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Ten reasons to oppose surveillance

July 14, 2013|By TIM ROWLAND

“If I’m not doing anything wrong, why should I care about surveillance?” To quote the late David Foster Wallace, this argument is so stupid it practically drools. So allow me to count the ways:

1. Just because you have nothing to hide today doesn’t mean you will have nothing to hide tomorrow. Legislatures are always passing new laws against what was heretofore rather normal behavior.

One community tried to pass an ordinance requiring its citizens to carry a gun. See any problem there, especially if you don’t care to pack heat? What about a new law making it illegal not to have health insurance?

Think of those niggling little traffic laws, like wearing a seat belt; pulling over into the left lane when a police car is on the shoulder; burning your headlights when your windshield wipers are engaged.

As legislatures become more broke, they will look for more ways to raise more money, and the best way in this anti-tax environment is to find things to fine you for. So do you want a camera or computer tracking your every driving habit?

2. Minor infractions of public protocol, when examined ad infinitum under the microscope of social media or government wiretappers, morph into something worse than they are.

When Major League All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper played briefly in Hagerstown, he once, while rounding the bases, blew a kiss to the pitcher who had just served him up a home-run ball.

It happened in a flash, and without today’s ubiquitous video would have gone unnoticed by most of the people in attendance and by all of the national media.

Sadly for Bryce, this flicker of bad judgment was caught on tape, reduced to super-slow motion and played again and again before a horrified baseball world, which pronounced him too immature for pro ball. Bryce, of course, has since proved that theory to be in error.

But how many times in public have we gestured, spit or scratched, or allowed a brief second of ugliness to bubble up? Do we have anything to hide? No, not really. We just acted out a normal human emotion. But with slow motion, YouTube and viral media, one bird flipped — even by the second coming of Churchill — can kill a political career.

3. We should reasonably expect to have a public life and a personal life. Should a weekend at a bar or a beach that winds up on Facebook cost you a job? Because if a camera captures you at just the right instant — bug-eyed, mouth in a wide-open grin, beer in hand (even if you have yet to take a sip) there goes the promotion. Did you have anything to hide? Were you doing anything wrong? No, but in this case the truth is very different from what the image shows.

4. In America, we have the right, maybe even the duty, to discuss government freely without fear of redress. If we think the government is doing something wrong, it is right that we act. Some of this discussion might even cross into plans of (illegal) civil disobedience. Bad laws must be broken to be changed: Lunch counters must be infiltrated and people must sell goods on Sunday, for example.

If we want to change government, to make it better, we have the right to say so and to push the envelope without fearing that those of whom we are critical are listening in.

5. Governments change. You might be the world’s greatest Obama fan and are therefore convinced his administration will be just and use its secret powers wisely. But would you be as confident should Dick Cheney be elected president?

6. We say things we don’t mean. We verbally assault people we have no real intention of harming. Even in our moments of greatest frustration, we might not really want to do in our next-door neighbor, but does a government phone-tap trained to ferret out the word “kill” know that?

7. Governments are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but corporations aren’t. Theoretically anyway, the government bureaucracy is accountable to congressional oversight. But it can hand its dirty work off to a private defense contractor that reports to no one and can’t be made to. So, just as the U.S. government sent those suspects it wanted to torture to Egypt, the danger becomes that it can send those it wants to snoop on to the private sector.

8. If you have cancer, you have done nothing wrong. But that’s information insurance snoops would sure like to have, to your great financial detriment.

9. You don’t always know to whom you are talking. If your best friend, whom you talk to every day, has a secret life as a terrorist, you at the very least are going to rack up some sizable legal bills trying to clear yourself.

10. And finally, most importantly, our most fundamental entitlement in this nation is life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. How happy can we ever be if we must spend our lives looking over our shoulders?


Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. His email address is timr@herald-mail.com.

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