Posted by: paulbassler | June 12, 2013

Safety or Liberty

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you should have heard of the many scandals that have arisen in recent weeks. A couple of weeks ago we heard that the IRS targeted the President’s political enemies by delaying non-profit status for conservative groups and by auditing large contributors to the Romney campaign. We also learned that the IRS gave classified information from a pro-marriage organization to its political rival. Additionally, we found out that the National Security Agency (NSA) is keeping track of the phone records of most Americans, and may be “data mining” emails from Americans as well.
The NSA story is filled with all the elements of a good spy story. A twenty-nine year old technical contractor at the NSA’s offices in Hawaii, decided to tell the world that the United States was data mining American’s phones and emails. He was scene giving an interview in a hotel room in Hong Kong, and as of today, appears to be on the run. It’s 1984 all over again, with the fears of big brother monitoring the activities of the populace.
This story does, however, require every American to look at what is happening and decide for themselves if it is a good thing or bad. Should our government have the ability to track communications of any and all Americans, with a goal of stopping terrorist acts before they happen? After all, it is the job of our government to protect us and the world has changed, with new technologies and a new threat from radical Islamists. On the flip side, do you want your government to have the power to monitor your phone records and email conversations? It’s a question that pits our safety against our liberty.
In an ideal world, we would like to trust that our government will use tools, like a data base with everyone’s phone records and emails, to fight terrorists and protect Americans. If one judges by the government’s track record, it’s easy to see why so many Americans are troubled. In the current administration alone, we see the IRS abusing its power by targeting political opposition. They did apologize. We see the EPA giving personal information from America’s farmers to environmental groups. They apologized as well. There are many other examples from our government abusing its power now, and many more when you look back over history. Would it be such a stretch to believe the NSA might use the data they are collecting for things other than defense?
Keep in mind, the NSA data bank was unable to stop the underwear bomber, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Fort Hood shooting and the bomb that was placed in Time Square. It begs the question of whether or not the NSA’s data mining is effective in stopping terrorist acts. If it is not effective, why would it be needed?
So in the end, it boils down to trust. When the Patriot Act was introduced by the Bush Administration, those who did not vote for Bush or support him were against giving the government the power this act provided. Now that Obama is President, those who oppose him do not trust that the government will not abuse its powers.
We are living in a new world, where religious fundamentalists have declared war on our country and the western way of life. These new enemies are trying relentlessly to hurt Americans within our own country, and trying to recruit allies in America and around the world. How do we fight this war? Do we fight this war? How do we protect ourselves? The new technologies of our times are being used against us, and it appears, our government is trying to use these new technologies to fight back.
Perhaps we should take a page from Ronald Reagan…trust but verify. We can trust that our government will use its mega data base to fight terrorism, but put into place the strictest guidelines, rules and regulations we can to try and insure this data base in not abused. Information appears to be the greatest weapon in modern warfare. If only our enemies are using it, we may end up losing all our liberty in the end.

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