We hear this primarily from the young, who are said to be used to living openly on-line, and from the old who share this in common with the young: ignorance of history and of human nature. Today, and for the benefit of these mis-, or rather uninformed, people a brief lesson.
No man is innocent in the eyes of his enemy. A zealous prosecutor can take the most harmless of circumstance and through innuendo, contrivance, and brazen lie turn it into at least dark suspicion if not “proof” of heinous crime.
You bought a book on the Middle East because of a noble interest in history? So do terrorists read those books. You made a phone call from nearby a mosque? So do terrorists make these calls. You made a crude and in poor taste joke after an incident? So do terrorists make these quips.
You decided to join a local Tea Party-like organization because of your sincere belief in limited government? Or have you renewed your membership in the NRA? So do “domestic”, “home-grown”, “self-radicalized” terrorists join these groups.
Have you not heard the term railroaded? How about framed? How about falsely accused, hounded, harassed? Is it is merely paranoia and lapsing into extremism to suggest that the government, sated on your secrets, could act in these ways as it has and far too often?
Could the IRS target groups which it perceives as its enemies? Could sealed divorce records be publicly aired? Could a zealous prosecutor who cares only of her public image and is a stranger to truth convict the innocent? Could a government libel and slander a man in order to bamboozle a judge into issuing a warrant against this man?
The powers of my imagination pale, but a story of your culpability can always be weaved by a determined enemy. Anything can be turned against you, and the more information government has on you, the easier it becomes to manufacture “evidence” of your misdeed.
Information is power: it is the lifeblood of politics. Giving bureaucrats and politicians this much power is to tempt them beyond human ability to resist. (Giving power to computer and statistical algorithms used to data mine records is no solution. These cannot be perfect, and it is people who run them.)
It’s probably far too late to remind anybody of these words, taken from the document which at one time dictated the law under which even politicians had to live:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
It has now become a “reasonable” search to track your every movement, your every call, perhaps even your every email and on-line transaction. It is now “probable cause” that you are guilty of a crime just because you exist.
“But it’s only meta-data.” Meta-data forsooth! Have you any idea what this is? It tells the time of your call and where you were when you made it. It tells who you made it to, and tells of the people you contacted who they in turn contacted. Do you text? Then they have that information too.
It’s rumored the government even has your emails. Perhaps not the text of these, but the meta-data. Again, this tells much. It tells where you were and on what you wrote them. It tells the time and length. It tells who it went to, and it tells this of everybody.
Even without your exact words spoken or written, this is a dense and nearly complete picture of your behavior. If a bureaucrat cannot find something in this trove that at least casts you in a bad light, then he isn’t trying.
“But what about the children! We demand safety!” I have yet to hear any politician respond to these words of a man of a far superior mind:
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin. #NSA
— William M. Briggs (@mattstat) June 6, 2013
If the government can’t catch terrorists without spying on its own citizens, then tough luck. Let if find some other way. The price we have to pay for this program of extremely limited success is just too high.
If NSA algorithms so good at detecting spies, how did Edward Snowden go undetected?
— William M. Briggs (@mattstat) June 10, 2013
Update Until my server’s DNS problems (not “issues”) are resolved, you might not be able to see the tweets linked. They are, in order:
“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Ben Franklin.”
“If NSA algorithms so good at detecting spies, how did Edward Snowden go undetected?”
Update See this from brother statistician John Cook: A statistical problem with “nothing to hide.”