For several years, the government and private businesses have been increasingly invasive of personal privacy, giving regular people fewer ways to avoid the eye of Big Brother without dropping off the grid entirely and living in a cabin a la the Unabomber and other hardcore Luddites. Things came to a head during the years of the Bush administration, which of course ran an illegal spying operation on the entire American public, conducted through the phone companies and Internet providers, most of which were all too happy to comply. The Democratic Congress later gave this repulsive program the official sanction of the law, effectively rewriting FISA to give the executive branch unparalleled authority to order such spying, and also giving immunity to the companies that broke the law. But at the time that massive domestic spying was being presented openly as anti-terrorism policy, polls revealed some astonishing—and utterly disgusting, in the opinion of this civil libertarian and First and Fourth Amendment near-absolutist—results. Substantial percentages of Americans actually thought that “the First Amendment went too far” and bore revision. A majority would rather have the government tell them they were secure from the terror threat (and such meaningless assurances are all that could ever be provided, of course, unless the government has developed time traveling technology and can see that no attacks occur in the future) than be assured by enforceable law that they could conduct private conversations with other people across any medium. This domestic spying policy was being debated when I was an undergraduate in college, and the college newspaper regularly ran op-eds by students—students!—apparently so terrified of the possibility that terrorists might decide to nuke the appropriately named Starkville, MS, that they said they were willing to let the government see their personal correspondences if it might prevent that. “I have nothing to hide from them, so they can see everything if they want to.” That was the phrase of the day, a statement that also contained a subtext of terrorism accusation towards those civil libertarians who opposed Big Brother.
Although technically among the very oldest members of Generation Y, I went to college mostly with members of Generation X, and that generation is much less libertarian than mine. I recognize that the era of irrational post-terrorism paranoia also influenced how many people thought. However, the seeds for this invasion of privacy were sown for years before, and they continue to be sown now. (Read more…)