Thursday, July 9, 2009
Consistency in our Pursuit of Privacy
Our recent history as a nation has been littered with attempts by the powers that be to infringe on our right of privacy. The attacks have not merely been from one side of the isle, however, as both Democrats and Republicans have each been involved in overreaching measures that violate our Constitution and our privacy. One need only look to the unread and unconstitutional Patriot Act for an example of both parties’ willingness to sacrifice liberty for so-called “security.”
Now, there seems to be a bit of buyer’s remorse as many that supported the measure in the aftermath of 9-11 have come to the realization that civil libertarians were right when they claimed the Patriot Act and bills like it would make us less safe from our government and create a sense of false security. Hopefully, we have learned the error of our ways and will no longer sacrifice our liberty for “security.” Optimism, however, may not be a valid response as our history with privacy has been inconstant at best.
For example, in the 1990s the federal government pushed for a national id card that was rightfully struck down by Republicans who stood up for privacy and against more government intrusion into the lives of its citizens. This support of our Constitution and the privacy it protects, however, was cast aside in the days, months, and years following 9-11. In early 2005 there was little opposition to the passage of the Real ID Act in the House, while the Senate gave unanimous consent to the measure. At the time Ron Paul opposed noting, “This REAL ID Act establishes a massive, centrally-coordinated database of highly personal information about American citizens: at a minimum their name, date of birth, place of residence, Social Security number, and physical characteristics as well as open-ended authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to require biometric information on IDs in the future. This means your harmless looking driver’s license could contain a retina scan, fingerprints, DNA information, or radio frequency technology.”
Of course, for many, the facts of the card seemed harmless, but defenders of our Constitution and limited government knew otherwise. Whenever, the government is given more power, the liberty of the citizenry decreases. This is not a statement of misplaced paranoia; it is an inevitable fact. And if not for a number of state legislature and civil libertarian groups fighting against Real ID we might be suffering severely now.
A national ID card would allow the government to control and database important personal information about its citizens that could easily be exploited and used to target groups or individuals. Not to mention, such a measure could severely infringe on the First Amendments “rights to assembly.”
As James Bovard points out, “REAL ID was intended to greatly increase federal levers over the movement and lives of Americans.” (Look to Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff’s airport mobility rules for an example.)
Bovard continues, “REAL ID was also used to railroad through a vast expansion of the definition of terrorism. As Rep. Paul noted, the law ‘re-defines ‘terrorism’ in broad new terms that could well include members of firearms rights and anti-abortion groups, or other such groups as determined by whoever is in power at the time. There are no prohibitions against including such information in the database as information about a person’s exercise of First Amendment rights or about a person’s appearance on a registry of firearms owners.’”
Now we face a similar measure with the national Pass ID, which would be another incarnation of the Real ID. We must fight against it, if we intend to fight for our rights. And we must be consistent if we are to be in the right.
For more information on how a national ID card can be exploited read James Bovard’s article here.
My point is not to lay out the nuts and bolts of the dangers of a national ID card. The dangers are there, especially the dangers to our constitutional government. My point is merely to show that we must be vigilant and consistent.
Inconsistency has been the norm in the privacy debate. At one time the GOP can stand for privacy and against big government. Then at another, it may turn its back in a period of fear mongering. The same goes for Democrats, who go as far to claim that a child’s life should be taken in the name of “privacy” when it suits them politically. But much of the rest of the time, they cast privacy protection away as far as the East from the West.
If we truly stand for principle, let us stand to the end. We must not waver. We must not let fear or political pressures cause us to give up our privacy or betray our constitutional values. Rather, we must hold consistent positions, whether popular or not. The winds of public opinion should not be our guide. Rather, let us fill our sails with the pursuit of liberty. If we believe in privacy, if we believe in individual liberty, we cannot let our beliefs be compromised—even if we try to justify it as “security.”
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”