November 1, 2001
Deceptive Government Assault on Privacy Affects Balance of Power, Has Antecedents, Says Independent Review Contributing Editor
OAKLAND, Calif. - The latest round of anti-terrorism legislation wasnt the first time the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI misled Congress to obtain new tools to perform surveillance on ordinary Americans, says economist Charlotte Twight, a contributing editor of The Independent Review.
Although represented prior to passage as an innocuous measure intended only to maintain existing government authority, writes Dr. Twight, [the 1994 federal Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA)] immediately became a springboard in the governments quest for increased surveillance power.
Dr. Twight adds that the view that people who have not yet broken the law and have nothing to hide need not fear government surveillance ... does not withstand careful scrutiny.
It assumes: (1) that the law is knowable, so people can be confident that they have not broken the law; (2) that people who have done nothing wrong have no valid reason to object to federal officials examining the most intimate details of their lives; and (3) that government officials will not exceed established limits on their surveillance authority. Each of these assumptions is false.
In her article Conning Congress, in the latest issue of THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW published by The Independent Institute, Dr. Twight explains that while many people resent the invasion of their privacy by commercial firms ... when government intrudes on personal privacy, the stakes are even higher:
* The very existence of widespread surveillance by persons with broad powers and uncertain motivation radically changes the ethos of a free people. (p. 186)
* Governments that disregard peoples privacy establish regimes utterly inconsistent with the values and the Constitution on which this nation was founded. Moreover, U.S. scandals from Filegate to Chinagate have demonstrated beyond any doubt that trusting government officials not to exceed their authority is foolhardy. (p. 211)
* Symbolic expressions of government concern about privacy are likely to continue, even increase. Privacy-threatening measures will continue to be put forth as privacy-protecting measures. The FBI, for example, recently reassured people that Digital Storm would pose no problem because the FBI had established a privacy council within the bureau. Nothing was said about foxes and hen houses. (p. 214)
* The confluence of CALEA, federally mandated electronic databases of personal information, Carnivore, Digital Storm, Echelon, and the like have established a web of federal surveillance never before known in the United States. This systematic federal surveillance of ordinary Americans is itself a form of government manipulation ... to increase the costs of resisting expanded federal power. (p. 214)
* One way or another, we will soon learn that the resistance-inhibiting power of broad-based government surveillance is potentially the most liberty-endangering form of political transaction-cost manipulation confronting Americans - and freedom-loving people everywhere. (p. 214)