While technology and communication has been great for the
cause of liberty, there is also a downside to it all. While free acting individuals use it voluntarily for
beneficial reasons, the government uses new technology to enhance power.
With Edward Snowden’s leaks last year confirming that the
federal government is spying on us, civil liberty advocates have been pressing
hard against the National Security Agency (NSA), while a large number of
Americans seem to not care.
Unfortunately, our battle for privacy is not just with the
federal government. It is with
government at every level, including many local governments.
There are devices now known as “stingrays” that can be used
to track cellphones nearby. They
can track the movement of phones, as well as information about communications
such as the phone numbers being called.
The devices basically mimic a cellphone tower in order to trick
cellphones into reporting their information.
There is one Florida case where a police officer explained
how he could stand in front of people’s houses and track the movements and
information from their phones.
Of course, in following in the footsteps of the federal
government, local law enforcement agencies are not obtaining the proper
warrants for probable cause. And
even if they are, these stingray devices will pick up cellphone information
over a broad area. They are not
just picking up the information from the one cellphone for which the warrant is
issued, if any warrant is issued at all.
The NSA Won’t Be
Stopped Until This is Stopped
This ruins almost any hope of getting rid of the NSA anytime
in the near future. The only thing
that is going to stop the NSA is a bankrupt federal government.
The ACLU has done a good job of fighting some of these
abuses by local governments in the use of these stingrays. And there are certainly many other
groups that have done a great job of fighting the NSA at the federal level.
But most Americans just can’t seem to get too excited over
this issue. They don’t seem to
care. In some ways, this is
rational. In other ways, they are
setting themselves up for tyranny.
If there are widespread violations of civil liberties at
local levels, then there is no way they will be stopped at a federal
level. If you can’t stop the use
of stingrays by the local police, there is no way you are going to stop the
I know that many people don’t care because they trust their
elected officials a bit too much.
They are the people who will say, “If you have nothing to hide, then you
have nothing to worry about.”
I’m sure the Jewish people living in Germany in the late
1930’s were being told the same thing.
“Now come with me. This is
for your own protection. If you
have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.”
This isn’t to say that concentration camps are coming to
America. It is to say that the
government is spying to enhance its own power over you. It isn’t to protect you. How far this tyranny goes, nobody
really knows. It is really a
question of how far Americans will let it go. Fortunately, we do have a minority (hopefully a growing
minority) who are raising their voices and speaking out against government
spying. In some ways, it is really
this group of people that separates America today from Nazi Germany or so many
other tyrannies through world history.
I still remain hopeful for the future. My hope is that technology in the free
market outpaces the technology being used by the bureaucracies. I am hopeful that inexpensive
technology will enable the American people to essentially spy on their elected
(and unelected) officials. I am
also hopeful that more Americans will begin to realize that government spying
is a threat to them, even if they have nothing to hide.
But before we get rid of the NSA, we need to get rid of the
spying at the state and local levels.
If we can’t change things at the local level, there is no way we can
abolish the NSA.