No article on this subject can avoid quoting one of the numerous variations on the Benjamin Franklin quote where he said something close to these reputed words, “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.” Often simply quoting Ben Franklin is enough to consider the discussion closed, but where does one draw the line allowing for the most amounts of freedoms and liberties while also ensuring comfortable levels of security. This is where the normal discussion debates the different segments which governments utilize in order to provide security and in this information and computerized age the line can be crucial and must not be drawn with any lack of clarity. The advent of miniaturization, high powered optics, computerized facial recognition software, super-sensitive microphones, spy satellites capable of reading newsprint from orbit, thermal imaging which can “see” through walls, laser sound detectors which can monitor conversations in a room by measuring the slightest vibrations of the glass in a window, abilities to activate cell phones in order to use the camera and microphone to monitor the room were the phone sits, electronic data surveillance capabilities and processing with untold capabilities, universal electronic monitoring capabilities, and other items which easily have the ability to make privacy a quaint old idea whose time has long passed. The majority of the capabilities mentioned above have existed and been utilized by the majority of governments in the industrial world since the middle 1980s or the early 1990s at the latest. The capabilities available to current government agencies leave the citizenry absolutely no place to hide and their lack of knowledge of any person of interest that is being monitored could only be explained by human error. For those who might propose that there are limits on the government spying on their own citizens, I am happy to report that you are correct in your belief that laws guard the individual against unofficial warrantless searches and data gathering. Unfortunately, for quite a while now there has been a treaty between the English speaking nations of Canada, Britain, United States and Australia concerning this problem. By this treaty a list of persons of interest from each country is presented to the other nations who in turn request surveillance on these individuals of their home country by one or more of the other countries. Often each of the member countries would request different set of requests thus should one request be discovered the rest of the investigation would remain undisturbed. The home country then collects the information and passes the raw data which is processed by the foreign nation. Once the data has been organized and processed it is returned to the home country which wished to observe one of their citizens.
The one reassuring item is the ability that governments have displayed for incompetence and missing the forest for the trees. I would not want my privacy or worse to depend on the government’s incompetence but with the investigatory powers available to the government with all the modern data processing and state of the art sensors, no individual is beyond the government’s ability to be able to tell you all of your most guarded secrets and even the smallest of facts no matter how mundane and inconsequential. With all the technical abilities available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies it is remarkable that any crime is able to be committed without the authorities lying in wait before the crime has been committed and nabbing the lawbreaker in the midst of the crime. About the only thing lacking for the government to attempt to emulate the movie “Minority Report” are the psychics wired up to a computer in the basement of the FBI future crimes division. The government is currently gathering agreements with credit card companies, banks, credit unions, communications companies, utility providers and so much more to get them to allow the government to splice into their data banks and use all the data they have gathered on anybody without any need to bother any officials for permission. This includes the coming smart meters measuring electricity and in the near future smart grid appliances which will be capable of reporting each individual appliance and its use of power. This will also allow remote control of these appliances, remote setting of thermostats on heating and airconditioning units, even recording the number of times the power to the refrigerator increased by the small amount that turning on the light causes when you open the door. So many items which were purely science fiction a few decades ago are now or soon to be possible to government in order to inspect every tiny bit of minutia concerning your life.
Benjamin Franklin would become apoplectic if he was transported to our modern world. Once he realized the powers to intrude into the citizens’ private life by government he would likely turn hermit and remove all electronic devices from his residence. Paranoid delusions would be the likely psychological diagnosis of Ben Franklin’s mental breakdown as he was taken away babbling something about liberty has died in his dear loved country of America. The debate of how much liberty or freedoms we might compromise upon to grant government the necessary powers to make us more safe is mute and no longer necessary. We no longer have any liberties or freedoms against government interference and monitoring of every iota of our existences to trade away for security. The real problem is that even with total knowledge at their fingertips the government is still incapable of providing us with absolute security. Yesterday’s bombing in Boston stands as a case in point. About the only power the government does not possess is to be able to read your mind and know your intent, though there is a partnership between the government and Google working on understanding how the mind thinks and developing AI (Artificial Intelligence) where the government will permit Google complete access to the vast majority of their collected data collected by government agencies such as the IRS, Census Bureau, and many others at all levels of government, Federal, State, County, Township and City. They are gaining permission from all levels of governments around the nation with promises of providing better services and other benefits from this research. The amounts of data mining being accomplished by government at all levels is beyond imagination and the lack of security in our persons, houses, papers, and effects has dwindled out of existence and with it our rights as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment which reads;
“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.”
Liberties and Freedoms as envisioned by the Founding Fathers have evaporated before the heat of advancing technologies. There is virtually nothing which can be considered beyond the government’s ability to know if they are persistent and bring all of their capabilities to bear. The only hopes we have is to retain our protections against having such information from being used against us in a court of law. Beyond that we are likely fighting a losing battle. Our hopes for security of our privacy are now relegated to the whims of government bureaucrats and the officers of the government. Should this make you feel uneasy and raise your levels of concern then you probably have a desire to some level of privacy from the encroaching eyes, ears and sensors of government. It is not so much that we the people have surrendered our liberties, freedoms, and privacies as much as it is the government’s power to compromise these rights have become overtly formidable. How we regain the upper hand in this struggle is beyond me but that does not mean it is not an effort worth taking. If we can rescue even the slightest measure of our eviscerated privacies then any effort expended was worth the struggle.
Beyond the Cusp