Can You Hear Me Now?

You may repeat into your cell phone, as you walk around, trying to find a signal, “Can you hear me now?,” but you mean, can a known friend or family member hear you?

Not some government agency.

We thought we’d come a long way from rural party phone lines when uninvited listeners might overhear what was said in violation of a caller’s right of privacy.

But we now have the “all-consuming N.S.A,” as one paper characterized the agency, for which “no morsel [of private information][is] too miniscule,” meaning that our government is tracking the calls of every American and much more information under the elastic aegis of the ironically named Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act.  Absent any restraint by any other governmental branch or agency, the NSA’s rules of engagement are, “Why not?”

We are guaranteed a constitutional right of privacy – the “right to be let alone” – by penumbral emanations of the bill of rights including you can’t search and seize a person or place without probable cause, you have a right to associate with whomever you wish, you may say what you think.  Too much of this old-fashioned liberty, however, is being torn to bits by our peeping Tom government.

The government and a chorus of wrong-minded ditto heads say, “So what do you got to hide?”

Wrong question!  Privacy is not about secrets that you have to hide but the dignity to be left undisturbed.  The correct question is – by what authority do you presume to steal what I’ve refused to disclose?

Who thinks the government should be able to brush past your high privacy hedge, cross the fence around your house, draw back the curtains on your windows, or your bath shower, know and archive your genetic configuration, examine your medical records, credit card bills, the books you read, or know your associates, rummage through your private papers, photos, emails, know who you call, when, and what you say?

We all care when the government makes public what is our private information.  Who thinks the government should be able to arrest you when they steal information this way, when they bar you from even knowing that they have information so you may correct what they “believe?” You may say, they should be able to arrest someone if he did something wrong.  There’s the rub.  The government says it and gets it wrong.  Franz Kafka’s dystopic novel, “the Trial,” is about awakening a citizen and refusing to disclose to him the charges or the entirely arbitrary process for dealing with the phantom charges; indeed the novel, “auf Deutsch,” is aptly called, “Der Process.”  What if our undisclosed “process” mysteriously resulted in questioning you, denied you the right to fly, or prompted an audit because the government doesn’t understand your financial transactions?

What if the government doesn’t secure the information it steals from you – perhaps they use the same computing geniuses who rolled out the Affordable Care Act online?”

When the terrorists threatened our security on 9-11, putting at risk our individual rights, it appears that our government decided to fight back, in large part, by destroying our own liberties.

The most shocking disassociation we may observe is a people angry at their government for so many things but that still trusts the government to compromise our privacy in order to straight arm some vaguely formatted danger – never quite identified or related to our government’s shady intrusive practices.

When the government rails about leakers Manning or Snowden disclosing our “secrets,” and we can detect no harm suffered by our “agency” assets, we are left with the undeniable fact that what the government really wants kept secret are the lies it’s telling us.

Instead of the metaphor that America is that shining city on a hill, America increasingly is more like some earthen hut in a barren valley for its proven disrespect of the right of privacy.

11 thoughts on “Can You Hear Me Now?

  1. David Dickinson

    So, Mr. Flannery, what do you propose we do about it?

    Here, we have the one point that I know of that unites both the Left and the Right. Seems like if we could actually accomplish something with bi-partisan cooperation, this would be it.

    On a much more local level, what is your opinion of the LCSO using automatic license plate readers to scan passing automobiles and feeding this information to DHS?

  2. John Flannery

    When I worked on the hill, there were issues that Rs and Ds could agree on, and work solutions. A fair number of republicans have appointed this dem over the years. On this issue, there is some litigation that presumes the courts will be responsive. The reaction has been uneven. I had thought of asking jay sekulow if his group might want to work this issue. He’s a superior court and appellate lawyer but I haven’t followed through yet. I would be willing to join a bipartisan group to discuss and do something about this and other issues. Two heads constructively engaged really are better than one. I was not aware of the scanning but I oppose it. When I was a law student I was very concerned about the government collating “public” information and making it quite particular and personal. We seem more and more to be doing this with a vengeance. I think of the Stassi and those kinds of repressive groups that use “tinctured” information to control and coerce individuals and groups.

  3. Elder Berry

    It was pretty clear to me that when they passed the PATRIOT Act, we were screwed. And even having had time to think about that, they’ve renewed it.

    Recent news that they’ve collected info even on people in power tells me that the secret government is not about to let the public government shut this all down.

  4. Epluribusunum

    David, what do you think we should do about it? I also was unaware of the LCSO scanning, but it doesn’t surprise me. One result of the so-called “war on terror” and “Patriot Act” is the increasing militarization of local law enforcement agencies and placing under their control the tools of an unaccountable police state. I sadly conclude that this is what the Chapman campaign meant by “professionalizing.” If you oppose these developments, I am with you.

  5. David Dickinson

    “David, what do you think we should do about it?”

    I am not sure but have been thinking about it and have been bouncing ideas off of people.

    I’ll have to get back to you at a later date for that one for something more concrete.

    Agreed, the Patriot Act was and is a horrible thing.

    PS I’ll plug joining the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org) as they battle heartily against the disturbing erosion (is that too soft a word) of our personal liberties in the electronic age.

  6. David Dickinson

    Hey, did my long post post? I see my short answer, but not the detailed one. I hope it didn’t get lost.

  7. John Flannery

    As some critics of Chapman’s office have noticed, his model is a military war time model, see his comments on rules of engagement when killing that troubled filipino woman in sterling, rather than as a peace officer in a civilian community. There will be more excesses since he is more concerned about treating our citizenry as “the enemy” and criminalizing young and old alike, and, in this regard, “anything goes,” as most recently exemplified by putting out releases to have the citizens report any crimes they think certain people he highlights may have committed. When I was prosecutor, we realized that the stigma you attach to someone by a charge should discourage cavalier approaches to charging anyone; plainly, our sheriff’s office is fine bandying about the possibility of charges and circulating the pictures of people in the bargain. That disserves a community and its people. This is not the inner city. If he wants to fight serious crime, rather than manufacture it, then let him move to the south bronx, or detroit, or watts. That’s not us and that’s not what we need.

  8. David Dickinson

    “Anonymous comments and comments with links may go into moderation. Please be patient if you don’t see your comment right away.”

    I included a link to the latest killing of an unarmed man last week by Fairfax police after they drove a tactical vehicle into his house for a domestic dispute.

    I will be patient until it posts….and avoid links in the future.

  9. David Dickinson

    Regarding License Plate Readers, I FOIA-ed LCSO in Aug 2012 regarding their use.

    Loudoun County Sheriff’s Dept uses ELSAG Mobile Plate Hunter 900s (MPH-900) to track people’s movements in the County. Basically, the LCSO is running license plate numbers through databases and looking for “hits.” It appears that the initial idea was launched in 2010, but Chapman signed the MOU for sharing data in March 2012. The readers can be attached to police vehicles or stationary.

    From the product sheet LCSO sent me, “every camera is capturing critical data such as color photos, date and time stamps, as well as GPS coordinated on every vehicle that passes or is passed by. This information creates an incredible database that can provide a wealth of clues…”

    From the “MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING
    NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION’S (NCR) LICENSE PLATE READER (LPR)
    INFORMATION SHARING PROGR AM” Signed by Chapman on March 29, 2012

    “it is essential that all law enforcement agencies cooperate in efforts to share pertinent information. The NCR LPR data sharing program will establish a mechanism that will allow member agencies to search for LPR data collected and maintained by other member agencies via the NCRnet. NCRnet is a secure fiber optic network established by COG (Council of Governments) that is available for use by NCR member agencies.”

    So, what we have is the police departments of the region spying on all of us by tracking our movements with LPRs.

    I’m further disturbed by the fact that, at least in Loudoun, the Sheriff is an elected official. It isn’t hard to see a day when this could be used for political purposes (i.e. track an opponent to see what dirt you can find).

    All in all, it really sucks.

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