Columns 2007

What happened to our privacy?

My mother raised me to believe that some things were private and should always stay that way.  Maybe this is why the current trend in America to make everything public, or at least accessible to the government, troubles me so much. Or maybe it’s because I’ve just lived in Alaska way too long and that ornery streak of independence I was born with has hardened into armor on my soul.

It seems that each day another piece of our lives becomes either government or public property. If we object, we’re told it’s to fight terrorism or for our own good.  No matter what part of your life the government is trying to pry into on any given day, the reason for it is only scant steps short of mom and apple pie so that you feel like a mean, nasty traitor to even question it.  More and more though, I find myself not only questioning it, but resenting it.

There was a story recently in the news about how efforts are being made to create some sort of data base from telephone records that the government would have access to if needed for – what else – the war on terror.  Object to this invasion of privacy and you obviously want jihad in your hometown.  The government spokesman who was discussing the project said that the feds would still need a subpoena or letter indicating it was needed for the war on terror to get access. Hmmm, why does that not provide me any comfort?

It’s bad enough that when I log on to the Internet, something called cookies track my every step so that they (whoever they may be in this context) end up knowing me better than I know myself. But to know that the government can use my tax return to find out exactly what charities receive my donations greatly disturbs me.

And do we even want to get into what a joy flying has now become thanks to the war on terror?  Short of requesting that we all fly naked, could the government be any more intrusive?  But again, to complain is to be unpatriotic because this is all being done for our own good.  The nanny state has arrived in America and it doesn’t even have the courtesy to sing to us to make the medicine go down.

Our government now invokes the public good or the need for safety during the war on terror for each piece of privacy taken from us. The question that keeps recurring to me is exactly when will I be safe enough?  Every time I raise that question, of course, I am told I’m being silly, that the government is only taking a little piece here or a little piece there.  But I look around and the cumulative effect of what they’ve taken from me in the way of privacy is pretty frightening.

I don’t want jihadists dancing in the streets of Anchorage.  But I also don’t want Big Brother breathing so heavily down my neck that it feels like foreplay. I don’t want government in my bed, in my house, in my computer…in every part and parcel of my life so that it has become more omnipresent than god.

If we continue down this primrose path, so much will have been lost to the war on terror that the terrorists will have won without firing a shot within our borders.  We will allow our fear to rule us to the point where we hand over everything to the government in the name of safety and end up with the kind of safety that the Soviets enjoyed for so many years under communism. Their government denied them their most basic right to privacy in the name of state security.  Why is what’s happening in America today all that different?

I have a dear friend who is an ardent member of the NRA. Being raised in New Jersey, the only people I knew with guns were people my mother didn’t want me to hang out with.  So I never developed a deep attachment to my Second Amendment rights. My friend used to insist that when jackbooted government thugs were marching in the streets to take my rights from me, I’d be glad that people like him had fought for their right to stay armed. I used to find that argument specious.  Now, I’m not so sure. There may not be jackbooted thugs marching in the name of our government down Minnesota Drive, but thanks to computers, they no longer have to. They’re marching down my computer’s paths.  Either way, my government is starting to really scare me.