Rout of the Rebel Angels, by William Blake

A Dog Starv'd

A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
      -- William Blake,
     "Auguries of Innocence"

Friday, February 15, 2008

Private Info = Government Property

Peeking out -- or in? -- through closed Venetian blinds
The "I Capitalism" subset of right-wing and libertarian noisemakers has a favorite hot-button issue in government's seizure of private property for what the government deems the public good. A typically inflammatory case was 2005's Kelo v. New London, in which the municipal government of that fair city unilaterally condemned over a dozen properties (out of 115 total) in the old Fort Trumbull neighborhood. The owners of the properties in question had refused to sell them to New London for development of a hotel and conference center, new housing, and so on. The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city.

I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of that decision. Let's say, though, that we accept the premise of its critics -- that what's private should stay private, unless its owner chooses to surrender it.

Isn't it interesting, then, that the squawks from that end of the political spectrum are much quieter when it comes to surrendering privacy itself?

The reason, of course, is "security" in an age of "terrorism." Bruce Schneier, in the February 15 issue of his valuable Crypt-o-Gram newsletter, reminds us that when national security trumps personal privacy, we're headed barefoot down a path paved with very jagged gravel:

In a Jan. 21 "New Yorker" article, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell discusses a proposed plan to monitor all -- that's right, *all* -- Internet communications for security purposes, an idea so extreme that the word "Orwellian" feels too mild.

The article contains this passage: "In order for cyberspace to be policed, Internet activity will have to be closely monitored. Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer or Web search. 'Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation,' he said. Giorgio warned me, 'We have a saying in this business: "Privacy and security are a zero-sum game."'"

I'm sure they have that saying in their business. And it's precisely why, when people in their business are in charge of government, it becomes a police state. If privacy and security really were a zero-sum game, we would have seen mass immigration into the former East Germany and modern-day China. While it's true that police states like those have less street crime, no one argues that their citizens are fundamentally more secure.

Schneier links to the on-line version of the New Yorker article. It makes for appalling reading, regardless of how you feel about capitalism and private property. Their fascination with pulling this kind of shit is what drives the ongoing calls for impeachment of the entire executive branch.

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