Sense and security

Bruce Schneier has a response to the "If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to fear from NSA surveillance?" crowd.

I've been waylaid for most of the week with gastrointestinal crises.... But BruceWe’ve traded one over-reaching federal bureaucracy for another, and the latest edition has all the earmarks of a police state. Schneier, ever the voice of reason when it comes to security, has some thoughts that should be widely discussed in light of the ongoing rise of SurveillanceWorld.

As we've heard in comments on this blog, supporters of unbridled surveillance say "What have you got to worry about if you're not doing anything wrong?" This poses the question as a binary one, where the innocent go unscathed while the guilty are magically identified and brought to justice. Bruce, on the other hand, has a fine discussion of the trade offs that we are making with regards our privacy.

I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here is an important passage, one that made me drag myself to the keyboard:

A future in which privacy would face constant assault was so alien to the framers of the Constitution that it never occurred to them to call out privacy as an explicit right. Privacy was inherent to the nobility of their being and their cause. Of course being watched in your own home was unreasonable. Watching at all was an act so unseemly as to be inconceivable among gentlemen in their day. You watched convicted criminals, not free citizens. You ruled your own home. It's intrinsic to the concept of liberty.

For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that -- either now or in the uncertain future -- patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.

For ages, we've heard about the "nanny state," which was a particular conservative label for a government that attempted to make a more equal social outcome for all in the United States. It had flaws, but at least it tried to treat everyone as individuals that deserved respect. Today, we have a "stern daddy state" that tells us what is right, wrong and suspect, setting us against one another more often than it helps us pull together.

We've traded one over-reaching federal bureaucracy for another, and the latest edition has all the earmarks of a police state. Hannah Arendt wrote about the last emanation of this conservative stern daddy state, when a group of former communists called for police state tactics against communism (they later became the vaunted "neoconservatives" of our day):

But we cannot accept your claim, your aim, and least of all your methods. Your claim that one can fight the dragon only if one has become a dragon contradicts all our experiences and is hostile to our ultimate concern, which is to assert the humanity of man. Your aim, to make of democracy a "cause" in the strict ideological sense, contradicts the rules and laws by which we live and let live.

America, this republic, the democracy in which we live, is a living thing which cannot be contemplated and categorized, liek the image of a thing which I can make; it cannot be fabricated. It is not and never will be perfect because the standard of perfection does not apply here. Dissent belongs to this living matter as much as consent does. The limitations of dissent lie in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and nowhere else. If you try to "make America more American" or a model of democracy according to any preconceived idea, you can only destroy it. Your methods, finally, are the justified methods of the police, and only of the police.

We know that it is dangerous and risky to live in freedom; we therefore are happy to pay taxes and train a special force among our citizens who are qualified to watch and who use their own methods, which, however, we control. [emphasis added]

 Any claim that security overwhelms all other concerns is an argument against freedom. IT is one of the key tools for imposing this fearful approach to one another and the world upon Americans today.