Ending the night on a downer

19 Aug

Government-Surveillance-sizedA discussion around a restaurant table Saturday night.

Actually, less of a discussion and more a string of questions bounced about between some politically and militarily wired friends having an off-the-record dinner.

It started with “It’s time to ask ourselves some questions.”

We are “free citizens in a self-governing republic.”

When was the last time you thought of that?
Have you ever thought of it?

Now think of this:

Are we really free citizens in a self-governing republic any more?

Does the government answer to the people?

Has it ever?

If the answer is no then we not a republic.

Look at Congress today.

Do the people we elect to represent us – answer to us?

What is privacy?
Why should we want to hold onto it?

Why is it important, necessary, precious?

So many questions – so few answers.

The fact that these questions were being asked spoke volumes.

People we know are expressing concern that we are living within what has become or is becoming a massive surveillance state.

The government logs your calls, they can listen in, they can read your emails.

They keep the data in mammoth machines that contain a huge collection of information about you and your family.

This, of course, in pursuit of security in the age of terrorism.

Some said this is might be the end of the expectation that citizens’ communications are and will remain private and this will could change us as a people and a country.

For much of our history, one of the things that has made America different from other nations is privacy.

Some argued excessive government surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

As the discussion went on, it turned to: is this a threat to free speech, too?

As you become careful about what you write you can’t help being careful about what you say, and do, and they think.

The table became quiet.

Some had not made the obvious connection about who we are as a people:
We are “free citizens in a self-governing republic.”

One spoke of an article that said an entrenched surveillance state will change and distort the balance that allows free government to function successfully.

Broad and intrusive surveillance will, definitively, put government in charge.

But a republic only works, it said, if public officials know that they – and the government itself – answer to the citizens.

If massive surveillance continues and grows, could it change the national character?

“Yes, because it will change free speech.”

The threat of terrorism is real.

Al Qaeda is still here.

But many in America have lost faith that US intelligence and US security will obey constitutional guarantees.

The evening ended quietly.

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