Frank Rich’s recent article, When Privacy Jumped the Shark in New York Magazine, carries the
opener:
Note
to Edward Snowden and his worrywarts in the press: Spying is only spying when
the subject doesn’t want to be watched.
Then he goes on to prove the case that Americans have long
given up privacy by choice. Eagerly, it would seem, by the explosion of
Facebook, Reality TV and countless other handy and even needed devices, such as
cell-phones and the internet.
 
Frank does a worthy job as historian, even-handedly
taking us back a half century or so in the complacency and complicity with
which we turn from the ‘ho-hum’ of the Edward Snowden revelations to the ‘izzat
so’ of Paula Deen. I like Frank and often read his work, but there’s another
read on the NSA-Snowden story that seems to have been lost.
Dissent and argument are part of America and have been since
our birth as a nation. Tomorrow is the Fourth
of July
, our national celebration of that very spirit that informed a war
against England to freely argue and dissent among ourselves without the
restraints of Monarchy. Those Fathers of ours were ‘traitors’ to the law of
their times in order to set up what they conceived as better times. In short,
we are at our best in this country when
we argue like hell and stamp our foot in dissent
.
I concede Frank Rich’s point of view in When Privacy Jumped the Shark. Privacy in the form we once knew it
is dead and we’ve been given much in return. I won’t go into listing it all,
but you can’t have the benefits of data transfer without data interception. My
point is that the dark side is not the unlimited knowledge of what we do, but
the restraint that unlimited
knowledge puts on dissent and argument.
Worrywarts in the press, Frank?
Yeah, count me among them as I ponder the next Edward
Snowden, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, Karen Silkwood or
Tom Drake realizing the odds against them. Ellsberg was the whistleblower
poster-child, exposing the Pentagon
Papers
that put the lie to our strategy in Vietnam, essentially ending the
war and a presidency along with it. He was tried in civil court on the basis of
the Espionage Act of 1917 and found innocent, mostly due to a monumental screw-up
and overreach by the prosecution.
But those earlier days of equal access to the law are
closing in on us, as Bradley Manning is subjected to years in prison before
trial (a year of it in solitary confinement) and Julian Assange is clearly
fearful of being whisked away to Guantanamo after extradition. Edward Snowden
claims to have fled for similar reasons and, in this political climate, those
are no longer foolish fears. As a candidate, Barack Obama said,
“Often
the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is
an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to
speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism… should be encouraged rather
than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration.”
Count me among them, as I worry about keyword algorithms
that (may) put writers, commentators and ordinary citizen e-mails under scrutiny
and raise the cost of our freedom to argue like hell and stamp our foot in
dissent. If I were a defense attorney in any of these cases yet to come, I might
well open my argument with a video-clip of Mr. Obama making that statement.