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Online privacy debate not irrelevant

A reader writes that the fact that we already accept some measure of online disclosure means we're already slipping down the slope of government control.


Online privacy debate not irrelevant

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

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
--Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

I'm sorry, Mike, but I can't bite my tongue here. You're advocating curtailing civil liberties based on the arguments that "it's not so bad" and "other countries have less freedom than us." Yet you don't consider the effects of those concessions, the differences between cultures, and the types of freedoms involved, nor even how the proposed measures would improve our safety.

First, you argue that "we already accept some measure of online disclosure." This doesn't convince me that a little more wouldn't hurt. Rather, it's a warning flag that we're already slipping down the slope of government control. Regulations such as a national ID card are more than a small, incremental change. Other sorts of disclosure are optional.

For example, there is no mandate that I use (which collects some information about customers); I can choose to take my business to a brick-and-mortar outlet and pay cash. The new proposals must be inescapable to be effective.

The fact that it's unavoidable is critical. Suppose that I was active in the protests at the WTO meeting and Democratic Convention last year. It's likely that I'd be branded a "troublemaker." Then, when I wanted to protest at some other hot spot (say, the farmers put out of business in Klamath Falls), the FBI wouldn't let me get on a plane--or a train or a bus, either. They say that since I'm a troublemaker, and clearly on my way to a protest, the safety of the community demands that my transportation be denied.

This seems to be the goal of these proposals, but in fact what would happen is that my right to protest would be curtailed.

Second, you introduce Fourth Amendment arguments (protecting against unwarranted searches). But that seems to be a straw man, as you follow up with an incident concerning caning in Singapore. This is surely an interesting point, but the topic of the severity of punishment is wholly unrelated to the question of whether our privacy should be intruded upon. Indeed, the proposals I've seen for a "national ID card" are a form of prior restraint--it subjects innocent citizens, suspected of no wrongdoing, to regulation "just in case"--and this sort of thing is generally proscribed.

From everything you've written, I get the impression that you feel the Constitution is a stuffy old document written by old timers wearing powdered wigs; it's worked OK since, so we definitely should consider its content as a strong suggestion for how to legislate, but those old-time farmers couldn't have foreseen today's world, so we can't take their documents so literally.

It seems that you're of the opinion that America is a democracy, and that the will of the people must prevail. In fact, America is not a democracy, it's a constitutional republic. A democracy allows the majority to oppress the minority. Our Constitution limits the degree to which that can happen--and the greater the degree of erosion of those controls, the greater the degree to which the minority is oppressed.

This may sound like an abstract warning, but the problems are there already. From murder of scores of innocent people by jackbooted thugs at Waco (where the government's search warrant was blank, another Fourth Amendment violation) to environmentalists preventing landowners from building a house, this nation is filled with those trying--and succeeding--to eliminate those with differing points of view or lifestyles.

Chris Wuestefeld
Milford, N.J.