and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
November 2002 #4

At any price? 
War against terrorism not worth winning
if it comes at cost of individual rights

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Monday, November 25, 2002

Well, I guess the terrorists are winning.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Pentagon is "building a system called 'Total Information Awareness' that would effectively provide government officials with immediate access to our personal information: all of our communications (phone calls, e-mails and web searches), financial records, purchases, prescriptions, school records, medical records and travel history. Under this program, our entire lives would be catalogued and available to government officials."

Many Americans have decided that we have nothing to fear as much as fear of terrorism, and they did not object to the first float of the Homeland Security Act which contained this loss of privacy. The idea of a government-run central database that can track, well, everyone, is reassuring to them.

If the government ever gets mad at you, you can't hide, get money, eat, have a job, or run a guerrilla revolution without getting caught and crushed; but maybe you'll never offend the government. I'm not in a position to hug that illusion, having offended more than my share of politicians. But some of you may know when to keep your mouths shut.

Just to make sure you can't defend yourself if power-hungry statists take over and enjoy having you under their control, get out there and support gun control too.

See, the terrorists don't have to kill Americans or blow up the White House or the Super Bowl. They don't hate individuals, buildings, or stadiums; they hate the idea of America, the freedoms that we all enjoy here. Once we give them up voluntarily, the terrorists can celebrate; we will be just like the people in their countries, and all those places in the world whose citizens properly fear their leaders.

Can't happen here? Can anyone give me one reason why not? Are we a different species from the human beings who have struggled to defend themselves and their families against the armed power of government for all of recorded history?

Yes, illegal immigration is a problem. Some immigrants have crept into the country to do harm. Many of them, however, are here trying to escape the abuses of their own governments. There are very few people on the planet who wouldn't be better off here than they are wherever they are instead. So why don't we just let all of them come here? Move over, Americans; you're hogging the land of the free.

We can protect ourselves from traveling terrorists by having a National ID card with a centralized database, so we can keep track of them. Maybe then they'll stay where they are, since America won't be all that much different than where they came from.

Eventually the database can be expanded so that someone always knows where everyone in the world is and what they are all doing.

In the mid-'90s, my partner Chip Ford, then director of an organization called Freedom First, wrote an article titled "High Tech and the Age of Intrusion," in which he tracked the erosion of our freedom. Beginning with the social security card, which we were promised would never be used for general identification, to today's database marketing, he chronicles the broken promises and warns that modern crime-prevention techniques like DNA fingerprinting can also be used against ordinary citizens.

Have I been overly influenced by his concern?

No, I was already frightened by reading Orwell's 1984 in college. But many of us thought once that date came and went in a free America, we'd dodged the totalitarian bullet. So fine, no one has put your face in a cage full of rats yet; good for you.

A few years later, I danced to the music of Rare Earth: "Hey, Big Brother, as soon as you arrive ... take a closer look at the people you meet, and notice the fear in their eye, yeah."

As it turns out, we have a lot more to fear than fear itself. Very few rallied to the defense of privacy and freedom: on Massachusetts talk radio, David Brudnoy doesn't think that the loss of liberties will enhance our own security, but Rush Limbaugh, Jay Severin and Avi Nelson all stated their willingness to give up some of both for "security," as if there is such a thing. Only Jim Braude on WTKK fulfilled the role I'm sure Jerry Williams would have played a decade ago.

The Homeland Security Act passed both branches of Congress with little opposition. As Rare Earth asked us all, back in the '70s, "Now that you've got the picture, what you going to do?"

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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