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Don't dismiss Fourth Amendment as "theory"

A News.com reader posits: If we allow the government to snoop on our e-mail, should we not allow them to scan and store every physical piece of mail we send?


Don't dismiss Fourth Amendment as "theory"

In response to the Sept. 24 column by Mike Yamamoto, "Irrelevancy of the online privacy debate":

Orwellian fears stem from the idea that the government will, at some point, use the power it has amassed over the years to ultimately subjugate its own citizenry. The idea is that if we stop the small steps now, we don't have to be trampled by the large steps later. Yamamoto states that today's discussions regarding online privacy are irrelevant to "real life." Perhaps he is simply being shortsighted.

With e-mail supplanting the U.S. Postal Service, the Web becoming a global retailer ready to serve the remotest of locations, and cell phones replacing the landlines we have all grown up with, it seems to be that online privacy is becoming "real life."

So let's assume that we give the government full permission to read our e-mail. Since this will undoubtedly become the main form of letter-based communication, should we not, then, also extend this intrusion into "real life" and allow the government to scan and store every piece of physical mail we send?

Should the government build backdoors into every implementation of SSL so that it can monitor all purchases made online, looking for any items that might be used in a terrorist act? Woe unto anyone starting a shipping business that needs a crate of box cutters.

When talking about online privacy, it is important to take into account the far-reaching effects that the shortsighted, impassioned, reactionary legislation of today can have on the society of tomorrow. We may all live long and productive lives, but you have to ask yourself, "Is a long life more important than a private life?"

It would have been helpful if Yamamoto had addressed "how far is too far" in his article. The reference to "theoretical arguments about the Fourth Amendment" implies that the government can never go too far in providing a sense of security. Mind you, a "sense" of security. Threats exist both within and without this nation. Far more people die from smoking, drinking and auto accidents every year than perished in the Sept. 11 tragedy. And some freedoms were restricted to address those issues; many areas restrict smoking, there is a minimum drinking age, and a number of states have mandated seatbelt and vehicle inspection laws.

But none of those reach as far into expression as the possibility of having your e-mail monitored. When your thoughts are fodder for a keyword-driven search engine, you start to change your thoughts to avoid being picked out for investigation. Law enforcement and national security should be limited to dealing with the actions of people, not their thoughts.

If Yamamoto wants to rid the world of evil, I suggest he look to the sources for difference and strife that cause insurrections instead of looking to advocate that governments read the thoughts of their citizenry by perusing their mail, electronic or otherwise. Though, admittedly, it's far easier to fix by restricting societies than to solve by restructuring them.

Travis Prebble
State College, Pa.