On Television: Distrusting The Government, Except When They're Reading Our Email

I was on television last night on Chris Berg’s 6:30 Point of View Program on Valley News Live alongside John Strand from the High Plains Reader (which publishs my column every week if you’re interested) and Scott Hennen.

As always, it was a great discussion. We talked about the Waters of the U.S. rule and my story about state funding for Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.

The most heated discussion, however, was reserved for the topic of the Patriot Act and NSA spying which is the subject of much debate in Washington DC currently.

There is no question that we could put more criminals – thieves and rapists and murders – in jail if we were to forgo, say, our 4th and 5th amendment protections. But we don’t do that, because we value those rights above enhanced security.

Hennen got ganged up on a bit as he started out the show expressing a deep distrust of the EPA over the Waters of the U.S. rule, but then touting the ability of the government to spy on us in the name of safety.

That seemed to myself, as well as Berg and strand, to be a contradictory position. If we can’t trust the federal government to regulate the environment free of political machinations, why on earth would we trust those same people to secretly access our private communication and internet habits?

Hennen’s argument is that the spying allowed by the Patriot Act and other federal policies keeps us safe from terrorism. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t – the government is anything but transparent on instances where this spying has worked – but I would point out that we could also stop a lot of domestic crime by ending a lot of the constitutional protections which limit the police. There is no question that we could put more criminals – thieves and rapists and murders – in jail if we were to forgo, say, our 4th and 5th amendment protections.

But we don’t do that, because we value those rights above enhanced security.

I’m not sure why that same standard shouldn’t apply here.

Not that we could ever put this toothpaste back in the tube even if sufficient political majorities emerged in support of doing so. Now that we’ve opened the door to this sort of mass surveillance I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to shut it again.

More worrisome, I think, is that these debates over whether or not this sort of mass surveillance is ok in a free society are going to fade as generations of Americans grow up accepting it as the status quo.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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