MARSHALL, Minn. — So we have figured out that we are all being watched by the NSA. Surprise, surprise. After all, it is so easy to do now since there is no need to actually have a detective follow people when everyone leaves an electronic trail the size of a highway. But what is the problem?
It is interesting to note that it is people on the extreme left and (less) extreme right who are all so unhappy about this; normal people in the center do not care much because they understand that real life is different from the unrealistic ideal (to put it mildly) that all extreme groups have as their vision. Freedom is great, and I did come to America for that, but safety is a must for freedom because being alive is a major part of being free.
I don’t care if government agents at the airport see me through my clothes (aren’t we all pretty much the same that way?). I don’t care if the government knows whom I called, when, and where to. I don’t care if it takes a picture of me at the street intersection and at the mall. I don’t care if it has my DNA and fingerprints. Those things do not infringe on my freedom to think, say, and do whatever I want, and that is what constitutes liberty. There is no privacy anymore anyway when people document their every thought on Twitter and one can easily buy a drone to take a video of anyone’s backyard.
People who don’t have anything illegal to hide do not need to worry. The fact that the government keeps an eye on all of us is not – to a degree – on its own a matter of concern. However, what government does with the information it collects matters; it should not share it with anyone, for example. What the law criminalizes matters even more. If disagreeing with the government or insulting a president is illegal, then we have a problem, but I have not heard of anything of this nature. And Congress is the one making these laws, not the president.
The other problem arises when the government starts selectively applying laws and personal information it possesses; that is why the IRS picking on certain groups is much more worrisome than the NSA spying on all of us. Government shall be impartial unless statistics provide grounds for some deviation from impartiality. Affirmative action has no basis, while checking specific groups of people at airports does, just like charging women less for car insurance. If there is statistical proof that conservative groups violate tax law more than liberal, by all means they should be checked more often, but then and only then.
Easier to kill many these days
Sure, I know what Benjamin Franklin said about liberty and safety (“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”), but that was said more than 200 years ago and things have changed since then a lot — and not necessarily for the better, at least from the point of how easy it is to kill a few hundred people. We are not talking about “a little” safety.
Of course, all politicians lie (now more than ever), and the government can’t be trusted. But its main job is to keep us safe and if that is what it needs to do for that, so be it. When they catch terrorists this way, I am all for that. And until this program is abused I will give my government the benefit of the doubt, especially considering that Congress was aware of this program. We should all remember that anarchy is not equal to freedom. Similarly, exposing a democratic state’s secrets does not promote liberty.
However, there are two troublesome aspects in this deal. First, how was Edward Snowden hired if he did not graduate from high school and provided some questionable credentials — and why was he paid over $100,000 a year? Now he has even admitted that he sought this job with the goal to reveal the secrets. The government seems utterly incompetent at keeping its secrets, and that is truly troublesome.
Not only the government seems incompetent at keeping its secrets, it also managed to put America in a position when no one respects or fears it and everyone feels free to poke it in the eye and ignore anything it asks. The foreign policy in the last eight years has expressed weakness and lack of assertiveness. And surely, the world has noticed.
No clue how real world works
So let’s all stop going crazy about this latest revelation and take Snowden for what I think he really is: a self-centered, fame-seeking traitor who wanted to emulate Julian Assange, a man who violated the trust of his country and who revealed potentially damaging information to its enemies. Snowden has said that he chose China because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” Really? These guys (Assange, Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, who wrote articles based on this information, Bradley Manning, et al.) have no clue how the real world works, who the bad guys are, and who benefits from their actions. It is not surprising that revelations are always damaging to democratic countries but never to dictatorships.
Democracies should be able to defend themselves and keep their citizens safe. If some minimal restrictions are put on our freedom, terrorists don’t win since they do not care whether we are free or not. They only win when they kill us, and the government must not let it happen.
Ilya Gutman is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who now lives and works in Marshall, Minn.
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