. We sacrifice liberty and freedom to assuage fear.

So, let’s return to the first. very generous, assumption that everyone involved so far is moral, ethical, of total integrity, and only doing what’s they truly believe to be in our citizens’ best interest. In such a scenario we can ask: “is it okay to give up some liberty for some safety?” The answer may well be: “yes“. But remember that this is a very slippery slope. So, let’s re-consider the concept a bit and think about this:

Is it okay to build a comprehensive infrastructure, and to set a wide variety of precedents, that would allow a future leader, who may NOT have our best interests in mind, that allows American liberty to be undermined in the name of “safety” and “protection”? My personal answer is “no”. My opinion comes from the fear of the “slippery slope” and the very small step necessary to move from “protecting America” to autocracy and dictatorship. Even if that ultimate situation is very unlikely, unconstrained surveillance is not all that far from “Big Brother” in action; so, in my mind, along our current path we are…

… Stumbling toward Totalitarianism.

(Oh, by the way, “hi guys”.)

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