Written on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 by Ralph Barker
“No one likes to see a government folder with his name on it.”
― Stephen King, Firestarter
In the near future you may be sharing your emails, social media, and other communications with a lot of uninvited people. There are rumblings on Capitol Hill this week about a new bill that would pretty much, if passed, destroy any remaining sense of privacy on the Internet. Big Brother could become your new surfing buddy. Keep your eye on the Senate this Thursday for developments.
Privacy used to mean something in America. Privacy was something that was zealously protected and cherished. The courts in past decades sided with the people in most cases and understood why one’s privacy must be protected. It is an American principle, an important one. Things have changed and our right to be left alone and private is eroding quickly.
It’s a basic American assumption that we all should have the right to not have others looking into our private affairs, especially our communications. In today’s world everyone is an open book, like it or not. Privacy has gone the way of the Edsel, Woolworth’s, and the nickel coke. That’s “coke” as in soda by the way.
Right now as you read this article there are efforts and a Senate bill on Capitol Hill to grant access to your email, Facebook Wall, Tweets, and Google files to government authorities. Want to hear something really scary? They won’t even need a warrant.
There are over twenty-two federal agencies that may soon gain access to your private life, including the SEC and FCC, if this Senate bill is passed. In some cases Homeland Security or the FBI could get to your email accounts without notifying you or a judge. In the future, you might want to just cc all the federal agencies in your communications and save some taxpayer dollars.
The Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy wrote the original bill. That bill has now been rewritten. Political pressure and law enforcement concerns have led to the new changes that could expand government authority and further destroy our right to privacy.
We still don’t know specifically what is in this bill. We don’t know, if this bill is passed, what it will do to privacy rights. I guess we will have to take Nancy Pelosi’s advice and pass it so we can see what’s in it. I think we all like surprises.
The monitoring of email accounts has been front-page news for the last few weeks. General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell probably wished they had used carrier pigeons instead of emails. There are also all those White House emails surrounding the Benghazi tragedy that are under investigation. Once Congress obtains all these, they could lead to firings, resignations, convictions, maybe even an impeachment (just dreaming). Who knows?
Once you push the send button that email is forever out there subject to other eyes reading it and using it. In the future, we must all think harder about what we are saying in our communications. We probably will never know who is watching our correspondence, legally or not. Carelessness on our part could lead to our explaining things to a judge.
We may need to adapt and come up with some new avenues of communication. We could also resort to outdated systems like smoke signals or drums. It’s hard to trace them. Oh, don’t forget runners and microdots. We might as well make the feds work a little harder.
Senator Leahy’s bill is bad enough, but it is just one of many pieces of bad legislation being considered or that have already passed in Congress. Rarely, does any legislation pass that actually makes my life better. How about yours? The last one I remember is the Bush tax cuts.
The Senator’s bill is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, November 29th. Since the initial release, or leak, of the bill’s contents there has been a swell of national outrage. Even the ACLU is in the fray. Senator Leahy’s office was assaulted with an avalanche of complaints and concerns. This led to some repositioning. Where this will lead we don’t know.
Individuals and organizations are responding to this possible threat to our freedom of privacy. One organization, Freedom Works, launched a petition to Congress. It was titled, “Stay Out of My Email.” So far over 2300 messages have been sent.
Senator Leahy is now on the defensive. His office tweeted that the Senator, “is not working on a law to undermine email privacy.” This assurance has not settled all the questions or concerns. We don’t know what changes are being made in light of the loud protests. We will have to wait and see what’s in the bill.
We also don’t know what is actually on the Senator’s mind. Why did he craft this bill? We don’t know what his motives or goals are. But, if he has it in his mind to further invade our privacy it appears there are still a large number of people left in the country who care enough to push back. I’m encouraged. We may just win another battle in this ongoing war of the worldviews.