While technology and communication has been great for the cause of liberty, there is also a downside to it all. While free acting individuals use it voluntarily for beneficial reasons, the government uses new technology to enhance power.
With Edward Snowden’s leaks last year confirming that the federal government is spying on us, civil liberty advocates have been pressing hard against the National Security Agency (NSA), while a large number of Americans seem to not care.
Unfortunately, our battle for privacy is not just with the federal government. It is with government at every level, including many local governments.
There are devices now known as “stingrays” that can be used to track cellphones nearby. They can track the movement of phones, as well as information about communications such as the phone numbers being called. The devices basically mimic a cellphone tower in order to trick cellphones into reporting their information.
There is one Florida case where a police officer explained how he could stand in front of people’s houses and track the movements and information from their phones.
Of course, in following in the footsteps of the federal government, local law enforcement agencies are not obtaining the proper warrants for probable cause. And even if they are, these stingray devices will pick up cellphone information over a broad area. They are not just picking up the information from the one cellphone for which the warrant is issued, if any warrant is issued at all.
The NSA Won’t Be Stopped Until This is Stopped
This ruins almost any hope of getting rid of the NSA anytime in the near future. The only thing that is going to stop the NSA is a bankrupt federal government.
The ACLU has done a good job of fighting some of these abuses by local governments in the use of these stingrays. And there are certainly many other groups that have done a great job of fighting the NSA at the federal level.
But most Americans just can’t seem to get too excited over this issue. They don’t seem to care. In some ways, this is rational. In other ways, they are setting themselves up for tyranny.
If there are widespread violations of civil liberties at local levels, then there is no way they will be stopped at a federal level. If you can’t stop the use of stingrays by the local police, there is no way you are going to stop the NSA.
I know that many people don’t care because they trust their elected officials a bit too much. They are the people who will say, “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.”
I’m sure the Jewish people living in Germany in the late 1930’s were being told the same thing. “Now come with me. This is for your own protection. If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.”
This isn’t to say that concentration camps are coming to America. It is to say that the government is spying to enhance its own power over you. It isn’t to protect you. How far this tyranny goes, nobody really knows. It is really a question of how far Americans will let it go. Fortunately, we do have a minority (hopefully a growing minority) who are raising their voices and speaking out against government spying. In some ways, it is really this group of people that separates America today from Nazi Germany or so many other tyrannies through world history.
I still remain hopeful for the future. My hope is that technology in the free market outpaces the technology being used by the bureaucracies. I am hopeful that inexpensive technology will enable the American people to essentially spy on their elected (and unelected) officials. I am also hopeful that more Americans will begin to realize that government spying is a threat to them, even if they have nothing to hide.
But before we get rid of the NSA, we need to get rid of the spying at the state and local levels. If we can’t change things at the local level, there is no way we can abolish the NSA.