So you have no problem with government data mining.
Just be careful what you do. Don’t use a credit card to rent a Ryder or U-Haul truck. Don’t use a store card that can track your purchases, especially if you are buying a lot of fertilizer for a big garden project. Avoid buying any book on line or in a brick-and-mortar store – unless you pay cash – that criticizes the government-corporate establishment. If you have relatives or friends in Waco, Texas or Montana try not to call them very often. And, whatever you do, don’t make contributions to any conservative group with the words “patriot,” “liberty” or “freedom” in their name.
If you do, the Pre-Crime Police will hunt you down, lock you up, and throw away the keys after trying you before a secret court in a sound-proof room inside the Justice Department – a bit irony in the name – with only the government represented.
Instead of have three psychics dubbed “precogs,” as in the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report” set in 2054 in the Washington, D.C.-Virginia area, the National Security Administration has banks of computers running programs to mine data to determine if you will commit a crime.
If it sounds paranoid it is no more so than the premise of the widespread data mining that assumes the fallout from terrorism — relatively small to the destruction, fear and loss of life compared to drugs, reckless driving, and traditional war — is the ultimate threat to our existence. And because of that premise, it is completely OK for the government to pursue wholesale mining of the activities of Americans who are no longer innocent until proven guilty if they fit a profile run by a computer program.
The federal government’s contention is it is constitutionally legal to gather phone call data, Internet use and such on a wholesale basis is rooted in a series of harassing phone calls that a Baltimore woman received in 1976.
The man making the calls was caught and prosecuted after the police got the phone company to place a pen register on the man’s phone line to verify he was in indeed calling the victim’s number.
They did not require a search warrant to take such action as the Supreme Court ruled on a 5-3 vote. The reason: Unlike the 1967 high court ruling that police needed a warrant before listening to an actual call, the courts ruled that people dialing a number have no real expectation of privacy.
Congress could change the NSA ground rules, but don’t count on it.
Wholesale data sweeps are much more effective for expanding government control of our lives than they are fighting terrorism.
It sets precedent for new forms of taxes such as those being explored in the Bay Area to replace or supplement road taxes for highway construction. In order to collect a tax based on miles driven, the government would need the constitutional authority to attach electronic tracking devices on vehicles with GPS capability so they can track mileage and issue tax bills.
Scrutiny of credit cards and even ATM transactions could one day monitor the purchase of tobacco products and sugary drinks – two targets of Big Brother’s disdain. Data could allow the government to charge higher heath insurance fees or even deny coverage. It’s not Buck Rogers technology. Stores are already collecting the data through cards such as the ones issued by Costco, bank credit cards, or rewards cards. Nothing apparently can stop the government from securing electronic records including those that track your purchase of consumer goods.
On the surface, what the government is doing sounds good. They are collecting data from everyone’s personal lives only to run it through a computer program to determine activities that might signal there is a terrorist among us.
But don’t forget they have the data. Nothing is stopping the government from using that data for other purposes even though they promise us they won’t.
It is easy to say I’m not doing anything criminal and I like the idea they are looking for possible criminals so I’m OK with what the government is doing.
Taking the “they-are-not-coming-after-me-so-it-is-OK” approach worked well in the 1930s, didn’t it? Nazi Germany was only going after the Jews so it’s not your concern. If you do not stand up for the trampling of rights today, then it may be your rights that are attacked tomorrow.
The words in the Constitution stating the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly prescribing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” is not just fluff. Given how the federal government treats the Fourth Amendment as empty prose, you should be more than worried about the future of your liberties.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209-249-3519.