In another post, I explained why believing in the adage “I don’t have to worry because I’ve got nothing to hide” is foolish. It is an adage repeated ad nauseam by people who don’t understand why they should care that the government has access to every American’s phone records and emails. I’m returning to the subject after reading an excellent article. Here’s a quote:
If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations. You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet (source).
Indeed, it has been estimated that the average adult commits three felonies a day. Given this fact, if the government were to take a dislike to you, it would be very easy for said government to make your life miserable. There is precedent for government officials launching personal vendettas. According to a Stanford University source:
We know what happened in the case of QWest before 9/11. They contacted the CEO/Chairman asking to wiretap all the customers. After he consulted with Legal, he refused. As a result, NSA canceled a bunch of unrelated billion dollar contracts that QWest was the top bidder for. And then the DoJ targeted him and prosecuted him and put him in prison for insider trading -- on the theory that he knew of anticipated income from secret programs that QWest was planning for the government, while the public didn't because it was classified and he couldn't legally tell them, and then he bought or sold QWest stock knowing those things. This CEO's name is Joseph P. Nacchio and TODAY he's still serving a trumped-up 6-year federal prison sentence today for quietly refusing an NSA demand to massively wiretap his customers.
Joe Nacchio’s woes may seem very distant from our own. But it is worthwhile to underscore the fact that plenty of people do commit crimes on a regular basis. Let's say an NSA agent is watching you because someone you know is a friend of someone who once visited a jihadist website. Because of the "plain view doctrine," if the agent discovers that you are guilty of a crime having nothing to do whatever with terrorism, that agent can turn over the information to law enforcement officials.
So, here are some examples of the sorts of criminal activities that ordinary folk might engage in without even realizing that they are committing felonies. It is a violation of federal law to “unlock” your smartphone, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine (source). A man in Michigan has been charged with a felony for reading his wife's email, and may face up to 5 years in jail, which seems kind of odd, since the prevailing school of thought appears to be that electronic communications are not private (source). Until April 3, 2013, it was a federal crime for anyone under the age of 18 to read Seventeen Magazine online, based on language in the website's terms of service (source). In several states, it is against the law to collect rainwater that falls onto your property. It is illegal to annoy someone via telecommunications devices of any kind, if you do so anonymously (source).
It is a sad bit of wisdom that may only come with age: power really does corrupt. A young man like Aaron Hernandez earns millions of dollars and is adored like a demigod by countless football fans; that is power, and apparently this power convinced him that he could literally get away with murder.
Because power corrupts, we must operate on the assumption that our political leadership is composed of a disproportionate number of corrupt individuals. It is unwise to be indifferent to political leaders when they seek to aggressively expand their power. In granting our leaders new powers we are tempting honest politicians down a path of corruption and inflaming the worst ambitions of those who are already corrupt.
In a very interesting article here, the author notes that the massive resources of the NSA are not directed toward terrorists at all. Instead, they are focusing on law-abiding Americans. The NSA snoops on popular sites like Facebook, but, according to a terrorism expert, terrorists don't actually use Facebook. Terrorists favor places on the Internet that haven't been indexed by Google or other search engines. At best, the author notes, "the recent revelations concerning Prism and telephone surveillance might deter potential recruits to terrorist causes from using the most visible parts of the Internet. Beyond that, the government’s efforts are much more dangerous to civil liberties than they are to al-Qaeda and other organizations like it."
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